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It wasn’t even very funny. They rarely are. Most of the time they’re just plain mean bordering on cruel. But the prank phone call generating so much buzz this past week was, as pranks go, pretty mild and hardly constituted what some are now trying to frame as a crime.

Full disclosure: I have never liked prank phone calls. To me, they’re down near the very bottom of the comedy food chain, somewhere below prop comedy and (perhaps) just above a vigorously-applied wedgie. It doesn’t matter if the calls are the work of for-lack-of-a-better-term “professionals”, such as the Jerky Boys or Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers, or your run-of-the-mill local Morning Zoo crew, I rarely find those calls funny and always find them uncomfortable listening. Maybe it’s because I am inclined to identify with the victim and rarely with the antagonist. Prank calls strike me as professionals picking on defenseless amateurs, kind of like the New York Giants’ offensive line stomping on a junior high school nose tackle. Not funny. I rarely laugh and usually wince. Most often I just change the station.

You’ve heard the story: The Duchess of Cambridge, better known in the tabloids as Kate Middleton, was being treated at London’s King Edward VII Hospital for dehydration brought on by acute morning sickness. Putting on fake British accents, Sydney, Australia, radio DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles. The DJs' phone call was apparently answered by nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who transferred the pranksters to another nurse. The second nurse, seemingly in the belief that she was talking to the royal family, gave details on the Duchess' condition to the DJs, who not only played the call on the air but also boasted about it on Twitter.

From Greig identifying herself as “The Queen... Kate’s grandmother” to the ridiculous notion of the Queen calling the hospital herself at 5:30 a.m. to the ludicrous discussion about the Prince of Wales giving the Queen a ride to the hospital to the thoroughly unconvincing British accents, it’s hard to imagine anyone believing the phone call was real, let alone two medical professionals charged with the care of a high-profile, high-security patient. And yet so they did, to the point of feeling at liberty to discuss their patient’s condition on the telephone. I don’t know the rules in Great Britain, but just try getting through to a nurse for details about a relative in the hospital here in the United States.

Funny? Not really, but neither was it as cruel or mean-spirited as most prank calls. Compelling radio? To each his own, I guess. The pranksters themselves marveled that the call made it as far as the nurses’ station on the Duchess’ floor, fully expecting, they’ve said, to be “made” early on. But the DJs, and presumably their audience, had a chuckle and moved on with their lives. The story made the news, though, and most of the world probably reacted as I did: “Not terribly clever, but how did such an obviously phony call make it that far?”

Then, an unexpected tragedy: Jacintha’s Saldanha's body was discovered three days later in the nurses' quarters around the corner from the hospital. Details have been sketchy, but Saldanha appears to have committed suicide. A note to her family has been found, its contents yet undisclosed.

Greig and Christian have deleted their Twitter accounts and 2Day FM has taken their program off the air; the professional future of the DJs is uncertain and may well be forfeited. Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of the radio station has said, “This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it. I spoke to both presenters… and they’re completely shattered. These people aren’t machines, they’re human beings….” Holleran was careful to defend his station and its programming, noting that prank calls have been “around for decades” and “they’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country. They’re done worldwide.” Whether Greig and Christian violated any station rules or practices seems unclear at the moment; in a litigious world, 2Day FM has been cautiously mum on such details.

But now on the social media and some news outlets, there’s talk of the pranksters having “blood on their hands.” The Australian Communications and Media Authority and 2Day FM have been flooded with complaints, with more than 14,000 comments posted on the station’s Facebook page. Various parties in Britain and Australia are investigating whether criminal charges are warranted.

Criminal charges? Really? Nobody knows for certain why Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old wife and mother, took her life. Of course it’s reasonable to assume the prank may have contributed to her despair and may have even been the trigger point — but we don’t know for sure, at least not right now.

You may argue that point with me, but you can’t convince me that anyone should have seen this coming. In the long, dull-witted history of DJs planning prank calls and lawyers and program directors vetting those calls for airplay, I doubt anyone has ever said, “We should stop to consider whether our target will be so humiliated she’ll take her own life.”

