Home > guest posts > The art of covering a love triangle: Does privacy matter?

The art of covering a love triangle: Does privacy matter?

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Love triangles have always been a part of both the literary and media worlds.  They exist to indulge the overzealous, bored housewife inside of us who cannot bare to turn off soap operas in case someone’s secret step-cousin’s twice-removed uncle’s best friend’s lover came to crash the main character’s wedding.  For those who refuse to acknowledge his or her bored housewife side, love triangles can help the sports lover in each of us that needs a side to root for and  a side to hate when things do not go our way.  From the classic love triangles of George Wickham, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” to the drama-inducing, rumored Kennedy-Kennedy-Monroe triangle to the more recent “Hunger Games” triangle of Peeta, Katniss and Gale, these liaisons have dominated big screens, the literary world and newspaper headlines.

I would even compare love triangles to car crashes.  We just cannot look away.  We find ourselves digging deeper and deeper, wanting to discover why these people act this way.  Is this really a tragic love tale, or is someone looking for 15 minutes of fame?  As the desire and need for information about the inner workings of these relationships transpire from both the public and ourselves, the ethical lines of journalism may blur.  Do we give in to the public’s need for information, or do we put our foot down when the information is a little too personal?

Unless you have been on a sudden purge from televisions, newspapers, the Internet and, of course, the occasional gossiping granny, you have heard of the Petraeus CIA scandal.  This love triangle – or would it constitute a love rectangle? – has captured the country’s attention, as well as top headlines for the past week.  The main man involved is David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA until his sudden Nov. 9 resignation. Announcing his resignation, Petraeus confirmed his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell.  Broadwell had co-written a biography about Petraeus entitled “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” which was published in January.  On the other side of the scandal, we have Jill Kelley.  Kelley, known as a Florida socialite, had started receiving threatening emails accusing her of having an affair with Petraeus.  She reported the emails to the FBI, which discovered their source was none other than Broadwell.  While there has been no proof backing up the claims of a Petraeus-Kelley affair, the FBI discovered thousands of pages of email between Kelley and Gen. John Allen.  The final piece of the puzzle, Allen is the Commander of International Security Assistance Force.  Although he denies having an affair with Kelley, he is under investigation by the Pentagon for his communications with Kelley.

Obviously, this is a big story.  The scandal captured some of the top headlines, knocking even Hurricane Sandy down on news pages.  However, it seems the media has stooped to a new low in the coverage of this event.   CNN has cameras posed outside the Kelley residence 24 hours a day, even reporting live outside Kelley’s house.  They have  taken to videotaping her through her windows.  CBS News has also dug up details regarding Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, and her custody battle for her son.  Apparently, both Petraeus and Allen wrote letters regarding Khawam’s appeal to keep custody of her son.  Is it necessary to be essentially stalking a woman and her family for so long that she feels the need to dial 911?  Do we need to dig up information about all the members of her family, even those not involved in the case?

As editors, we have a major impact on where the line of privacy is drawn.  Do we let this behavior continue by putting these stories on the front page, giving them as much publicity as possible, or do we draw the line?  Do we tell our reporters to dig up more information about the case, or do we let the news die and let new news take its place?  As reporters, do we draw this case out, sucking every little new piece of information out until it is dry, or do we let it fall of Page 1 with dignity?

As it looks now, this case will not be going anywhere for at least a few more weeks, that is, until some other scandal takes precedence and the headlines.

_ Shelby Wade

  1. fsprouls
    November 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    It’s important to keep privacy in mind. Yes, we need the story so we can beat competitors to the punch. But at what cost? Stationing a news crew outside of someone’s house or having a reporter constantly calling someone to get answers is not the way to do it. Sometimes it’s difficult to step back and see when too far is too far. There were moments during the spring semester when I thought a few of the bedbug articles I wrote were beating the topic into the ground. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Editors need to remember to take a step back and look at the picture; if the reporter feels the case is being drawn out, they should speak out to their editors. Dramatic events are a tricky thing to cover and very, very easy to get drawn into.

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