The Oklahoma Daily autopsy case

23 Aug


In class today we discussed the in-the-headlines case of The Oklahoma Daily at the University of Oklahoma, where editors  embedded a link to an autopsy report in a story following up on the June death of an OU student who fell from a fire escape. Here is a link to Poynter’s take on the case.

In writing about the report — which confirmed the young female student was drunk at the time of her fall — Daily editors included a link to the medical examiner’s autopsy report. The paper did not actually publish the report, but simply provided a link to what is a public record.

Reader outrage followed and apparently prompted editors to quickly remove the link and apologize for their “insensitivity” to family and friends of the victim and the university community.

We spent a fair amount of time on the case in class but left the issues unresolved. Were Daily editors ethically correct to embed the link in the first place? If the overriding professional value at play in this case is the public’s right to know, one can make the argument the link was ethically acceptable. But if the overriding professional value at play is protecting the privacy of victim and family — or protecting the sensibilities of the university community — one can make the argument the link was not justified and the apology was appropriate.

Would the calculation be different if the newspaper in the case were a metropolitan daily serving a general audience as opposed to a paper serving

I think this case could resonate with UI students. We have had similar death-by-falling incidents on campus in recent years. Even last year’s murder of a student at the hands of a deranged ex-faculty member could raise the same issues re: an autopsy report.

This post presents an opportunity for students — and anyone else — to continue the discussion.

What do you think? What was the right thing to do?



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