One can understand Saldanha’s embarrassment. By all accounts, she was a competent nurse and seemingly normal family woman living a private life, when suddenly two witless wags from Down Under had a laugh at her expense and got her name splashed across the internet for a day or two. I wouldn’t enjoy the attention and neither would you, but I believe we’d both get over it soon enough. One can imagine the hospital being angry and embarrassed about their employees’ carelessness or star-struck lack of discretion, but no serious harm had been done to the privacy of their royal patient and no one was publicly calling for the nurses’ dismissal. How the hospital was treating the matter internally, if at all, is unknown.

But blood on the DJs' hands? Criminal charges against them and/or their radio station? No, no, no. This wasn’t an idiotic radio stunt gone tragically but foreseeably wrong, like the one in 2007 in which a young California woman died hours after taking part in KDND’s “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest. This was a stupid prank call, notable only in its connection to the royal family, and then because of the stunning but tangential tragedy that followed.

But it is not the fault of those two DJs that Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide. Whatever the impact of that phone call or any unrelated demons she may have been dealing with, that was her decision, her action, and her responsibility. It’s tragic but true, and I extend my sincerest condolences to the woman’s broken-hearted family. But if I had to choose to live in a world free from stupid prank calls or a world in which every joke, every action, every utterance had to be measured first against its worst-case effect on any one of six billion fragile psyches, all I can say is, “Excuse me, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

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Comment Preferences

  •  Totally agree (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Trevin, ericlewis0, zinger99

    with the whole diary.  I could have written it myself.

  •  Almost all such "entertainment" makes me cringe. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ericlewis0, FiredUpInCA, Catte Nappe

    Except for Candid Camera back in the day, and for some reason, Roy D. Mercer.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:37:41 PM PST

  •  First of all you're wrong (7+ / 0-)

    on the Duchess's illness it was not acute morning sickness it is a rare disorder called Hperemesis Gravidarum which can be fatal and is on-going throughout the pregnancy. Most MDs are uneducated in how to treat this but it requires long term use of IV fluids, re-hospitalizations and continually vomiting at more than 20 episodes a day.

    It is not queasiness that some if not most women suffer in the first-trimester, it never ends and it causes malnutrition to the mother and eventually to the baby.

    But having said that what those DJ's did was really obnoxious intruding on Kate's privacy during a time when she was feeling like hell and then publishing all over the world what her private medical concerns were. How charming! So witty.

    In the US we have extremely harsh privacy laws against this very thing known as HIIPA and people who violate them, are fired by the hospital and possible charged with a federal offense. No one other than your doctor is supposed to know your medical affairs (and possibly use them against you) and that is a good thing.

    I don't know what British hospitals do but surely that nurse was reprimanded by the management. Who knows how she felt but being humiliated like that? I'm sure it added stress to someone who was probably already stressed out enough.

    Those DJ's were cruel and stupid. They did it and they need to have responsibility for their stupidity.

    In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

    by vcmvo2 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:41:30 PM PST

    •  Intruding on medical privacy is indeed no laughing (5+ / 0-)

      matter. I know of a case in which a woman was fired for simply looking up a celebrity on the hospital database system and not sharing the information with anybody. She was authorized to access information in the system, but only if she had a need to know. Which she did not. It's pretty much operationally the same system as that used for nuclear or military classified information. With the exception that violations are strictly and rapidly enforced, which is by no means the case with military or nuclear classified.

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:47:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the issue here is not the invasion (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vcmvo2

        of the Princess's privacy.  That is not in question.  The issue is the culpability or not of the "pranksters" in the subsequent suicide of the nurse.

        As a physician, I am intimately involved with HIPPA issues every day, and in the case of someone improperly accessing medical records, they should be fired. period.
        I don't know if England, which has much stricter laws regarding official secrets, has equivalent laws to HIPPA.

        As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

        by BPARTR on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:21:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Catte Nappe

          I just agreed with this statement of the diarist

          But it is not the fault of those two DJs that Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide.
          and didn't realize that there would be questions raised about it.

          My wife has been in a couple of jobs which would have made her susceptible to a prank call of this kind and she agrees with the diarist. So I never gave it much of a thought.

