Monday, November 15, 2010

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.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Anonymous said...

How horrible. I feel for her family. I do not post much on facebook...and my husband deleted his months ago and hasn't missed it. I think about this sort of situation lately in regards to what I write about my son and my feelings and our lives...

Lula Rashard's Mom said...

amazing post amidst a horrible situation.

Amy said...

That is both shocking and saddening. I am so sad for the family, on top of everything they should not have to deal with such horrid journalists. I hope someone deletes my facebook in the event of my death as well.

K A B L O O E Y said...

I agree. You were clearheaded and rational and perfectly expressed your outrage in a way that's hard to argue with. My sympathy to her family who've had to endure more already than anyone should.

Lori said...

I didn't know Elaine or her family but her one brother graduated from the high school my son goes to. Her other brother is a freshman at the same school. Her father works for the same company that my husband does and yet we never crossed paths in anyway. I know the neighborhood, my husband's business was in that area at one time.

The minute I heard the story, it broke my heart. The only article I read about her was in our local neighborhood paper I didn't think it was too bad of an article and it didn't mention that she was raped, I thought it said she wasn't or they were not sure at the time. But regardless, this is someone's child, she has siblings that my son my very well pass in the hallway, her family has feelings and is dealing with so much, they don't need all that disrespect on top of it. I can't imagine seeing those things written about your child and not wanting to take out a full page add to tell them that your child was more than a story to sell papers. There but for the Grace of God....
and I will pray for her family every day!

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Thank you, everyone.

Lori ~ the coverage that I was referring to was on NBC10. The link to the story that they pulled is still up at MSNBC. I just chose not to link to it as to not give them any more publicity (as if they need it from my little ol' blog). My friend (who is her cousin) mentioned the rape. But as you said, regardless ....

pixiemama said...

You have hit the nail on the head. Journalists need to remember to get the story, to handle peoples lives and deaths with compassion and humanity. This is insanity. This, frankly, is BS. Defaming the dead, blaming the victim. They should be ashamed.

Giul Sambuca said...

I knew Elaine, and I like to think I knew her pretty well. And this, I know for a fact, would make her proud. She thrived off of people who did good and who actually gave a damn about others. She loved when someone would just stand up and say how they feel, regardless if it was right or wrong. I thank you for this dearly. You have proved me wrong, not everyone is a heartless monster, and I appreciate you for that. I think the poor news-casters need a little lesson on how to be an actual human; not a machine with no feelings or emotions.