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Petit Home Invasions: How Much Information is Too Much?

Since the Petit Family home invasions the media has inudated us with gory details of exactly what happened during the invasion. But how much information is too much?

Whether one has wanted to or not the on the Petit Family’s nightmare has made it difficult to avoid. 

Weekly, if not daily, updates have made us privy to the ever unfolding case against Joshua Komisarjevsky and Stephen Hayes, who are on trial for the horrific murders of the Jennifer Hawke Petit, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11 and for rape charges against the victims. This is one of Connecticut’s most horrifying crimes and quite possibly the most widely publicized case we’ve ever had to contend with.

On July 23, 2007, Chesire and our state was numbed by the deaths of Dr. Petit’s beautiful family. One does not need to think further than their deaths, nevermind the brutality, to realize the tragedy is beyond what any of us can take in. And yet, Dr. Petit has been ever vigilant and faithful to his wife and girls, seeking the one attempt at justice that might bring some peace. As if that might be possible.

Once again, we were reminded this week of the savagery of the crime, as the Hartford Courant engaged the reader in full detail of how the youngest Petit died at the hands of Komisarjevsky and Hayes. The information is disturbing. Thankfully, Dr. Petit and his father chose to dismiss themselves from the courtroom.

Who of us can forget the images of Komisarjevsky and Hayes in the newpaper and in the nightly news? These images surpassed being upsetting. These killings gave those men a continual stream of publicity. In the mind of those sick men, might there be some twisted sense of satisfaction in garnering so much attention?

There is no doubt that these are the men who actuated the crime. There is no doubt their crime is one of the worst our state has endured. There is no doubt that Dr. Petit has paid an exorbitant emotional price that should be expected of none. 

And yet, I believe the continual coverage, the continual “tell all” mentality of the media requires  him to pay more.

The media has an obligation to tell news fairly, accurately and without bias. But at what point do we say, “This is not okay. This is unhealthy and crosses the boundries of what the public needs to know and what should remain largely unknown?”

Journalism ethics include the principle of "limitation of harm." Included in this is such ideals, including but not limited to: Showing compassion for those affected, as well as good taste and avoiding lurid details. Some question the sanitizing of the news and claim that often it is the gruesome details that we actually need to know to fully comprehend issues.

Until this past week, I had chosen not to read the accounts of the court hearings of what happened on that July day five years ago. It seems to me that we know enough, have seen enough and have heard enough. By all means continue the process of seeking justice, but please do it in good taste.

Let us protect the Petit Family’s privacy. Let us allow Mrs. Hawke-Petit, Hayley and Michaela to sleep in peace.

Edie September 30, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I agree.
M. Troy September 30, 2011 at 02:01 PM
The constant pounding of information from the media, folllow us on twitter or face book for more disgusting details is sickening. We turn our heads now or change the station when the 30 news starts on the story. What's unbelievable is the newscasters seem to think this is a great story. It's bad enough that the Pettit family has to hear this in court but throw in thier face on the media stations is stupid. It's time for the media to mve on.
David Moran (Editor) September 30, 2011 at 05:56 PM
M. Troy and others: Patty raises a very interesting point in this column, and speaking from the other side of the equation, as a journalist I'm always very cognizant of exactly how much information the public needs to know and always try to avoid crossing over into the sordid side of thing. But, on the other hand, some news outlets don't show the same degree of restraint. And it almost becomes sort of an "arms race" type of mentality. Where one news outlet has the salacious, sensationalized info...and, to tell you the truth, that's what a lot of the public seems to want to read (not saying you M. Troy or other readers on this site), because people speak with their eyes, ears, feet, clicks of a mouse or whatever. And as long as people keep coming to stories like that - and, believe me, they do - the news outlets will keep providing them. Believe me, I'm not saying that's an excuse, and reporters definitely NEED to be wary of if they are crossing over into morbid or grisly end of the pool on any story purely to pull in eyeballs or readers. But, speaking from personal experience, I can write the most engaging, compelling human interest story or a story about a local business or charity doing great things in the community, then write a quick little brief about somebody doing something stupid to get arrested. And that stupid little arrest story will draw two to three times more traffic. I'd LOVE to hear other users constructive opinions: where should we in the media draw the line?

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