The Death of Adrian Peterson’s Son and Why It’s Not Okay to Name Names

The death of Adrian Peterson’s two-year old son is tragic enough. The two-year old boy was allegedly beaten by Joseph Patterson, boyfriend of the boy’s mother on Wednesday evening. After being taken off life support on Friday, the little boy passed away. Patterson was charged with aggravated assault on Friday; however, his court appearance occurred before the boy passed away.  The states’ attorney in Lincoln County, South Dakota is considering adding more serious charges. Local news outlets have reported that both first and second degree murder are on the table.

However, as a resident of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I’ve noticed something in the national news frenzy that seriously bothers me, both as a resident of this town and as a writer and blogger.  And it’s not that the national media’s focus is on Adrian Peterson instead of the victim, either.

Adrian Peterson courtesy Black Sports Online

Image Credit-Black Sports Online

As of the time I am writing this post (Monday, October 14), the Sioux Falls Police Department has yet to officially release the names of the mother and the little boy. However, there are bloggers who are naming names of the mother and even going so far as posting pictures of this little boy and his family.  Out of respect for the family's privacy, I will not link to these posts. 

The only thing that we know officially in Sioux Falls is that the little boy’s first name was Ty, as stated by friends and family who attended a candlelight vigil for him on Friday evening. We know that his initials are T.R.R., as this is how he was identified in court documents. We know that he stayed at Sanford Children’s Hospital and that an autopsy will be performed on him early this week.

I was dismayed, as a writer, to see a blogger post on a major blogging portal, a post containing the alleged name of the mother when it has not yet been released by the local police.

There are many reasons why it’s wrong to name names before there is an official release by authorities.  I feel that bloggers do have a responsibility to adhere to the standards of journalism. First of all, it’s the right thing to do and second, naming names or revealing details of a situation in a blog post as fact because you read it on the Internet also opens yourself up to a lawsuit.  There are other reasons why this is a bad practice and bloggers need to be careful and do their homework.

1. It does not matter if a friend of a friend of a friend revealed the name if law enforcement has not released it yet.  It’s not your place to name names.

This is problematic because a friend of a friend of a friend is not really a valid source.  If you remember playing the game Telephone, you know that by the time the message gets back to the person who originated it, the original message has changed. It’s irresponsible journalism to use third and fourth hand accounts as fact. The police have reasons why they choose when and how they release the names of parties involved. In this case, the family has asked the public to respect their privacy and law enforcement is honoring that request.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, it is okay to name names only when the persons involved themselves have gone public or the names have been released as a matter of public record. The mother in this case has not gone public nor has the police as of the time this post was written.  Those who have named her have committed a breach of journalistic ethics.

2. Releasing names when they are not a matter of public record is disrespectful to the family’s wishes.

Because the case involves the reigning NFL MVP, Adrian Peterson, it's going to receive a lot of attention. Both families, Adrian Peterson's and the boy's family, have requested the public respect their privacy. Repeating names you read on another blog, is not only disrespectful, but irresponsible. Have you checked to make sure that author verified their sources and their sources are valid?  Can the author of that post provide proof that the information they posted is accurate? 

If the author of a post is friends with the mother of this little boy, and has named names, that’s even worse. Not only is there a journalistic breach of ethics, this so-called "friend" isn't much of a friend if he or she decides not to honor someone's wishes.  

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