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December 14, 2005
Glorifying a drug user or mourning a lost artist?
About two dozen readers complained to me about a Page One story in Sunday's Globe (12/11/05) that looked deeper at the life and death of a 29-year-old Boston man who died of a heart attack last month under strange circumstances. Since I'll be addressing another topic in my column this Sunday, I'm dealing with this issue here.
It's apparent from the lengthy story that Kevin McCormick was a talented engineer-turned-artist. He was also, the story notes, a regular drug user. Investigators say they found a sophisticated drug-making lab in his home.
Here's a link to the story:
Some readers felt the story glorified McCormick's drug use. Others questioned why the editors would put this kind of story at the top of a Sunday front-page, perhaps the most widely read page of the newspaper of the week.
Here are two examples of the notes and phone calls we received:
The story about Kevin McCormick was sad. He died. He was a drug addict. His story is similar to most people suffering from alcohol and drug abuse. He couldn't feel satisfaction or wanted or intimacy or good enough. He turned to substances to self-medicate his feelings and only pushed them further away. Why did the Globe print this piece on the front page and give it headline status that hinted of glamor and excitement? Kevin McCormick's story was about death and the missteps that prevented him from ever seeing his 30th birthday. This tragic tale should never have been on the front page, it should have been in the obituary section.
Another reader, Elizabeth Tarnell, offered this comment:
As a physician and mother of teenage boys, I am appalled and flabbergasted at your Sunday lead frontpage article coverage of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Kevin McCormick's life and death. This sensationalization and glorification of an extremely socially deviant and illegal lifestyle (not deviant for his sexual orientation), praise for his contribution to art in the electronic engineering field and rationalization of his drug abuse by friends and colleagues does little to inform the public about the devastation brought upon those individuals and families in similar circumstances by similar lifestyle choices, or about the fact that most substance abusers are medicating serious mental illness. It also diminishes the reputation of MIT, to which I personally have no allegiance, as it is yet another story of death by excessive partying by a student or graduate of that institution. This story belongs in the pages of the tabloids, if at all in print. Perhaps most tellingly, Mr. McCormick's parents declined to be interviewed for this story. I am cancelling my subscription to the Globe, which I have been receiving for 15 years since living in this area, and switching to the NY Times.
Mark Morrow, the Globe's deputy managing editor for special projects, supervised the McCormick story and offered this response on Tuesday:
The Kevin McCormick story had a pretty simple starting point: A young man had died suddenly, under strange circumstances and amid police speculation about the large, designer drug lab in his Fort Point loft. Sally Jacobs was assigned to find out as much about him as she could, to round out our sense of the man and what may have led to his death. And what she found was intriguing. Kevin McCormick was a brilliant young man, a recent MIT graduate with a gift for art and technology and friendship. He was also a young man with a predilection for self-destructive behavior, the drug abuse that hastened his end. The piece certainly didn't set out to glorify him, as one reader suggests, or to turn his short life into a cautionary tale, as another suggests we should have done. It sought only to capture McCormick's character and story as clearly, and vividly, and truthfully as we could. I think Sally succeeded wonderfully in doing just that.
Sally Jacobs, the reporter on that story, offered this response in an email on Friday, Dec. 16:
Kevin McCormick was a young man of extraordinary ability whose death was both tragic and unnecessary. My story about him was intended to make some sense of how and why that happened. Far from celebrating his drug use, it was an attempt to understand why a man of such intellectual and artistic powers could be so attracted to drugs in general and to the somewhat dangerous process of manufacturing them for personal use in particular.
Another Globe reader from Mexico, offers this conclusion on Dec. 17:
I agree with Mark Morrow. Joy, conflict, and tragedy is always 'readable' when each story's particulars are unique and told well.
POSTED BY: rchacon | TIME: 09:15:54 AM | Link