Billings Montana Editor: Dead children sell

In a glaringly insensitive and self-absorbed column today, Montana’s Billings Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick made it clear the Gazette will continue to publish the names of children killed in accidents – without asking the family’s permission.  Ehrlick’s column also made it clear the Gazette has no intention of informing families ahead of time when the paper plans to publish the dead child’s name. Let them read it in the paper.

Proof of Mr. Ehrlick’s insensitivity and self-absorption will be provided at the end of this piece.  Mr. Ehrlick’s quotes provide ample evidence

Early last month a 21-month-old child was killed by a vehicle driven by a driver with five DUIs, two of them felonies. For reasons perplexing to all, no charges have been filed. To the family’s horror, the Gazette published the child’s name – without asking them, of course.

Family members and friends of the family, including this writer, reached out to Mr. Ehrlick pleading with him to remove the child’s name from the website and asking him to pledge not to publish the names of minors killed in accidents in the future, unless, of course, the family gives permission. Mr. Ehrlick won’t budge.

Mr. Ehrlick says the paper publishes the names of dead children because “we have an obligation to provide the news.”  Rubbish. Names of  victims of rape are not published. Names of children charged with crimes are not published, unless they are being tried as adults.

There are real reasons most of society applies a gentler code-of-conduct when addressing the lives of children. Juvenile records are kept sealed unless a court order directs they be opened. Most of us place children in a sacred placed. If you go to prison for harming a child, you’ll be placed in protective custody, if you’re lucky.

Journalists are like everyone else. Some are good, some are great, some have integrity. Then there are the bottom feeders like  Mr. Ehrlick and Rupert Murdoch. Bottom feeders who will stop at nothing as long as it is sensational and, most importantly, sells.

Now, to the proof, some evidence of Mr. Ehrlick’s insensitivity and self-absorption.

Keep in mind, the piece he published today was a response to those who called into question the Gazette’s publishing the names children without the family’s permission when they are killed in an accident.  I suspect you and I would agree that the most important issues here are the loss of the child’s life, the family and loved ones whose hearts are pulverized by the loss, and the paper’s current policy of publishing the child’s name without the family’s permission.

Evidence Part 1

If we take Mr. Ehrlick’s piece as honest, I have no reason not to, the loss of the child, the family’s suffering, and the policy are not the most important things as far as he’s concerned. As far as Mr. Ehrlick is concerned, he is.

The beginning of his piece reads:  “Sometimes, when I get asked, “How was your day,” I hardly know where to begin. On Feb. 6, just a few weeks ago, my day was like many — unexpected, bordering on surreal… I walked from The Gazette exhausted from the day and the week…”

Never mind that a child died and a family is suffering, Mr. Ehrlick’s had a hard day –  he’s tired.

Evidence Part 2

Mr. Ehrlick asks readers to believe he has compassion for the family.  Just after talking with  family and community members upset with the paper for publishing the child’s name,  he says he “walked from the office knowing that in Billings one family was experiencing unimaginable grief.”

Let’s think about this. He says he knows a family is experiencing unimaginable grief. He’s just been told by several people, including members of the family suffering said unimaginable grief, that the paper has added to that grief. Yet not once did he apologize to the family for adding to the grief.

Evidence Part 3

Family members and readers pointed out the Gazette did not name the driver who killed the one-year-old child. Mr. Ehrlick’s response to this boggles the mind. “If we don’t have a criminal case, even a misdemeanor, obtaining and verifying the name is not possible.”  Let me tell you something, if you’re a professional journalist with even a modicum of skill, you can obtain and verify the name of the driver. Mr. Ehrlick is either lying or Gazette’s publishers have hired an incompetent. By the way, if he wants the name, he can ask me.

Evidence Part 4

Not surprisingly,  the end of his piece is all about (wait for it), Mr. Ehrlick.  He ends the piece with: ” Journalists at the heart of these very cruel stories don’t just leave the facts at the office.  This one keeps coming back to me — weeks later.”  Mr. Ehrlick wants readers to know about his suffering.

Evidence Part 5

No doubt Mr. Ehrlick thought he was writing a column responding the concerns about the paper’s publishing the name of a one-year-old child killed by a vehicle. Given he is the editor, he clearly has final say in what photo runs with his column. His choice was not a surprise.  It’s a picture of Mr. Ehrlick with a big smile on his face.

Memo to Mr. Ehrlick

In your column you said: “It would not even worry me if someone wanted to have a debate about how we cover these stories and the reason we write about them.”

I’d be happy to debate this with you in a public forum, Mr. Ehrlick. Your paper can  foot the bill, fly me out there, and we’ll have at it. A public forum, Mr. Ehrlick.  Just think, with any luck, the experience of being in a debate with me will keep coming back to you – weeks later.

7 thoughts on “Billings Montana Editor: Dead children sell

    1. Are you volunteering? It’s nice to see people still have compassion for each other. Thank you Peter Kahrmann for taking a stand when no one else will. Change has to start somewhere!!!

  1. Clearly you are related to family of boy. Your assumptions about the driver are uneducated and biased and lack truth. The family has made it clear they want someone to suffer for this accident, where no crime was committed and the driver is likely suffering as much, in addition to the attacks and threats from family. And just as innocent as all involved. Sickening people can stoop so low.

    1. Wes, rarely, in this history of this blog, have I responded directly to a comment. Yours, however, is deeply important, and I am grateful for it.. I mean this. I am, in truth, not related to the family of the boy. And, I have no doubt the driver is suffering now as well. Please, if I have any facts wrong, write to me and let me know what facts are wrong and what the facts are and what you base them on. I do not mean this last sarcastically in the least. This is a wrenching experience for all involved. The only individual I have no sympathy for is Mr. Ehrlick. Again, please don’t hesitate to write to me:

      1. Wow I feel special. Biology is not the only possible relation between you and the boy’s family. Symantics. So It’s unlikely my response will satisfy a good.

        The most obvious falsity in your article is the driver having 2 felony dui’s, when there was only 1.
        From your words: “if you’re a professional journalist with even a modicum of skill, you can obtain and verify” this information. So your “either lying or incompetent”. This simple fact is public information.

        You said the most important issues are the child, his loved ones, and “publishing (a) name without permission”.
        I’m curious if the driver’s family gave you permission before you said “by the way if (the Gazette) wants the name, (they) can ask me.”

        You said “I have no doubt the driver is suffering”, and how “the only one” you’ve no sympathy for is the Gazette reporter.
        However, you are “perplexed why the driver wasn’t charged” or punished by authorities, who unlike you, have studied the facts.

        You accuse the Gazette reporter of thinking “never mind a family is suffering”, while you “ask we believe (you) have compassion for” the driver, or her family.

        You say “this is a wrenching experience for ALL involved”.
        Yet you “have been told of the (driver/family) suffering unimaginable grief” and “you have added to that grief. Yet not once did (you) apologize to the for adding to the grief.”

        Perhaps you could debate how you justify your biases in a public forum?


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