Toronto baseball beer-can incident: Fair play by the media?

A Toronto Blue Jays fan is facing a charge of mischief after someone threw a beer can — mostly full, I think — onto the field during the team’s wild card game in Toronto recently.

The can landed close enough to a player on the opposing team that the incident immediately prompted outrage from broadcasters covering the game and the media — and a witch hunt. One newspaper even offered a $1,000 award to catch the culprit who did the deed.

Crowd pictures and crowd YouTube videos started trending on Twitter; there was no doubt about the area it came from, but it wasn’t so clear who exactly threw the can.

Then the Toronto Police took the unusual step of publicly issuing a photo of the suspect — after the aforementioned award had been offered. And the suspect stepped forward, with a lawyer, suggesting the police may not have gotten it right. The police, for their part, say they have definitive surveillance video. Hence, the charge of mischief against a man called Ken Pagan.

So, as many readers know, I have left out a detail here that was made public: where Ken works.

Once Ken was publicly named, media outlets included his professional status and company’s name in every report about the incident, even though his attendance at the Blue Jays game had absolutely nothing to do with his work life.

My first questions for you: The media almost always report what suspects do for a living and name the companies they work for, even when the companies have nothing to do with the alleged crimes. Is that fair? Why should a company’s reputation be tarnished in the media by the unrelated alleged criminal act of an employee? Do you think there should be rules against that sort of thing, limiting the media’s right to link a company with an employee in such incidents?

One more thing I left out: Ken works for the media. And he has worked for the paper that offered the reward. But, I repeat, he wasn’t at the game in a professional capacity. He was there as a private citizen, a baseball fan, and the video being shown publicly shows him drinking beer from a plastic cup — and it looks like someone behind him actually threw the beer can.

So, Ken may very well be innocent. If so, his reputation has been seriously defamed, and he undoubtedly (in my opinion) has grounds for a defamation suit against police. And even if he is guilty, it is questionable whether the police and media should have been plastering his picture all over the web and in print. Afterall, this is a mischief charge, not a murder charge. Ken may have grounds for a lawsuit, anyway — against the police, if not media outlets.

My second batch of questions for you: Specifically, in this case, should the fact that the suspected beer-can thrower works for a media outlet be newsworthy enough to name the company and Ken’s role there in every report about him? Competing media companies have been having a field day with it, while the company he works for felt duty-bound to mention it in their reports — in light of all the attention it was getting.

But, generally speaking, why should companies be dragged through the media muck with employees alleged to have committed crimes totally unrelated to their work on their own personal time?

Is this sort of disclosure really necessary?

Is it fair play? Or not?

— Jillian

2 thoughts on “Toronto baseball beer-can incident: Fair play by the media?

  1. No, it’s not fair play, but unless someone disclosed his personal details with malicious intent, proving a defamation case would be next to impossible.

    Suspect confidentiality seems to be lost in the “news” zeal to have the “better” story. Are reporters paid by the word?

    Like

    1. No, they’re not paid by the word. It has just been a longstanding tradition to report this way. So, if it had been you alleged to have thrown the beer can, they would report where you work or have worked, and other personal details, even though they are irrelevant.

      I don’t have enough legal expertise, but one lawyer wrote a column for a newspaper suggesting Ken Pagan may have grounds for a suit against the police — if he is innocent. I doubt he could sue the media, though.

      Like

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