The Public's Right to Good Taste | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The Public's Right to Good Taste

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Dear editor:

My guess is that you will receive a few angry letters regarding Ted Kleine's article "Is This Man a Monster?" published in the Reader [July 27]. Or if you don't, you should, as the article is one of the more egregious examples of yellow journalism to have appeared in Chicago's newpapers--no slouches in this respect--in years. That it involves one of our patients is merely incidental.

One's criticism could be directed to any number of the article's substantive flaws: e.g., its heavy reliance on the biased and often contradictory opinions of an overzealous state's attorney; its frequent reference to the medically groundless, punitive speculations of the victims' relatives who remain, understandably, unable to grasp or come to terms with the awful enormity of what happened 13 years ago; or the presumed premise itself that there is major cause for alarm here, that people like the patient described in the article are walking time bombs, when the fact is that after years of intensive treatment and monitoring they are, clinically and statistically, among the safest of release risks. (In the 20-plus years that we have run this postdischarge program for the state of Illinois, there has not been a single case of violent recidivism.)

But that would be mere quibbling, subject to the at least facially plausible retort that the public has a right to know, that the event prompting the article--the patient's release--is newsworthy, and that reasonable people can disagree on how adequately and fairly a paper of the Reader's caliber and audience can be expected to cover the matter. In the final analysis, it could be argued, the Reader is merely responding to the public's interest, only doing its duty--however well or ineptly.

Such pieties, however, are wholly belied by the presentation of the article: the literally monstrous front-page title, the five-inch screaming headline, the tampered wedding photo, soft-focus except for the subject's head in startling encircled clarity. There is no excuse for this, no justification. This has nothing to do with the public's right to know. Only with the Reader's self-arrogated right to sensationalize and sell copies. It stinks.

S. Jan Brakel, J.D.

Isaac Ray Center

W. Polk

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