Monday, November 19, 2007

The Megan Meier Case

The Internet is abuzz with debate over the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier. She committed suicide after being jilted by a boy named Josh who had shown interest in her in the virtual world of MySpace. As it turns out, there was no Josh. He was a cruel hoax, the work of a neighbor whose daughter had had a falling out with Megan.

Authorities say no law was broken, so no charges can be filed. Many in the online forums are unconvinced and outraged. This post from "Cindy" is typical: "She is the DEVIL, evil beyond words and if she does not pay for this crime, she will when she burns in the hottest of hells when her soul goes to hell. Hell is not even hot enough for this lowest form of scum on the earth." (Read more>)

In reviewing coverage of the case, both online and in traditional media, the web has more passion and more information. Online posts have identified the woman, her husband, his employer, their business and its customers (complete with addresses and phone numbers). Meanwhile, traditional news organizations so far have withheld the name of the neighbor.

In one posting, someone who identified himself as a newspaper journalist wrote: "Every day newspaper journalism as we know it gets one step closer to death, as readers turn to blogs and TV and other media for information. This wimp of an editor, who doesn't have the guts to name the wrongdoers involved, has just hastened our eventual demise by at least another week or two."

There is a common assumption that traditional journalists do the reporting and the blogosphere sits back and provides commentary. In this case, as in so many, most of the reporting is being done online by private citizens. But the lingering question remains, are they journalists, vigilantes or both?

It is obvious from my review how much private citizens can contribute to a story. However, one is reminded of the importance of journalistic ethics and an understanding that in the U.S., we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.


Danny Vice said...

The naming of Lori Drew has sparked quite a debate indeed. Some major news outlets have chosen to name the perpetrator(s) behind this story such as the New York Times. Some have chosen not to. The mainstream media however has concluded that the blogging community should shoulder the responsibility of first naming the perpetrator behind this story.

The first question I have in this debate is simple. What is new here? Since before the French Revolution, the media has been used to 'out' individuals who's actions seem to bear public relevancy in some way.

Although Lori Drew has not yet been charged in the case of Megan Meier, the media has never required formal charges to be made before running a story. In the case of some journalist like Dan Rather, some media outlets run with stories before even confirming that they're true.

In this particular case, media outlets that have chosen to withhold Lori Drew's identity have done so in consideration of other Drew family members.

I'm wondering if by doing this, the media plans to always withhold the names of interesting persons who outrage the community, if those persons have children. This would certainly be quite a ground-breaking event

Right at this moment, there is a story of a cop who is under investigation in the strange death of one wife and the disappearance of another. The cop in the story has a family, yet the media huddles outside his home relentlessly.

I could go back and list thousands of stories where the media wasted no time in delivering the names and occupations of individuals that were later cleared of any wrong-doing. I've never heard of another instance where the media apologized for naming names.

Don Henley's 'Dirty Laundry' certainly applies well to conduct of most major news outlets.

Lori Drew is a primary subject of the story, she is not a rape victim, and is not a minor. Identifying her breaks no new ground, nor does it deviate from what news outlets do on a daily basis.

I also remind readers that her name and her role in the Megan Meier tragedy were documented as public record. A public record that Lori filed on her own accord. This is a critically important fact in this debate.

News outlets, bloggers and the general public were handed Lori's name and Lori's own self admissions when she herself filed that police report and sought to elevate the entire situation into the public domain.

Had Lori Drew simply acknowledged what she did was wrong, and apologized - the police report that identified her may have never been filed, and the entire situation may have well been kept at the lowest profile.

Will we see the media write about this? Not likely.

Danny Vice

Danny Vice said...

On Wednesday, October 21st, city officials wasted no time enacting an ordinance designed to address the public outcry for justice in the Megan Meier tragedy. The six member Board of Aldermen made Internet harassment a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

Does this new law provide any justice for Megan? Does this law provide equitable relief for a future victim?

The Vice rejects the premise of this new law and believes it completely misses the mark. Classifying this case as a harassment issue completely fails to address the most serious aspects of the methods Lori Drew employed to lead this youth to her demise. The Vice disagrees that harassment was even a factor in this case until just a couple of days before Megan's death.

Considering this case a harassment issue is incorrect because during the 5 weeks Lori Drew baited and groomed her victim, the attention was NOT unwanted attention. Megan participated in the conversations willingly because she was misled, lured, manipulated and exploited without her knowledge.

This law willfully sets a precedent that future child exploiters and predators might use to reclassify their cases as harassment cases. In effect, the law enacted to give Megan justice, may make her even more vulnerable. So long as the child victim doesn't tell the predator to stop, even a harassment charge may not stick with the right circumstances and a good defender.

Every aspect of this case follows the same procedural requirement used to convict a Child Predator. A child was manipulated by an adult. A child was engaged in sexually explicit conversation (as acknowledged by Lori Drew herself). An adult imposed her will on a child by misleading her, using a profile designed to sexually or intimately attract the 13 year old Megan.

Lori then utilized the power she had gained over this child to cause significant distress and endangerment to that child. She even stipulated to many of these activities in the police report she filed shortly after Megan's death.

City officials who continue to ignore this viable, documented admission and continue to address this issue as harassment are intentionally burying their heads in the sand, when the solution is staring them right in the face. Why?

There are several other child exploitation laws on the books. To date, none of them have even been considered by City, State and Federal officials in this case. The Vice is outraged that a motion was never even filed, so that the case could at least be argued before a judge or jury.

Danny Vice