Last Friday, Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times posted a story about a 39-year-old woman who suffered from persistent genital arousal disorder. “The rare syndrome,” wrote Leonora LaPeter Anton, “seems to violate one of the basic elements of human sexuality: our ability to control our sexual lives. In essence, it makes desire irrelevant, stripping away all psychological pleasure from sex and leaving only the mechanics of arousal.”
A day later, the woman featured in the lengthy Times piece was found dead; Gretchen Molannen committed suicide, according to the sheriff’s office.
Blogger and frequent Tampa Bay Times critic Peter Schorsch contends “the Times is partially responsible for what has happened.” He writes: “The moment I read this story I questioned why it was being published by the Times, other than the story’s obvious ability to drive readership and online traffic.”
While none of us will likely ever really know why Molannen committed suicide, we can all do the math. Woman tells story to the newspaper. Newspaper publishes sensational story. Woman commits suicide the day the story is published online.
One plus one equals blood on the Times‘ hands.
Poynter’s paper says the woman welcomed the feature. Here’s its editor’s note:
“Thank YOU for taking an interest in doing a story for me! I am flattered that you cared so much to want to help. I just hope this will educate people that this is serious and really exists, and that other women who are suffering in silence will now have the courage to talk to a doctor about it. If men have suffered with the shame of impotence or even priapism, now it’s time for women to get help as well. Thank you for your patience with me and for devoting so much time to this. I’m sure your editor is very proud of your work and I’m excited to see my own story online.”
Blogger Schorsch’s view: “No matter how good the writing, no matter how interesting the subject matter, a story about a woman ‘who must masturbate for hours for just a few minutes of relief’ did not belong in a mainstream newspaper.”
My question: Does Poynter’s paper routinely read entire stories to profile subjects prior to publication?