Split decision - Broadcasting & Cable

Split decision

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Raleigh TV stations were divided on whether to run the 911 tape of a distraught woman calling in the suicide death of her husband.

Reporters were already involved in the story because, a day before, Derril Willard's home had been searched in connection with an investigation of the arsenic-poisoning death of another man. Reporters were staking out Willard's home at the time of the call. The tape was released the following day.

"I thought [running the tape] was gratuitous.sensational," said WLFL(TV) News Director Jonathan Knopf, who broke ranks with other stations. "We had reported the death the day before.

"What news is there involving the arsenic investigation? This affects only their family. Had we not reported the death already, it might be different. But we still probably wouldn't have run the tape."

But other stations disagreed. "We felt running the tape advanced the story," said Rob Elmore, news director at WTVD(TV), citing a remark by the caller that suggested a time frame for the suicide.

All stations appeared in agreement that the recorded screams of a child were properly left out of the broadcasts.

"I'm not trying to be a maverick," said Knopf. "There's a tendency to want to run everything-for so long, information was so hard to get. But we are mistaken if we run everything without thinking. I didn't feel this was proper, but I can't decide what [others] do."

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