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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sad and strange case

If you're like me, you are probably scratching your head this morning not only over the sad story of the two Boston firefighters killed in the West Roxbury restaurant blaze, but the strange battle that has erupted over reporting it.

Strange because the Globe, Herald, Channels 4, 5, 25, heck even the often clueless BostonNow, have the story about the blood alcohol and drug test findings of Paul Cahill and Warren Payne. (We will slide right over how some try to ignore the Globe apparently had it first, even when others are blasting the Globe for the decision to run it.)

But WHDH-TV Channel 7 does not carry the story on its web site. Why? Superior Court Judge Merita Hopkins blocked them -- and only them -- from going with the story.

The findings have naturally created a "shoot the messenger" mentality -- how dare the media report the results involving two heroic men who gave their lives in public service?Whatever the final outcome of the results, nothing diminishes the fact the deaths were tragic.

But the outcry also shows the problems that arise when you put ordinary human beings, with ordinary human virtues and vices, onto a pedestal.

Much more troubling is Hopkins' decision to enjoin only one news outlet from reporting the story. If she is so certain that this is a case of privacy and not prior restraint, why is only one news outlet enjoined from publication?

The Herald's Jessica Heslam states the case well:
Judge Hopkins, who trampled on the Constitution in blocking Channel 7 from reporting the information, certainly has some questions to answer today . . .
It is hard for me to understand how a judge could rule that to prevent publication of records, even by ruling they are private, is not a prior restraint. But it is incomprehensible to me that the ruling could apply to only one news outlet.

I'm no fan of 7News, with its over-the-top emphasis on crime, mayhem and the latest "thing." I find their style to be overly aggressive and their heated pursuit of what I think to be non-stories as annoying.

But, to single them out is wrong. Whether we like it or not, this is a legitimate story. And as we have learned from CSI and the other shows of its genre, evidence doesn't lie. The odds on mixing up the samples, even in a medical examiner's office as screwed up as the one in Suffolk County, are astronomical.

Hopkins ruled that one news outlet could not report the kind of news we don't like to hear -- that even heroes are mortal human beings. That ruling is a bigger abomination than reporting the facts.

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