For Elaine

I've given my husband a post-mortem honey-do list, should I meet a sudden end. 

Number one on the list?  Deleting, in post and in haste, my Facebook page. 

If I needed an additional reason why I want him to do this, now I have one: the media coverage of the murder of Elaine Goldberg.

I didn't know Elaine, but her cousin has been one of my closest friends ever since I walked onto Bus 2 as a fifth grader, not knowing a soul in my new suburban Philadelphia school.  We've been friends a decade longer than Elaine was alive.

Earlier this month, Elaine was found raped, strangled, and murdered, her body dumped in an empty Philadelphia  lot in a neighborhood that has seen many better days.  She was 21 years old, just figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up, who she wanted to be when she grew up. Those plans included being a nurse, and she was enrolled at a well-regarded nursing school (one of my former employers, in full disclosure).

If you've read any of the local news coverage about Elaine's death, you might remember these details.  Maybe. They're kind of common though, aren't they?  Which is why a certain if-it-bleeds-it-leads Philadelphia news operation seized on the sensationalistic details of her death, exploiting her while family members were still reeling in shock.

Instead of using some journalistic integrity and actually talking with the family about their sister, their cousin, their daughter, the reporters simply turned to Facebook and used Elaine's own words against her and those of people who loved her.

What Elaine was writing about was being 30 days clean.  About trying to find a drug/alcohol free Halloween event to attend. 

She was also writing about her struggle with drugs, and those are the words that got twisted into a media cut-and-paste story dripping with a blame-the-victim bias and one that (thanks to the unerasable nature of the Internet) will continue to libel her forever while she remains defenseless. 

The media treatment given to the lurid details of her death will forever haunt her siblings and her father, as they have to live with being defined by arguments and disagreements that happened more than a year ago, and words that were said (and regretably posted) in the heat of the moment, and in the emotional throes and tangles of seeing a loved one's life being ruined by a drug addiction.

Addiction in all its forms is a messy business, decimating relationships and lives.  I don't have any personal experience with drug or alcohol addiction, nor do I hope to, but there are people in my circle of colleagues and acquaintances (like my friend's family) who have and are dealing with the heartbreak of such. More often than not, their struggles are hidden from those closest to them, and definitely not meant for public consumption and feed-the-24/7-beast news media fodder.

We all say things in the heat of emotion that we don't mean - whether one is dealing with addiction or just relationships in general. In today's connected age, sometimes those things are said and posted on Facebook.  And when someone dies in this world that grays the public and the private, reporters are increasingly turning to Facebook and other sites to obtain a "statement" from the family, creating an instantaneous composite of who the deceased "really" was.

I say that's a dangerous path to walk down in the name of ratings and clicks.

Because even though we are increasingly living our lives online, what we say and what we do and what games we play on one social networking site is not the full sum and total of what and who we are. 

Just because our words are there, posted for all to see in a public forum, doesn't give others the right to use those words and define our relationships by them alone, without clarification.

Just because you can do something or have access to something doesn't mean that you should.

It's sloppy journalism at best and a blatant disregard of mourners' feelings at worse (not to mention, in my opinion, a potentially crossed ethical line).  And this particular news media outlet knew it, because it was only after dozens of people called to protest the unfair and slanderous nature of the coverage that they conceded and took the story down.  (The national parent company still needs to follow suit.) 

I didn't know Elaine, and that's a shame.  But what's even more shameful is by murdering her memory and raping her and her family of all dignity and respect, the local news media missed an opportunity to tell me who she really was.

Originally posted by Melissa on The Betty and Boo Chronicles, 11/15/2010.

 

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