An open letter to Kevin O’Sullivan

Note I have fixed a slight grammatical error since I originally posted this – it can be hard to be coherent while emotional

To Kevin O’Sullivan, editor, the Irish Times

Dear Mr O’Sullivan,

I don’t normally conduct my correspondence in public but in this case I feel compelled to make an exception to highlight how you have betrayed my friend, Kate Fitzgerald, and her memory through the actions of your newspaper over the past week.

Despite what your article implies, I am not motivated by a desire for retribution. Such an exercise would be futile because I doubt that any of us will ever know why Kate decided to take her own life.

My actions are solely motivated by a value that Kate held dear –integrity. This attribute is one that your newspaper appears to be unfamiliar with, judging by your attempts to censor Kate’s final words and then, on Saturday, to attack her good name.

Although your newspaper claims – indeed continues to claim – that it holds integrity dear, events of the past week have demonstrated that, in reality, it is beholden to vested interests with a side order of cowardice.

This yellow streak is so pronounced that when you published Saturday’s apology, you couldn’t bring yourselves to publish Kate’s name. It is so intense that you, the editor of the newspaper, cannot even name the interest that your newspaper is beholden to. Can the name of Kate’s employers, the Communications Clinic, really be that hard to write?

Indeed, you are so committed to protecting this company that you have deliberately sought to muddy the waters by falsely claiming that Kate had alleged in her article that her friends had failed to support her in her fight against depression. This falsehood has caused all of us much grief over the past couple of days: from the onset of her illness, those close to Kate sought to do everything in their power to support her through it and get her the necessary treatment.

In general, I can only conclude that your newspaper’s claim to act with sensitivity when handling stories such as Kate’s is some form of elaborate sick joke. You attacked Kate’s integrity on the very day that her friends gathered at Dublin City University to remember her contribution to their lives.

Although you claim to have held Kate’s family at the forefront of editorial decision-making during this sad affair, you conspicuously failed to inform them that you were publishing an apology that would defame their dead daughter. But then again, we both know as journalists that they had no comeback – under Irish law, you can’t defame the dead and Kate could hardly exercise her right of reply, could she?

There aren’t sufficient words to express the pain that your actions over the past week have caused Kate’s family and friends. When we should be grieving the loss of a friend and mourning the fact that she never achieved her full potential, we are instead battling to preserve her good reputation and ensure that her final message to the world is heard.

Although her case appears to have triggered a useful public discussion on suicide, her voice has effectively been silenced through your acts. It is impossible to access her original message – what remains on your website are a sorry appendage robbed of its sense. Other media outlets are unwilling to discuss key aspects of her story because the nature of your apology means that they have become toxic in a legal sense.

Although I do not believe in the value of retribution, I do believe in rehabilitation. The Irish Times still has the opportunity to reawaken its dormant sense of integrity and fairness and honour Kate’s memory. You still have the power to republish Kate’s final words in their original form. You are still capable of admitting your mistakes and apologising for the pain that they have caused.

Kate never realised her full potential but she did leave us with a powerful final public statement that may allow us to remove the stigma surrounding depression so that others may escape it and go on to achieve their goals. Do you really want to be remembered as the newspaper editor that fought to silence it?

Yours Sincerely,
Ken Griffin

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8 Responses to An open letter to Kevin O’Sullivan

  1. Conan Drumm says:

    Wel said, and my own two ha’pennies worth – in case it’s not published elsewhere.

    Let’s be very clear about this – there is an inference from an unknown or un-cited source that what Kate FitzGerald wrote in her anonymous opinion piece was factually incorrect and that it was subsequently edited and redacted to take account of that when her authorship of it was disclosed.

    The effect of this is to imply strongly that the poor woman may have thought or felt poorly or badly treated by her employers but that she actually imagined it, either because she was so unwell or because she was otherwise incapable and had sought to justify or rationalise her circumstances.

    It is difficult if not impossible to find the truth here, mostly because we do not know what is being whispered behind closed doors, and by whom.

    To be blunt, the IT editor’s piece also strongly suggests that Kate FitzGerald’s parents do or did not know the whole story, but that her brother did.

    The fallout means that the understanding of depression, self-harm and employment has been done enormous damage both in the general sense and in the particular circumstances of individual sufferers trying to hold down stressful jobs and, mostly, feeling they have to hide their struggle and their health issues from their employer. Because although an employer might say all the right things and even have a set of procedures to follow in such cases they will, generally, be there to cover the employer, and they can not circumvent the many unspoken ways in which a highly sensitive sufferer may feel their integrity and authority has been undermined.

    And yes, we really need to be concerned about interventions behind closed doors that mediate between the media and ourselves as consumers.

    Lastly, it is an object lesson in how to tarnish the reputation of the the dead rather than challenge the living.

  2. Mairead Cryan says:

    Great letter.

    What the Irish Times has done with the apology to The Communications Clinic, and today’s response by the Editor, is to be condemned.

    To rebalance matters the views of friends and family are important. A TCC employee had been accused by another former employee of bullying in 2010 and that case was settled out of court.

    If Kate had been concerned about that aspect of her working environment, before and after her stay in hospital, surely her close friends and family would have some inkling. If so then the IT response todayand the Saturday de facto accusing Kate of being a liar should be confronted.

  3. Excellent write up. I will be sure to retweet and share this.

  4. Ceile says:

    Fantastic Ken. Everything I would have wanted to say.

  5. Declan Kenny says:

    Surely a boycott of the paper is now in order? The Irish Times is the only paper I buy on a regular basis, but sadly it’s the only sort of ‘currency’ they will understand. We are all involved in the suicide debate, and silence does this debate no favours. The best way form of action I can think of is to take part in a boycott of the paper. I will certainly put my name to that.

  6. mick collier says:

    I found Kate’s obituary a very uncomfortable read, for entirely different reasons.

    Mainly, because it made it seem as if she’d achieved a great deal more by dying than she ever did by living.

    It reminded me of the obituaries of the famous that I so enjoy reading. It had a glamorous black & white ‘power shot’ under a headline that trumpeted her talents and a profile of her life. I know everyone meant well and I understand the desire to give her parents something tangible back in the face of their great loss but didn’t it also inadvertently celebrate her death?

    To me, it seemed to send a mixed message that others in similar turmoil, may mistakenly see as the positive side of suicide. Avoiding sending this kind of mixed message is, I believe, already an established concern with prevention groups.

  7. Pingback: Family of Kate Fitzgerald attack Irish Times - Page 2

  8. Pingback: The Irish Times and archival censorship | Back From The Past

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