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.
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.
3. How Do You Know that Your Information is Correct?
Journalists have to follow ethics and rules. They must be able to verify their sources, particularly if the paper, website or magazine faces a lawsuit or the authorities question their sources.
If you write something that could possibly be controversial, and you are called on it or have to testify in court about it, you have to back it up and it has to be credible. If you are naming names, and you cannot verify that the name is correct or that your source is trustworthy and valid, you are opening yourself up and the website or publication to legal action. If you hope to graduate from blogging to other writing work, you’re also ruining any future chances at a writing career. Nobody wants to hire a freelance writer who has credibility issues.
A police report is more solid evidence than reading something on a blog that may or may not be true.
4. If you are blogging about current events, you have a responsibility to be ethical and follow ethical journalism practices.
You may not be a journalist, but if you are going to post on current events, you have a responsibility to make sure that your information is correct and that, if the validity of your information is questioned, that you have the valid information to back up your story. You must use valid sources and not third-hand accounts.
There is a reason, in a debate, why a blog is not considered a valid source. Blogs are more known for opinion than facts and blogs have a particular slant.
It seems like a lot of work, but your credibility as a blogger is at stake. If you can’t or won’t adhere to rules and ethics, you will lose your credibility as a writer and authority as a blogger.
The citizens of Sioux Falls tend to be protective of our own people and generous with our time and help. We look after our own and respect the wishes of the family. We will jump in and protect the privacy of these people as they requested and we resent it when outsiders who do not follow the wishes of the family. When I moved here two years ago, this was one of the things I love most about this place. People haven't forgotten about other people. Neighbors help neighbors. We look out for each other.
I do not know the mother of this little boy but I find that I'm feeling very protective of her and her privacy. I fear for her because the opportunity for others to harrass her and blame her for the actions of the man she dated is high and will get higher once her name is released. If bloggers have named the incorrect person as the mother, then that person could possibly be harrassed and have their lives turned upside down all because a writer didn't verify their sources.
It's dismaying to us in Sioux Falls when we see people who don't live here not respecting the wishes of the family. I realize how provinical this sounds, but that's how things are done here. In a world where people are only concerned about themselves, this is such a refreshing change.
Kathy Kramer is a blogger and freelance writer who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She is the "cheesehead" in Little Cheeshead on the Prairie, her blog. Kathy has written on various topics from humor to domestic violence to mental illness. Her work has appeared regionally in Plains Magazine. She has also been published in eFiction Magazine.