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Private Matters

By Suzanne Spurgeon  April 6, 2009

When does personal privacy trump the public's right to know?  It's a question asked daily in newsrooms.  For the past twenty years, the Defense Department has protected the privacy of mourning families and prohibited cameras from capturing images of caskets carrying slain servicemen and women as they arrive at Dover Air Force Base.  The Obama administration has changed that policy but with an important caveat: families will have the final say on whether cameras are present.  Like many journalists, I believe it is important to show these images as a reminder of the high price our military families pay in wartime.  In our busy lives, we sometimes forget their sacrifice.  And I think giving the families veto power is the right thing.

Does the public ever have the right or need to know about medical issues of public figures?  If that public figure is the President, then the answer is of course.  If the public figure is Farrah Fawcett, it's none of our business.  The actress is back in the hospital although it's unclear if it is related to her battle with cancer.  Her privacy was breached during an earlier hospital stay and heads rolled at UCLA Medical Center when it was determined employees snooped into her medical records.  That's illegal but it won't stop tabloids from trying to buy the information.  Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the public refused to buy the tabs when they violate privacy issues and common decency? Let's hope her records are kept private this time and if and when Farrah wants us to know something, it will come directly from her or her reps.

Tabloids and mainstream media have a field day when public officials are caught in sex scandals. And these things don't just fade away.They may start small, but soon it's front page news. Scandal brought down governors in both New York and New Jersey.  And now another governor is in trouble.  Divorce papers filed by the wife of Nevada's governor allege he had affairs.  Governor Jim Gibbons failed in his bid to keep those files sealed.  These stories are always icky but I think legit.  Not to say the public needs to know all the gory details.  But if a politician's personal life is interfering with his public life, it's news.  We don't know what it true in the Gibbons' case, but residents of Nevada do, I believe, have a right to ask some questions of the top guy.

And one final note about privacy.  A big TMI to Levi Johnston for his loose lips on The Tyra Banks Show.  Teenage pregnancy is a serious topic.  It's too bad that Tyra didn't treat it that way when she asked Johnston repeatedly if he and Sarah Palin's daughter practiced safe sex.  She got the answer she wanted but at what cost. 




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