Journalists Cheapen Another Tragedy, Just Another Monday

I’d trust my journalist peers to not take the low road, especially when it involves two tragic deaths.  However, I should be less of an idiot.

It was reported that on Thursday, September 2nd a babysitter in Long Island, New York accidentally smothered the infant she was taking care of when she collapsed and fell on infant.

The New York Post wrote the original story.  The first two sentences of the story read:

“A morbidly obese Long Island baby sitter accidentally smothered to death a month-old infant when she collapsed and died on the couch where the child was lying, authorities said yesterday.

Teresa Coffey, who was 5-foot-6 and over 200 pounds, was found on top of little Michael Baldwin III on Thursday at around 9:30 p.m. by the boy’s horrified father, and both were pronounced dead at a hospital near the Greenlawn home.”

Gawker covered the story as well, with the title  “Obese Babysitter Dies, Smothering Infant.”  But at least they didn’t describe the woman, who has a mystery weight of over 200, at 200, as “morbidly obese”, like in the NYPost article, which also quoted  Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky describing the woman as “extremely large-breasted.”

Now, I’m not hear to argue about whether or not she was obese.  I took a quick survey on Facebook, without mentioning the topic of the article and encouraging complete honesty (You can even answer the survey HERE), and a majority of responses stated, even my response,  they believed a woman at the height of 5’06″ a woman would be considered obese between the weights of 200-250 pounds.  However, the responses were varied and responders even acknowledged a definition of  her body type would rely on statistics about her fitness level as well.

What’s enraging about this article is the way these journalists hinted at her weight being the direct cause for this event.  It’s another Mama Cass, ham sandwich story.  The media is too overwhelming tempted to blame weight that they ignore the obvious indicators of death.  Though the medical condition was not explicitly stated in any of the articles, it’s hard to believe at 5’06″ and 200 pounds that weight would be the only cause of her death.  And a prescription for Coffey’s medical condition was found on scene.

The complete realization of this story is that we have the clues to what had happened, but we don’t have the entire picture until we receive a coroner’s report.  And by not allowing the public to honestly dissect the complex and sad situation, by blocking it into social stigmas to provide a quick and easy story, it takes away from the significance of what happened.  As one Gawker commenter, AbFabGab states:

“Yeah, my first thought was ‘how horrible.’ But a quick pop over to the original article confirmed my second thought, which is that people are going to start insulting the babysitter. Even the ‘morbidly obese’ description seems a bit dramatic.  Which is also sad, because from everything reported it sounds like she was pretty responsible when it came to watching the child (calling the dad when she was having problems).  Babies are just very fragile; and even with the best intentions and best care, sometimes terrible things happen.”

Discovering your own bias towards a situation is difficult.  I am a big woman.  There’s no denying the baby suffocated.  And I’m not arguing the woman wasn’t plus size.   But to overwhelmingly focus on the issue of weight seems to indicate the writers of these articles might not have positive thoughts when it comes to bigger women.  Two lives are forever lost and the situation should be treated with the respect it deserves.  Journalists, please stop taking the cheap shots.


About Kira Hutchens

I'm a writer, a lover of music and a devour-er of tacos.