Mon 10 Dec 2012
So, apparently they canceled an Australian talk show after the hosts prank called the hospital where a certain British citizen was staying. This is very confusing to me.
Let’s start off with an assertion with which I think most people can agree: if someone prank calls your place of work, and you unwittingly pass the call on to someone else, that is absolutely, by itself, not a reason to commit suicide. Nurses do far worse things all the time (including similar mistakes, like accidentally revealing HIPAA-protected information) and don’t commit suicide. If, after such an event occurs, someone does kill themselves, it is almost certain that there were other issues that probably played a far greater role — since prank calls and nurse “mistakes” (if this even was one) happen almost constantly without any results of this type.
I think it’s very hard for us to blame the talk show hosts, either legally or even just in the court of public opinion. Perhaps what they did was rude or mean, but this single sentence constitutes the full spectrum of their actions: they called one person once and said something that made them unhappy. If this is a standard of guilt, every person who has ever yelled at customer support on the phone is guilty as well.
Since we are unaware of what other circumstances could have led to this tragedy, there are only 2 factors that matter:
- A nurse was called by radio hosts who said some things in order to gain access to a 3rd party
- That 3rd party was a member of the British Monarchy, an organization that has no real meaning outside that which society attaches to it
As I said above, I think we can all agree that item #1 is not sufficient, by itself, for anyone to even get particularly upset, much less commit suicide. So, what role does item #2 play? Certainly more than the former. I emphatically do not believe that the celebrity we grant to totally random individuals makes us (or the celebrity) guilty when someone does something tragic as a result of that fame, but since we seem incapable of not trying to blame someone when this happens, why, of the two outside parties, did we pick the radio hosts? Why not the institution that makes these completely random people something more important than random other hospital patients no one feels terrible about when they make a totally innocuous mistake in the course of their care?
If two radio hosts can be suspended because they said some rude things that caused someone to feel that they had impugned the majesty of a randomly selected group of people, why on earth wouldn’t we levy the same penalty on the people and institutions who decided that group of people were worthy of that respect? People who, despite obviously not being directly responsible for what occurred, are at least somewhat more responsible than the radio hosts. It’s also important to note that to the extent that they contributed to this tragedy, they continue to maintain the circumstances that could make it possible for similar issues to occur — unlike the radio hosts, who will undoubtedly never prank call that hospital again. It’s impossible to prevent people saying rude or offensive things that might drive others to suicide. It is not impossible for us to decide that certain random people are unworthy of the level of respect that causes people to feel terrible because they forwarded a call about those people. Unfortunately, while not impossible, it’s extremely unlikely — because the exact organizations that keep treating random selections of British genetics like newsworthy items (CNN, etc…) are precisely the people for whom this is not a tragedy, but a ratings boost.