Is Withholding a Name Bad Journalism?

By: Bruce Layman
By: Bruce Layman

Is the withholding of the name of a driver not charged in a motor vehicle fatality just another example of a so-called "vast media conspiracy" to deliberately deceive the public?

The tragic death of Mary Hardman in a downtown Parkersburg parking lot sparked an outpouring of compassion among her co-workers, as evidenced by the cheer number of comments the story received (and continues to receive) on WTAP's web channel. 

For those who somehow did not hear about the story, Ms. Hardman was run over by the driver of a vehicle who evidently did not see her in the early morning hours.  An investigation continues at this time.

WTAP opted to not release the name of the driver because, at this time, no charges have been filed.  The initial word from the Parkersburg Police Department is that this was a "freakish accident."

Responses to WTAP's decision to not release the name of the driver have run the gamut: from praise for our compassion to the driver and family of the driver, to claims that we've been "bought off" by someone - possibly Public Debt itself - to keep the name under wraps, to claims that a "real" news organization has a responsibility to release all facts in an unfiltered and unbiased manner and "let the people decide" what's relevant and not relevant.


Hmmm. An interesting concept.  Release all information and "let the people decide."

Would this be applicable to the identity of a depressed person who commits suicide in the privacy of her house?

How about releasing the names of victims or alleged victims of rape and sexual assault? By definition, these people were an integral part of the story.

Informants and undercover cops routinely help break up drug rings.  Should we release their names?  I can say with virtual certainty that we'd have even more drug violence in the Mid-Ohio Valley, especially right now by those recently arrested who want nothing more than to dish out some street justice to the "narcs" and "squealers" out there.

Sorry, folks. One of the goals during the process of reporting news - as conspiratorial and elitist as some will think this sounds - is to protect the innocent from the modern-day equivalent of lynch mobs and those with an insatiable appetite for prurient, juicy gossip.

Of course, if you do believe that the "gold standard" of journalism is to report all facts, you are in luck. You can find such "unfiltered" news as close as your local grocery store where the finest tabloids are sold by the millions around the country every week.

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