So, you know how we named the alleged "Worst Parents In The Universe"? Well we're not supposed to do that again until we get our hands on some "proof" or some shit, because of some Gawker Media corporate directive made obviously not by me. But, truth be told, I think the diligent reporter who broke the story of how a couple of residents of suburban St. Louis Myspace-tormented 13-year-old girl Megan Meier into committing suicide should do the honors, as do a lot of readers of his newspaper and a lot of nerdy reporter types who read Romenesko. And while Steve Pokin has not really said much about why he decided not to name the parents, his old editor offers a fleshed out defense of the decision to excercise (ahem) discretion to this end in the Romenesko comments:
It's easy for some blogger in New York City (who likely doesn't have to deal with these kinds of decisions and their real-world impact) to shoot his or her mouth off.
I resent that! Though it's true.
I would also urge everyone to think about Bob Steele's three key values/principles related to ethical decision making: 1. Seek truth and report it as fully as possible 2. Act independently 3. Minimize harm Clearly, there is a conflict between principles 1 and 3 in this story. So how do you resolve them? You think carefully and consider all of the ramifications and options. Then you make the best decision you can. In this case, they felt minimizing harm was more important than a full and complete report. I tend to agree. What public interest or good would be served by publishing their names other than satisfying a collective blood lust? The public interest here was warning parents to be vigilant and aware, and identifying a potential legal loophole or problem. Revenge and punishment aren't our business.
And it made me mad.
To say that "warning parents to be vigilant" is the lesson the world can learn from all this is such utter bullshit. Read the story again. The Meiers are divorced now, because Tina Meier blames herself for her daughter's death, even as she obsessively monitored her daughter's use of MySpace. The whole point of this is that parents cannot protect their children from 95% of the bad shit out there. They can never be as vigilant as they would like. And the truth is, while the internet has certainly exacerbated this dilemma, parents never really could protect their kids from the sources of life's most devastating blows: the clashes of the neurons and hormones, the quickness with which so many people sacrifice their independent thought in groups, getting dumped.
The best you can do is try and instill in them the importance of loving their neighbors as they love themselves, of forgiving one another as they would like to be forgiven for the shitty things they have done, of being nice to one another and always using condoms. That all men are created equal, some just have shittier parents and you can't do anything about that. That men will fuck mud and all men cheat.
And hope it sticks. But it never does! Because they're kids, and Jesus and Martin Luther King and all them are not showing up at school in Roxy or whatever. It's not real.
This is real. And the realer it can be to a larger audience, the more CNN producers that can descend upon this town and tell it, the more likely it is to make it out to a kid or twenty who could really use a real-life lesson in the pointless damage caused by bullying; the real danger that exists when people
forget their basic human empathy. Without names, the story stays in the realm of "hearsay." And quite frankly, this story is too important for that.
And finally, to the notion of minimizing "harm" — this call was made to minimize harm to the newspaper's reputation in the community. To minimize the extent to which Steve Pokin gets blamed for a "media circus." Because whatever harm might befall the poor 14-year-old daughter of this couple is, sadly, the tiniest speck in the realm of the damage they have already done, and in the long run, if she can come to see their actions with the revulsion the world does, she is better-off.