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Why only Channel 7 didn't report on the Tai Ho autopsies

Every other media outlet did, even BostonNow, but WHDH was enjoined by a court ruling in a case brought by the firefighters' union. The Outraged Liberal discusses that:

... I'm no fan of 7News, with its over-the-top emphasis on crime, mayhem and the latest "thing." I find their style to be overly aggressive and their heated pursuit of what I think to be non-stories as annoying.

But, to single then out is wrong. Whether we like it or not, this is a legitimate story. And as we have learned from CSI and the other shows of its genre, evidence doesn't lie. The odds on mixing up the samples, even in a medical examiner's office as screwed up as the one in Suffolk County, are astronomical.

[Judge] Hopkins ruled that one news outlet could not report the kind of news we don't like to hear -- that even heroes are mortal human beings. That ruling is a bigger abomination than reporting the facts.

Dan Kennedy is shocked by the ruling:

By stopping WHDH-TV (Channel 7) from reporting on autopsy reports that allegedly show two Boston firefighters killed in an August restaurant blaze had abused drugs and alcohol, Hopkins violated the most basic of First Amendment protections โ€” the protection against prior restraint. ...

The courts - right up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court - have consistently ruled that when a confidential document ends up in the hands of the media, there's nothing that can be done about it. The legal responsibility is on the keepers of those documents not to release them; the media, by contrast, have no legal obligation not to report on them. ...

Earlier:
Oh, my: Were Tai Ho firefighters drunk, on coke?

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Comments

These are protected by the same privacy provisions that the firefighters' autopsy records are (save autopsy are with permission of "next of kin" instead of "patient").

Can we broadcast them on major news outlet radio? Why not, its only fair! I'm sure we could dream up some overriding reason why there is serious public interest in everybody knowing his personal information. Heck, social security records are part of public records - let's broadcast his SSN!

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Dan Kennedy isn't drunk/high while on the job getting paid by the taxpayers.

Why is everyone so worked up that this is public? Would we have been just as worked up if we had found out about a coverup?

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Your health records are next, like that case of clap you had in college? We'll get it public when you want to go vote. It proves how unfit you are to vote in a public election, after all ...

As an epidemiologist, I can't get data for public health studies, which have very high public importance thank you very much. Not even when I worked for DPH, not even stripped of individual identifiers. That means health records on live people, autopsy records, etc. Why? Privacy concerns, and many of them very reasonable privacy concerns.

Why should the media be any different, particularly when they are going to broadcast such information far and wide?

I couldn't give two shits that we are talking firefighters here - this is a gross violation of the law by some hack with an agenda residing in a beleaguered and incompetent mess of an agency that has lost bodies and botched tests in recent memory.

This information WOULD have become public at some point, through proper formal structures known as public hearings, grand jury proceedings, official inquiries, etc. The family didn't even know about this stuff yet and THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO HAVE THE LEGAL RIGHT TO RELEASE IT. It also means that nobody is answering some very important scientific questions about how/where/when these tests were conducted, and how the conditions in the fire might have totally rendered them bogus through dehydration, through contamination, etc.

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You're obviously missing the point of the various posts on this topic - if they're given to a media source, that source has every constitutional right to broadcast them, as per Supreme Court decision. It's the person who *gave* them to the media that is liable to prosecution (if laws were broken) or civil suit.

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That's really not the issue here.

The issue is our 1st amendment right to speech guys. The leaked report is part of the public now because it was leaked. It's up to the originator of the report / information to keep that information private. They have a right to go after the leaker, but the government should be telling a newpaper to shut it's mouth.

While I agree the media should use some judgment in releasing information in cases like this, it's frightening to see a judge overstep their bounds of the law.

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What I don't get is how every other major news outlet WAS allowed to report on it. From Boston.com to Fox25, WCVB, WBZ. If one news outlet isn't allowed, then all news outlets shouldn't be allowed!

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Often in big cases, the news source that goes to the courts for the records opens the floodgate. That is, Channel 7 goes to the courts. The courts say no and effectively bar Channel 7 from reporting on it without legal repercussion. People connected to the case realize that the courts aren't going to provide the documentation, so they take initiative to tell a journalist about what's in the document. Sometimes it's only one leak, sometimes more. But when the wires pick up the story or once the first publication has reported it, other publications can write of the "reports" about the case.

The news source that started the ball rolling, however, is left without that headline during the news cycle.

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And the firefighters' union then found out about it and sued the station.

One could spin theories about disgruntled WHDH'ers or whoever dropping dimes to the other media outlets, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was more that the other media outlets found out about the court case (court cases still being public in this country, at least in matters not involving national security or juveniles) and then started going "WTF?" One thing led to another and the toothpaste was out of the tube.

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Samuel J. Scott asks the question:

This is completely unacceptable. The Nixon administration could not stop The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers โ€“ and that was seen as a potential threat to national security, not just to a family's feelings. The government cannot prevent a media outlet from publishing anything, even if the information was gained illegally. (However, that does not mean that a media outlet would not face the consequences of publishing information โ€” like libel or slander lawsuits.) ... The Supreme Judicial Court, if it has any integrity, will strike the original ruling down quickly. But a question remains: Why didn't Channel 7 just ignore the ruling and air the story? That's what I would have done. ...

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Although you'll have to go to boston.com to read about it.

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