How the Media Covered Tom Schweich's Suicide | KBIA

How the Media Covered Tom Schweich's Suicide

Mar 6, 2015

Judd Slivka

Last week Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. What’s the appropriate way for the news media to cover a suicide? Missouri School of Journalism professors Judd Slivka, Mike McKean and Amy Simons discuss the issue on KBIA-FM's media criticism program, "Views of the News."

Just before the incident, Schweich left a voicemail for St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Page Editor, Tony Messenger.  Messenger later released the audio recording.

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"I think we should applaud Tony for being transparent."

There are some times when journalists will go to great lengths to protect their sources, in some cases, going to jail. Simons pointed out this case is different, though, because Schweich was dead. She said Messenger was carrying out what he believed would have been the auditor's wishes. Slivka agreed, saying he thought the type of information Messenger shared was for the greater good.

"Because there is not any confidential information. There is no need to protect that source at this point."

Journalists don't normally cover suicides.  McKean said that is because of the fear someone might see it as an opportunity to capture their own "fifteen minutes of fame." Schweich's case was an exception. McKean said there several criteria that can make a suicide newsworthy -- and this case met those standards. 

"Suicide just isn't that simple."

McKean thought it might be good for journalists to do more in-depth reporting on what people do and do not know about suicide.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, they said that suicide is not a normal response and suicide almost always results from the pain and desperation from mental illness. McKean stated that the media needs to stop drawing a line between how bad politics has become and suicide.

"There is a difference between saying one thing caused another, suicide is very complicated. But there is nothing wrong with saying that this is an example of how low our politics has become."