How should the media cover possible drug overdoses? What about when a former candidate for governor is present at the scene, heavily intoxicated, and possibly cheating on his wife?
Sensationalism, a type of media bias, was visible far and wide after former Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate and CNN commentator Andrew Gillum was found ‘inebriated’ and vomiting in a Miami hotel room last week with two other men, one of whom police say was suffering a drug overdose.
Gillum claimed he had too much to drink at a wedding, and was eventually sent home after initially being unable to communicate with responding officers. No arrests were made, but the discovery of suspected crystal meth at the scene fueled more clickbait in headlines from sources throughout the AllSides media bias ratings spectrum.
The Associated Press (Center):
Saying Gillum was "tied to a suspected meth overdose" or “caught in crystal meth overdose incident" is just vague enough language to conjure up images of him using the drug, despite no evidence that he did. Using terminology with anything less than careful precision invites potentially baseless and damaging speculation.
Some right-rated outlets also zoomed in on Gillum’s possible infidelity. One of the other men found in the hotel room is reportedly a male escort; Gillum and his wife R. Jai have three children.
The Daily Caller (Right):
The Daily Mail (Right):
Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor who lost to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2018, announced Sunday night his plan to exit politics and enter an alcohol rehabilitation program — triggering another wave of headlines and coverage.
The New York Times (Lean Left):
The Hill (Center):
National Review (Right):
Gillum has appeared as a recurring political commentator on CNN since joining the network in January 2019, and tweets regularly before an audience of over 630,000 followers. He’s certainly a public figure — but to what extent should a seemingly non-criminal (albeit disturbing) incident become over-publicized and subsequently politicized?
Before the digital age made journalism exponentially more competitive — forcing outlets to rely more on audience engagement and cater more to readers’ interests — reporters may have put a higher premium on privacy. A need for mutual respect may have held more weight. The interests of individuals on each side of the story were likely considered more thoughtfully. This seems rare nowadays.
There’s the argument (most likely to be found here in right-rated coverage, but also throughout the spectrum) that because Gillum is a public figure, people should know if police find him vomiting, too intoxicated to speak and with suspected meth nearby. His outspokenness on Twitter — he’s exchanged insults with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) — might only strengthen the case that he’s fair game.
Then there’s the argument that because Gillum is seemingly ill and in need of rehab, the case should be covered carefully. Conscious sensitivity might lead a reporter to mention only the case’s basic facts — Gillum discovered intoxicated, suspected drugs found, no arrests made — while actively reducing the possibility of spin or speculation.
Headlines and social media posts would also be crafted with that in mind. User traffic would be considered less important than minimizing harm to the subject — in this case Gillum and his family.
This sentiment did show up in some left-rated coverage, but was outnumbered by misguided reaches to connect crystal meth with politics in a search for clicks. At a time when America has far bigger issues to deal with, many major media outlets put clickbait and buzz over ethics and empathy.
Headlines can be both eye-catching and misleading. Remember to read through stories, double-check the facts, and decide for yourself.
This piece was reviewed by AllSides President John Gable. He has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by AllSides Director of Marketing Julie Mastrine. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by AllSides News Curator Hirsh Joshi. He has a Lean Left bias.
Image: jetpack mcleod/Flickr