Published August 20, 2014 by charlenecleoeiben54123

Report the truth — the whole truth — on Robin Williams’ death
Robin Williams
Caption Robin Williams
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
The Oscar-winning actor and comic rose to fame in the TV series “Mork & Mindy.” He became one of the world’s most successful entertainers. He was 63.
‘Mork & Mindy’
Caption ‘Mork & Mindy’
Robin Williams plays the alien Mork in “Mork & Mindy” from 1978 to 1982, with Pam Dawber. The character was first featured in an episode of “Happy Days.”
Robin Williams | 1979
Caption Robin Williams | 1979
Tony Barnard / Los Angeles Times
Robin Williams performs at the Universal Amphitheater on July 1, 1979
Robin Williams | 1979
Caption Robin Williams | 1979
Margaret Hartnett, Los Angeles Times
Robin Williams performs at the reopening of the Improv in Hollywood on Aug. 13, 1979.
Caption ‘Popeye’
File / AFP/Getty Images
Robin Williams stars as Popeye the sailor man, whose secret source of strength turns out to be spinach, with Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, in 1980’s “Popeye.”
By Andrew Klavan, guest blogger
Should journalists report the unsettling details of Robin Williams’ death? In a word, yes

The details of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide aren’t pretty (not that anyone thought they would be): The beloved actor and comedian was reportedly found by his personal assistant suspended just off the ground by a belt wrapped around his neck. Cuts on his wrist suggest he may have attempted to kill himself one way before succeeding at asphyxiation.
Robin Williams: A Mork in the family
Robin Williams: A Mork in the family
Meghan Daum

You probably wouldn’t know any of this if some enlightened journalists had their way. Those who missed the initial news conference where these details were first reported would have been kept in the dark, because journalists, some people say, don’t have to continue reporting the disturbing facts after they’ve been delivered by the government officials obligated to do so.

Those thinkers are wrong. Journalists’ job is to tell the whole story, and nothing less. I speak from experience.

Many years ago while working as a reporter in a small town, I received an obituary call from a local funeral director. The call was routine in every way but one: The subject of the obit was a young man in his teens. At the suggestion of my editor, I looked into the death and discovered the boy had hanged himself. I added that to the story.
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A few hours before the final deadline, I received a phone call. It was the boy’s mother. She had heard I was asking questions about her son. In a voice ragged with grief, she begged me not to print the fact that he had committed suicide. It was a call that would’ve moved a heart of stone.

I had no authority to change the story, so I handed the call to my editor, a woman as kind as she was wise and whose judgment I accepted without reservation. There was no doubt in my mind she would delete the offending sentences. Why not? Some kid kills himself in a small town; who needs to know?

I was shocked to find out I was mistaken. In the gentlest way possible, my editor explained to the grieving mother that the story had to run as it was.
Robin Williams once made me laugh so hard I literally fell off the sofa in my TV room. It is deeply unpleasant to picture him dying the way he did. –

My editor and I debated this decision until after midnight. My argument was that, in such a small story, our sacred duty to tell the whole truth might be harmlessly sacrificed to compassion. Her argument was that this boy’s death was a small story, yes, but part of a bigger story, the story of the county we covered. It was our job — and an important job — to tell that story straight.

You and your editor are rare journalists. The media routinely contorts stories to fit a narrative deemed important to larger causes. Simply follow the Ferguson fiasco and the outcry regarding the release of the video which documented Brown as a thug, a thief and a bully. Since the…
Ironic Amputee
at 2:53 PM August 20, 2014

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That my editor was wholly in the right became clear to me a few years later. It was then that county and state authorities discovered that, in fact, there had been a growing plague of teenage suicides in that area, starting right about that time. I can’t say that the small obituary we ran directly contributed to that discovery. I only know we told our readers the whole truth about what turned out to be an important incident in their neighborhood. We did our job, in other words, and it was the right thing to do.

Robin Williams once made me laugh so hard I literally fell off the sofa in my TV room. It is deeply unpleasant to picture him dying the way he did.

The hive mind of the Twitterverse was outraged by the reporting of those details. Al Tompkins of the media watchdog group Poynter told USA Today that “journalists don’t have the obligation to report that information over and over again in that level of detail.”
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Robin Williams | 1951-2014
Robin Williams | 1951-2014 Read more stories

Tompkins is wrong: The manner of Williams’ death is public information. Journalists should report it as long as it remains of interest to the public.

It is not a journalist’s job to protect us from the ugly facts. Neither is it his job to protect the sensitive from the painful truth or anyone, really, from anything.

In fact, speaking more broadly, it is not a journalist’s job to make the world a better place, to ensure our right thinking, or to defend the virtuous politicians that sophisticates like himself voted for while excoriating the evildoers elected by those country rubes on the other side. It is not his job to do good or be kind or be wise. The idea that any of this is a journalist’s job is a fallacy that seems to have infected the trade in the 1970s, when idealistic highbrows began to replace the Janes and Joes who knew a good story when they heard one.

Because that’s the journalist’s job: the story. His only job: to tell the whole story straight.

In the greater scheme of things, Williams’ suicide is a small story, but it is part of a bigger story: the story of our country and our world. That story unfolds only slowly, and no one knows what wisdom it will ultimately reveal. The best we can do is tell each chapter whole and true, without piety or fear or favor.

The best we can do is journalism.

Andrew Klavan’s latest book for young adults is “MindWar.”

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times


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