          But I have now, and find that I must agree with the diarist. I have heard of more cases of people dying from ingestion contests (water, worms, cockroaches, what have you) than I have of suicides caused by prank calls. I think.

          Moderation in most things.

          by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:42:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  extremely harsh privacy laws??? (0+ / 0-)

      "In the US we have extremely harsh privacy laws"

      No, in the US there are extremely harsh laws, period. Especially when it comes to medical laws, it's allowed to let everyone get away with freeloading into the ERs.

      It's a very very shameful matter that someone expresses pride over some stupid privacy law, while not even having laws to prevent 45 million people from being uninsured.

    •  My statement is technically correct. (0+ / 0-)

      The Duchess sought medical care for acute morning sickness and was diagnosed after hospitalization with Hperemesis Gravidarum. Detailing her medical condition, which is, as you say, a serious one for many women, was not germaine to the article.

      That these DJs are personally cruel and stupid has not been suggested by anyone. Their prank call, while of a type of humor of which I disapprove, was relatively mild and could not seriously be characterized as cruel. They have publicly accepted responsibility for their action, but the point here is that suicide is not a foreseeable outcome of such an action. If the nurse was reprimanded by the hospital is unknown, but it would be fitting, would it not, since she violated the most sacred rule of her job. She was not forced to discuss the patient's condition. Maybe she was star-struck, maybe she thought she'd have a nifty story to tell her friends about talking to "the Queen", but she made her own choice.

      •  Oh yes, because 10 years in a federal prison (0+ / 0-)

        is "relatively mild".  If that had happened here in the US she would have had every justification for killing herself given what 10 years in a high security "PIMTA" federal prison involves (like being raped by the guards).

        if the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine up to $250,000, or up to 10 years in prison, or both.  (Class 4 Felony)

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 08:01:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's not that rare (0+ / 0-)

      most physicians should know enough to monitor /replenish fluids + electrolytes and exercise judgment to call in a specialist when necessary.

      Stay fired up: now is the time to focus on downticket change! #Forward

      by emidesu on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 06:47:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The fact is that they often don't (0+ / 0-)

        women suffering from this are often discharged with a mental problem diagnosis. I have known several.

        In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

        by vcmvo2 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 09:11:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The witchhunt may mostly be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, zinger99, misslegalbeagle

    uncalled for, and yet it remains a fact that these two pulled a nasty prank on a woman who then committed suicide. Everyone talks about how this has "gone on for decades" which rather conveniently elides the fact that this is a form of undeserved public mockery visited upon the innocent. The whole thing seems mean-spirited and pointless even in the best circumstances.

    Visit Lacking All Conviction, your patch of grey on those too-sunny days.

    by eataTREE on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:46:14 PM PST

  •  Agreed. The DJs didn't even have the final (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby

    say on whether or not the segment would be aired. Management made the decision after making five apparently weak attempts to contact the nurses for permission.

    My sincere condolences to Jacintha Saldanha's family and friends, and sympathy to the unfortunate DJs involved.

    'If you want to be a hero, well just follow me.' - J. Lennon

    by Clive all hat no horse Rodeo on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:49:47 PM PST

  •  I'm so damn tired of this crap "nobody could have (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eataTREE, zinger99, misslegalbeagle

    predicted" over this incident. Radio stations in Oz, the U.S., and the U.K. have been making such prank phone calls for a long time. Many of these phone calls involve taking someone who isn't a public figure, someone who is just trying to do their job, and drawing them into their pathetic "joke" without that persons consent.  Often such calls result in embarrassment and humiliation which is then broadcast to 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or in this case millions of people. Inevitably someone will react very negatively to such a scenario. So maybe for any single such call you can't predict it will go wrong but if you make enough of them inevitably you will involve a person who can't handle it and it will go wrong. So yes these people do have some blood on their hands (more the station management than the DJs as far as i'm concerned) and they share it with all those other stations who consider demeaning and embarrassing people who aren't public figures and then broadcasting it as entertainment. Lets also not forget this station has previous form. They were censured for having a 14 year old admit on the air that she had been raped and also for  a profanity filled mysogynistic tirade against a female broadcaster.

