PREVIOUSLY, Thursday, 10:05 AM: A story by The Hollywood Reporter describing grisly autopsy details of Sarah Jones has shocked and infuriated many of Jones’ family, friends and former co-workers in the entertainment industry as they took to Twitter and Facebook Wednesday evening calling for the newspaper to take down their article. Various FB and Twitter sites that started up after Jones’ death, including Slates for Sarah, Investigating the Midnight Rider Tragedy and other sites dedicated to Sarah Jones. The army behind Jones’ took to social media with #justiceforSarah, #victimsrights.
This morning, Sarah Jones’ mother Elizabeth Jones penned an open letter to the trade magazine saying her family was “appalled” and “stunned.” (Read it here).
“The careless and callous decision made by The Hollywood Reporter to publish the ‘grisly’ details of Sarah Jones’ death has caused significant anguish and heartbreak for her family, friends and co-workers,” said Jeffrey R. Harris, Harris Penn Lowry LLP, counsel for Sarah Jones’ parents Elizabeth and Richard Jones. “There was no valid, newsworthy reason to reveal the details of Sarah’s autopsy. The only reason to do so is out of a sick desire to sensationalize this young woman’s terrible death. As news organization that purports to care about the film industry and has presented itself as one that is deeply concerned about what happened to Sarah, about her family and about ensuring safety on film sets in the future, The Hollywood Reporter’s choice to run with such information shows both lack of judgment and lack of character. Unnecessary emotional pain has been inflicted on Elizabeth and Richard Jones and trust has been broken.”
Others were equally appalled. “The Hollywood Reporter crossed a journalist line by publishing details of Sarah’s autopsy. It’s a despicable act and I find it reprehensible that they would stoop to this level, just to sell their newspaper,” said David Allen Grove, who created “I Refuse to Work on Midnight Rider! For Sarah!” Facebook page and the “Sarah Jones Safety Verification System” Facebook page which brings to light unsafe set conditions a place for crew to go to for advice. “To The Hollywood Reporter: Do you not not realize how this hurts the Jones family and her close friends? Have they not suffered enough?! Why punish them like this? We should all work together to help ease their pain, not inflict more. The Hollywood Reporter, you must write a retraction, remove the autopsy report from your website and apologize to Sarah’s family, friends and colleagues and do it quickly to ease their pain and suffering. As for the State of Georgia, I see no good reason for them to make Sarah’s autopsy report public, or anyone’s for that matter. We all know what happened, why make the the family suffer more? Why make anyone’s family suffer more? It’s not right,” said Grove.
Added Dan Kneece, a DP who is (with Grove) one of the administrators of the 12,000-strong “I Refuse to Work on Midnight Rider” FB page: “They (THR) go into gory details about Sarah? Why does this need to be published? Someone died in a horrible way because of people’s negligence. I know the family must just be devastated to see this out there. When we were kids we had journalists like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley and people who were trustworthy and when they told you something, it was true. Now, it’s all Yellow Journalism. It’s all sensationalistic. Why did they do this? Just to sell more newspapers? It’s something that no one needs to know. It’s not called for.”
Eve Butterly, a script supervisor for 27 years in Dallas who posted on FB, said she had been following the Sarah Jones story since it happened. “I’ve been reading everything. I saw this today and thought I’d read it, too. It said about Autopsy details and started reading and it started getting into the details and said Blech! No! Who needs to know that other than the coroner? I’m a mother and if that was my daughter I would be mortified.”
Elizabeth Rosenbaum, who is part of Local 44, a set dresser who has been in the business for 13 years said, “It’s not what any of us needed to read. It’s appalling. I spent the day blocking out what I read last night. It was some of the most graphic things I ever read. I’m glad those who didn’t read it, didn’t.”
Perhaps, Georgia needs Sarah’s Law to make sure that autopsy information that is sealed in a criminal case is not then allowed to be released publicly elsewhere in the state as was the case here. Those autopsy details were sealed by the Wayne County D.A. after the case but were released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who were required to do so under Georgia law. But, of course, it doesn’t mean it should be published.
In fact, there is a code of ethics set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists that should be followed and they state:
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do. Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication.
To be completely transparent, I argued the same along with a prosecutor of the Oscar Pistorius case against autopsy photos being released to the media in the upcoming Aurora shooter case