Bustamonte records

29 Oct


We will spend some time in class Tuesday talking about the media ethics issues raised by the University of Idaho’s release of documents related to the Ernesto Bustamonte case.

Bustamonte was the fired UI professor who killed his one-time student, Katy Benoit, at the beginning of fall semester.

The thousands of documents answer some questions, raise others. How the information is sorted and used raises ethical, if not legal, questions.

How much detail on the romantic relationship between Benoit and Bustamonte is appropriate to report? How much detail on Benoit’s own mental illness and alleged drug use should be reported? Does Benoit have, in death, any ethical right to privacy even as the university, under court mandate, has released substantial private information?

The Benoit family, understandably upset by some of the detail, argues the university has failed to release all materials in its possession and is withholding important information. Their assertion has been reported. But to what extent should they be pressed to offer evidence of their claim?

For our PR students, the Bustamonte case ultimately will be a case study in crisis management. How well has the university managed its crisis communications? What else could be done, should be done?

These are just some of the questions worth considering.

Feel free to post ideas here. And we will take up the conversation later.



9 Responses to “Bustamonte records”

  1. thomasagrant October 29, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    In the early reports, everyone referred to Bustamonte as having a “split personality.” Now, the description is “bipolar.” There’s a huge difference. Whether or not they had the right to describe him has having split personality based on second hand information in a police report, don’t the media at least owe readers an explanation now of why there’s this big difference in the media diagnosis?

  2. Samantha Storms October 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    In considering this case and what has been discussed in my other classes it is clear that the UI learned a lot about crisis managment. A terrible event like this isnt something that is easily anticipated but Tom brings up a great point that lack of information presented could be part of the reason so many rumors came about. It is human nature to jump to conclusions but it would have been helpful if the UI could have released some information sooner.

    The whole situation was a tragic one but overall I think they did an alright job considering.

  3. Ann Truesdell October 31, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    I think there are a lot of ethical issues with this situation. One that I found interesting is the Benoit family’s claims that the University isn’t releasing everything but they’re also not happy about the information about their daughter that has been released. I think that there is not way to really cover this story or understand it better without releasing information about Bustamante and Benoit. It wouldn’t make any sense if there wasn’t coverage on both sides.

  4. kopk1214 October 31, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    “How much detail on the romantic relationship between Benoit and Bustamonte is appropriate to report?”
    -I don’t think that it’s necessary to go into too much detail about the romantic relationship between Benoit and Bustamonte unless those details have significant ramifications on what lead up to the murder. I mean that there’s no need to express details that could potentially be harmful to Benoit’s family or their families perception of Katy. I think that after it’s established that they had a relationship, you can leave it there. I believe that the focus should more be on Bustamonte’s profile with the University and his evaluations. If there were red flags in Bustamonte’s files and they weren’t addressed by the University I think that’s where the focus of the case should be.

  5. rachellane9 November 1, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    I personally think that Katy has a right to privacy in the fact that I dont believe that her sexual background outside of her relations with Ernesto have anything to do with this case. Katy is a victim of murder. I think that in bringing up her past of the sexual relationshipd she had with other people dont apply to this investigation.I think that Katy Benoit’s past being brought up is making it seem like she was the reason he murdered her and ethically, I just dont feel like that is right. Ernesto’s mental health should be one of the biggest issues taken into account in this investigation. I am curious to know that if the University knew about his mental health why was he hired as a professor?

  6. danistuckenschneider November 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    I do not feel the University of Idaho, or the Moscow Police were prepared so early on in the school year for a drastic case such as this. A murder in a small town can change a lot, and this particular murder raises a lot of ethical issues that are beginning to be addressed. If I were a part of the Beniot family I would be furious that Katy’s life is being picked through and very openly discussed. I think that she, as the victim of a horrible crime should have some protected form of privacy. I do agree that the romantic relationship should be open because that could greatly have to do with Bustamonte wanted to kill her in the first place. Whether their relationship was appropriate or not, it happened and lead to two deaths. However with that said I don’t think that any of her previous sexual partners have anything to do with this particular case, its inappropriate and irrelevant to her murder. As for her possible drug use..this is again irrelevant to the case and is not the reason she died. From my knowledge Katy died because of Bustamonte’s illness whether that was split personality or bipolar disorder.

  7. brandoncary23 November 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    In my opinion I think that there are two sides to every story. As a journalist one should want to give the full story, not just the tragic heartbreaking story everyone expects to hear. I think that Katy Benoit’s sexual history is irrelevant but I do think that Bustamonte’s complaints should be brought to light. It should be the readers decision as to whether or not his complaints were to cover his own wrong doings or if they had truth to them. When it comes to the University and how they handled the situation I believe they did the best they could. In hindsight I think they could have done more considering they simply warned Katy to stay somewhere else but who would think that a murder would have resulted from this?

  8. kise5805 November 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    This is a difficult topic. As mentioned above, nobody in Moscow was prepared for this, especially so early in the school year. Circumstances given, I think the university handled this in the best way possible — the best they knew how to. As we talked about in class, there are several factors that contributed to the university’s decision to handle things the way they did — the biggest factor being the presence of lawyers. Yes, people are going to be upset and outraged, but the bigger picture needs to be taken into account.

    I agree that Benoit’s sexual history is irrelevant to the case, but it may add perspective, or background information. As a reporter, I would choose to run this information — not out of fairness to Bustamonte — but to report everything I know.

    I too, find it interesting that Benoit’s family was upset that the university wasn’t sharing all the information they knew, and that once they did, the family was even more upset.

    Although the presence of these facts and documents do not justify what Bustamonte did, they bring perspective and a better understanding to our knowledge of what was going on. And isn’t that a journalist’s job — to add to the public’s knowledge and understanding?

  9. kristiatkinson November 8, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I think the university had limited information that were almost just rumors. I understand that they were trying to just find information, but I don’t think rumors, such as him having a multiple personality disorder to being bipolar, are a legit way to solve a crisis. I think the university did the best they could.

    One thing I did have an issue with was the student evaluations. Apparently (another rumor?) many of Bustamonte’s student evaluations reported signs that could have prevented this situation, put him under the radar, or taken the victim out of the picture out of anonymity. If I were to give you a review claiming terrible things, would action actually be taken? Are these reviews just read by the teacher or does someone else from the university read them as well?

    I believe we spoke a little in class about the family of Benoit. I think they were providing a lot of information to the press. How much did the family actually know about her and her relationship with Bustamonte? I think some of the information they give could also be almost considered rumors as well. They lived in Boise while she lived in Moscow. They couldn’t know EVERYTHING about her life. But that is irrelevant.

    I think the reports of the relationship, his mental illness and drug use should be touched on, but not detailed.

    I think this is a rare case for the university, but they should be prepared. I think they should read every evaluation to see how these teachers/professors are really like. I think they should do everything in their power to get information out as quick as possible in order to limit rumors. I also think their emergency contact system should be quicker. I received messages and texts from the university well after everything at the University Inn was completed.

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