    "I smoke. If this bothers anyone, I suggest you look around at the world in which we live and shut your fuckin' mouth." --- Bill Hicks

    by voroki on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:50:55 PM PST

  •  I don't know. They certainly don't deserve to be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eataTREE, misslegalbeagle, emidesu

    charged with anything but they probably won't be. But you have to take responsibility for your actions. Most prank calls don't lead to any tragedies but some do. It's like drunk driving. Most of the time drunk drivers don't cause accidents but often enough they do. I agree that this particular one was pretty mild though.

  •  I tend to agree with you, but (3+ / 0-)

    members of Daily KOs aplauded when the college student who aired live footage of his roomate having a homosexual encounter was charged when that roommate subsequently committed suicide.

    I am not sure how I feel about either case- each of the perpetrators took liberties with another person's privacy, and the embarrassed person took his/her own life.  Truly tragic.   In the same way, drinking and driving is manslaughter if a person is subsequently killed, regardless of lack of intent to kill.  Is precipitating a suicide the same as accidently running someone over?  I truly don't know.

    As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

    by BPARTR on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:17:53 PM PST

    •  I can't recall, was Saldanha identified (0+ / 0-)

      widely before her death, or not? It may make a difference, or not, depending if enough people at the hospital knew of her humiliation just from hearing her voice when the recording was aired. The case you are comparing this to may have involved a much greater degree of humiliation. Unless you are a celebrity or celebrity wannabee, having anything like a sex tape widely distributed would certainly cause severe humiliation, especially for one who may not have been ready for their sexual orientation to become generally known. I would expect that to be humiliation of a very much greater magnitude than the humiliation of being fooled by a couple of ozzie accents.

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:51:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  pure speculation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    but knowing the atmosphere around the preciousness of anything remotely royal, my gut says the hospital came down like the proverbial ton of bricks on the nurse, who took it so much to heart that she offed herself.

    in which (conjectured) case the attention pointed at the airhead dj's would be pure CYA, which the media is abetting by never using the word 'suicide', and the secrecy around the cause or method of decease.

    also to cover up the security breach from the special services, who should have been prepared for similar scenarios.

    i doubt the dj's careers have much (any?) future at all in their field, especially if the blame is placed entirely on them.

    i wonder if we'll ever know if my hunch is right.

    lese-majeste, how dare those commonwealth bumpkins not show sufficient reverence!

    poor woman, she must have been crushed. it wasn't even she who gave out the details of kate's health over the phone.

    why? just kos..... *just cause*

    by melo on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:37:09 PM PST

  •  I disagree totally with the first paragraph. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zinger99

    No good could ever come for their lies.  That was a given, up front.

    It is reasonable to assume that Britain and Australia have much the same patient privacy laws as the US.  The one we are given to real every time we interact with the health profession.

    That woman knew her career was over as soon as her name was made public.

    These ass holes ruined two nurse's careers for what, a teeney jump in their ratings for a couple of minutes?  And they probably knew that was what would happen before they decided to pull the prank

    They are worse that dog crap.

  •  Getting confidential information by fraudulent (0+ / 0-)

    means is a crime in many jurisdictions.

    •  Should add that I don't believe they're (0+ / 0-)

      guilty of anything other than that (And perhaps bad taste), but I wouldn't call a crime "just a joke".

    •  Making a telephone call... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      melo, bevenro

      and doing a Monty Python-esque "impersonation" of the Queen does not constitute fraud in any jurisdiction, just as the following statement also does not: I am the King of Spain. Neither would a nurse's non-technical opinion on the comfort of a patient be considered confidential information. A discussion of the patient's physician's medical diagnosis would be condidential, as would the medicines she had been prescribed or her vital numbers. There was no intent to gain confidential information, merely a "how's she doing?" line of questioning that the nurse should not have entertained. The prank call was dumb, as all prank calls are, but there was no attempt to defraud or cause anyone harm. The DJs were as surprised as anyone that their call was even put through. They have taken responsibility for their actions, which appear to have been sanctioned and even encouraged by their employer, but their actions do not rise to the level of a crime by any standard.

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