Forensic Files: Journalists

The final part of this series is about the press. We have all seen what happens to celebrities. A day does not go by where we are not influenced by the media. As a society we have opinions about people we will never know based on what we read online. Every time someone is labeled as “alleged” by the media, they are automatically seen as guilty by the audience. This is the reason why many riots are caused in inner cities around the world. Ignorant people who think they know what really happened because they heard from another person or on the internet, the “True Story.” Until you are met by the press for something you and your family member has supposedly done, you can’t possibly know what it is like.

Case A: A young girl on my caseload was schizophrenic. She had a professional who was inappropriately involved with her and often took her on outings, unknown to me. When the teen ran away, this person would know her whereabouts but never made me aware of this. One day the teen decided to slit the throat of a passerby while on an outing with this professional. This professional did not turn her in to the police for a couple of days. Once this occurred, the press posted story after story about her case. Suddenly she was a gang member involved in an initiation ritual. They printed her name, which is unethical for a minor, especially one involved with social services. For days, stories about her gang initiation was all the rage with journalists until she finally reached the court room. I was not allowed, being a social worker, to make any statements to the press. If you work for social services or any type of public agency or have any type of confidentiality clause in your contract, you are not allowed to speak to anyone about the case that is not already involved. Please keep this in mind. It does not mean something is being hidden by social services. It means it is none of the public’s business and if it were your family  you would be grateful for this.

The press have a job to do. Investigate a story and find out all you can so that you write something before the deadline. They are not held by many standards other than they aren’t supposed to make something up. While she was not involved in a gang in the above mentioned story, someone could have told them this. If someone gives you information, you can print it as long as you can prove someone did this. Not printing a minor’s name in California is an unwritten law. It is just known that you don’t do this. Some newspapers have no ethics whatsoever. Again, as I was her social worker, they were not allowed to contact me and even if they had, they would know I would say “I am not at liberty to discuss this case.” They did approach me outside the court room and I found it quite humorous. It is a game for them. Though I will say, that I desperately wanted the press to know the truth. However, having been interviewed several times by the media for other reasons, I know how your words are always taken out of context and they will write what they want. So I was glad that my agency protected us by not allowing us to talk to the press.

Case B: A very popular young woman’s magazine approached me through a website I used to run for survivors of domestic violence. They wanted my opinion as a social worker on a law being passed in NY, in regards to the issue of women losing their children to domestic violence. After speaking to the reporter for approximately two hours, I got a follow-up phone call to go over the details. They had changed several things that I had said, including upgrading me to a Ph.D. (Psychologist). We went over the changes and then a month later I got a copy of the magazine. My stance was “in the middle.” That is because you can’t be concrete about any situation when it comes to a forensic case. This is why we have jury’s. It is why we have attorney’s and a legal system designed to protect the innocent. The magazine wanted an article that would sell. Needless to say I was horrified when I saw the lengths the magazine went to, to manipulate my words and visually demonstrate their real opinion. I opened up to the story and found a photo of a crying white baby hanging onto the bars of its crib.  The caption read “Should children be removed in domestic violence situations?” I might have paraphrased that because it was years ago. Then I saw my photo – a white woman, labeled as Child Welfare Worker in California. To the right of me was an African-American parent who had their children removed. Obviously they were making people assume there was a racist element here – without saying it. This was 2004, a little before people became so nauseating about using the word racist out of context. Above my side of the article was the word “YES,” and above her was the word “NO.” Her story was her words, which any social worker could read between the lines and see exactly what was missing. My side of the story was also turned around and luckily my colleagues could also see what I meant. The problem though is that this magazine is NOT read by social workers. It is read by 20-30 something girls, mostly uneducated women who have no knowledge of social services. A popular domestic violence organization in San Francisco applauded the other woman in the article by quoting something she had said. I was so furious because if they had heard what I had said, they would have realized it was more appropriate to the cause at hand. But I was the victim of the press, just as my client was above.

Therefore, if you are involved in a case that will have media attention, be prepared. Whether you go into court looking like a cold heartless bitch, or a woman ready for a nervous breakdown, the media will have you labeled as guilty of something. It’s a Catch 22 because journalists will flip the visual to their advantage. A story gets lots of money if it is picked up by other papers. It’s a crap shoot who actually gets the truth, sometimes when they least expect it. Once in a rare moment, the journalist will win an award. I doubt the average guy hopes for a Pulitzer, they just want to get paid at the end of the day. So while it is a sleazy profession and most people have absolutely no morals – same as paparazzi’s, it pays the bills.

You also have realized by now that all of us, in society, are excited by drama, the richer the better. We are in a world of reality shows vs. television dramas. It’s the reason our beloved soaps were removed from the air. Who wants to watch Erica Kane or Crystal Carrington (fictitious characters) when they can watch those Kardashian girls? We are voyeuristic and lack in empathy.

Keep this in mind when your family is involved with the press. If it is really bad, get a PR consultant. Dress professionally when you are going to make a statement. Have it written down and pick someone to talk who can do so without emotions, some but not a lot. People do not like to see crying babies. Even though it shows sorrow, we are more interested in hearing your admission of guilt or you taking responsibility in some way. Make sure you have an attorney on your case, even if you don’t think you need one, have one lined up for consultation. Don’t read what you see online or in the paper. Only do interviews with respected programs. Make sure when you do television interviews you go over the questions that will be asked before going on the air. If you are shocked on camera, you look guilty. Don’t be rude to anyone just be respectful. Always remember that they are doing their job. Be prepared for any crazy question that might be thrown in your face. Someone might have been going through your trash.

If you don’t like it, stop buying it. Don’t pay for television. Don’t focus on what you see online. Treat it all as gossip and entertainment. Stop watching reality programs and pay attention to your family.


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