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The Real Reason People Are Furious Chester Bennington's Full Autopsy Was Released

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Editor’s note: This piece mentions suicide means. If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Reporting on celebrity suicides in unnecessary and graphic detail has pretty much become a TMZ-staple. True to its form, the celebrity gossip site published Chester Bennington’s autopsy report on Thursday in full. The coverage included intimate information about the Linkin Park singer’s suicide. While this type of intrusive reporting from TMZ isn’t surprising, people are pissed — and for good reason.

Originally, TMZ’s coverage falsely reported that Bennington was found with alcohol and ecstasy in his system when he died back in July. But, the report was adjusted to read that although one blood test tested “presumptive positive” for MDMA (ecstasy), two subsequent tests did not detect the drug, concluding Bennington was not under the influence of drugs when he died. Linkin Park band member Mike Shinoda tweeted about the report:

Just clearing this up: TMZ erroneously printed CB had MDMA in his system when he passed. That was incorrect, they misread the report. They have since corrected their piece, see below. I hope other publications have the decency to do the same.

After correcting their earlier misstatement, TMZ released another article including details from the autopsy that had been retracted. This report featured details about Bennington’s previous suicide attempt that Talinda Bennington — Bennington’s wife — specifically asked not to be included, citing “marital privilege.” Most likely, she knew the autopsy report would be public and wanted to protect her children from these specific details.

But this didn’t stop the Sherlocks at TMZ from finding out what was retracted in the autopsy report and making it public anyway.

The usefulness of reporting on a celebrity’s autopsy report is questionable in and of itself. Sure, if we knew Bennington had drugs in his system at the time of his death, maybe (and this is a big maybe), it would start a conversation about addiction and suicide. But the follow-up coverage, including details Bennington’s wife specifically did not want included in the report, crosses the line from irresponsible to cruel.

After the retracted information was made public, Talinda, understandably angry, tweeted, “Fun fact- When your husband dies by suicide, the LA County Coroner’s office will PARAPHRASE your private conversation with them to dramatize and sensationalize the story and then SCUMBAG FILTH like TMZ post it for the world to feast on. It was redacted to protect all the kids!!”

She also said she had to pull her 11-year-old out school so he wouldn’t hear details of the autopsy report from kids at school.

Others called TMZ out on their reporting, asking them to leave Bennington and his family alone.

Talkinda even started a hashtag #FuckyouTMZ, and more people have flooded in to support her and her family.

Usually when we talk about what details should and shouldn’t be included in a story about suicide, we refer to guidelines that recommend the safest way to report on suicide. Research has found that when a story explicitly describes the suicide method or uses dramatic and graphic headline (TMZ’s coverage does both), it increases the risk of additional suicides. With this recent report, TMZ goes beyond neglecting to follow guidelines or lacking journalistic integrity. It blatantly disrespects a family that recently suffered a horrible loss.

Suicides are not some murder-mystery game you get to solve with aggressive reporting; suicides are not food to fuel your readers’ morbid curiosity; and just because you can publish every detail you can find doesn’t mean you should. The hurt these details can cause a family are not only real, but immediate. No child deserves to find out exaggerated details about their father’s previous suicide attempt from a gossip site like TMZ.

There’s nothing wrong with talking about suicide. When he was alive, Bennington was open about his struggles, both through his music and his words. Now, his family and friends have continued that legacy, unafraid to use the word suicide when talking about his death and working to try to dispel the shame that typically surrounds a suicide. Linkin Park’s Shinoda and other musicians had a benefit concert in Bennington’s name and Talinda herself has continued to keep Linkin Park fans engaged by posting memories of Bennington. They are doing the work and deserve to own this story. Reporting like TMZ’s takes the story out of their hands and overshadows suicide awareness with sensationalized and unnecessary details that do more harm than good.

Although TMZ is not known for taking constructive feedback, I hope if more people speak out it will get their attention. My heart hurts for Talinda and her whole family. Our Mighty community is with you.

Update: A previous version of this article showed TMZ’s story in embedded tweets. We have removed the tweets linking to TMZ. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Kristina Servant

Originally published: December 6, 2017
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