*Posted by Barry Creamer
Last week Mel Greig and Michael Christian impersonated British royals in a prank call to a hospital as they pretended to seek information about Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Since then there have been a lot of condemnatory and inflammatory statements, and a few conciliatory ones. It seems clear the radio hosts were as surprised as everyone else that the hospital actually did provide them with some information over the phone. And it is certain they were as stunned as everyone else to learn that the nurse who received and forwarded their call died three days later. Speculation that the prank call indirectly spurred her suicide appears to be justified.
Some of the reactionary comments confuse distinct issues, including things like patient privacy, the paternalistic sense of Brits for a pregnant royal, the popularity of edgy radio programming, “innocent” actions with tragic consequences, corporate responsibility for employee actions (hospital and radio station), and last but most definitely not least, deception for fun not harm (pranking).
Each issue deserves fresh discussion in light of what transpired in the story. But the last one in the list is one which simply begs for the application of a proverb: “As a madman who throws fiery darts and deadly arrows, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, I was only joking” (Proverbs 26:18-19).
The pragmatism of this culture has blinded it to flatly moral obligation. Drunk driving is regularly overlooked with a fine or community service until the driver actually kills someone. Then, suddenly, an act identical to the one which was only fined earlier merits years and sometimes an entire lifetime in prison. In moral terms it is not reasonable that neither the character, motivation, or behavior of the actor changes, yet the judgment changes radically.
The same mistake arises in this story. The problem is not that two radio hosts brought about this one, tragic result. The problem is a population which tolerates, overlooks, or even rewards this type of behavior. Specifically, deceiving people for the sake of a joke is an abuse of and wrongful exertion of power over them.
It matters little whether Greig and Christian lose or keep their jobs at the radio station. It matters little that people found out about Catherine’s state of dehydration (else the British media would not have replayed the prank call).
But it matters that this culture adulates those who play with fire and lynches those who burn things down.