Other views on the Christine Busalacchi case

Other views on the Christine Busalacchi case

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

Source: FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 3, no. 3 (March 1991), p. 8.

This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.


On issues of this kind of sensitivity, TV can say ‘no’. The whole thing is cruel, and to be a party to that, I think, is a tacit endorsement of that type of cruelty. To play in a public relations battle fought out in such a way is really, I think, low.

—Tom Goldstein, dean, graduate school of journalism, University of California, Berkley

I frankly don’t find anything wrong (with airing the state-supplied video). The health department has decided to go into the public arena and I don’t see where any outlet — radio, television or newspaper — has any option but to cover that story. Like it or not, it is a perfectly legitimate news story.

Using the videotape of the woman which the health department claims shows she’s not in a persistent vegetative state is no different than if they’d used . . . still pictures or simply described her condition using a bunch of doctors.

—Peter Herford, director, William Benton Fellowships in Broadcast Journalism, University of Chicago

There are some thoughts that television stations should consider: Number one, did they verify the contents of that tape in any way? Did they question its validity?

Secondly, did they disclose to the audience how the tape was provided and under what circumstances?

Thirdly, did they notify the father they were going to use the tape and give him an opportunity to respond?

Fourth, did they consider any alternatives, such as shooting the tape themselves — providing a third party perspective on what happened?

—Bob Steele, associate, Poynter Institute

The TV stations acted appropriately when they used the videotape. The young woman has a high level of recognizability in the community. The news media are really a conduit for information and our only proper reaction — since the father and state which is paying her bills have made her available to the media — is, ‘Is this newsworthy?’

—Rob Sunde, chair, Radio-Television News Directors Association, news director, ABC Information Network

I have this thing about TV stations being all caught up in the visual, instead of content. The story could have been told without the videotape by interviewing people at the hospital.

Each individual should have control over presentations of themselves in public. If the patient is not able to speak for herself, then the request to make pictures should be addressed to the guardian or parent. That it was done without approval, raises questions in my mind about invasion of privacy.

—Edmund B. Lambeth, professor of journalism, University of Missouri, author of Committed Journalism.

For the original article these views reference, see “Whose right is it anyway?