YOUR VIEWS: OU community reacts to Cooke article
Editor's Note: This is a collection of the letters The Daily received in regards to the Casey Cooke autopsy story.
My name is Cameron Ghafil, I am currently a mechanical engineering senior. This letter is in regards to the online article and recent tweets posted by the OU Daily, which discuss the details of Casey Cooke’s death. While the OU Daily depicts itself as an independent student voice, I cannot help but question the integrity of the people involved with these posts. There should be a line between what you have the right to publish and what you think is ethically correct to publish. Evidently, this was not taken into consideration.
As Casey’s boyfriend, I had the pleasure of getting to know her and her family very well over the past two years. Casey was known to be shy and only discussed private issues with the people closest to her. For this reason and many others, I am truly saddened by the handling of information surrounding Casey’s cause of death by the OU Daily. The decision to include a link to the full autopsy report with extremely personal details was both disrespectful and unnecessary. I can assure you that this decision has upset her family, friends and several of your readers.
The grieving process is far from over for those who knew Casey. With the beginning of a new semester, came the reality that life is moving on without her. As is the case for several of her friends, her younger brother and I still attend class on this campus. Believe me when I say there isn’t an easy day; passing by Evans Hall is a constant reminder of Casey’s loss.
This blatant act of insensitivity by the OU Daily only adds to these challenges. Anyone that felt the need to view the autopsy report in its entirety could’ve done so themselves. Therefore, if there was a purpose behind posting the report for everyone to see, we would greatly appreciate an explanation. On the other hand, if this was done for publicity purposes, I can only hope you realize the pain you have caused. After all, if you had lost a loved one, would you want a similar report to be on public display? Or more importantly, do you think Casey would have wanted this information shared with everyone? Without any doubt, the answer is no.
Cameron Ghafil, mechanical engineering senior
As an alumna of both OU and Gaylord, I am utterly disgusted at the journalism that I have seen from your publication. I am referring specifically to the articles posted about Casey Cooke.
As gatekeepers of information for the student body, it is your responsibility to release information that informs students, as well as protect interested individuals from harm. Just because you have information does not give you the right to release it to the public, especially when it exposes a private citizen. These are the basics of unethical journalism. I am absolutely embarrassed to be associated with your organization.
Take a moment to consider the Cooke family who is still grieving after the loss of their daughter and the friends who have to read that trash you call journalism. That information does not benefit the public in any way, shape or form. The only thing that information does is expose one of OU’s beloved and missed students and reopen wounds from which the family is trying to heal.
I demand a public apology and the removal of the article from your website.
I will be contacting businesses who place advertisements in your publication, inform them of this disgrace and bad practice and let them decide if they want to keep business with this kind of publication.
Please refer to the “minimize harm” section of the Society of Profesional Journalists guidelines. Maybe that will serve as a reminder of what journalism should really be like.
Jensen Smith, OU alumna
I am writing this letter with the intentions to make a complaint regarding the Casey Cooke article. The right to print the article regarding the alcohol use is acceptable, but the link with the autopsy report fully displayed is just downright unacceptable and disrespectful. The autopsy contains very private information, it was not intended for any other eyes except the family.
Casey was a dear friend to me and to my group of friends. I have one friend who is still emotionally distraught on a daily basis resulting from Casey’s unexpected death. I live with him and because of your unnecessary link to autopsy, you are bringing up old memories that are meant to be private. You can’t even imagine the pain you’ve spread through my residence by posting that link. It’s unprofessional and inconsiderate of family and friends.
I’m asking you to please take down the link to the autopsy. Until the autopsy is taken down, my friends and I will be boycotting the OU Daily. We will also ask all others we know to boycott the buying and reading of the OU Daily. Please think of the pain and lives you are affecting right now at this very moment.
Sean Thomas, OU alumnus
I am a 2008 graduate of OU in political science and a 2011 graduate of the OU College of Law. I’m writing to file a complaint with you regarding The Oklahoma Daily’s decision to post a link to Casey Cooke’s full autopsy results with your Aug. 21 story. For purposes of full disclosure, I did not know Casey, but I do know members of her family and many of her friends. I have not spoken to any of them regarding your story, your link to her autopsy results or this email.
Although the autopsy report is certainly available to anyone in the public who would like to view it, I do not believe providing a link was necessary to convey to your readers the pertinent information surrounding Casey’s death. Simply because an action is legal does not mean that it is ethical, moral or necessary. During my seven years as a student at OU, I remember there being several student deaths, none more tragic than any other. I may be incorrect, but I do not ever remember The Oklahoma Daily publishing the full autopsy results of any deceased student, under any circumstances. If I am mistaken, then please consider this email a complaint regarding the entire practice of publishing deceased student autopsy results, rather than solely in this instance with Casey Cooke.
I’m aware that you all have received dozens of comments over social media and on the story itself, and I’m sure that you are receiving calls and emails throughout the day regarding your decision to post this autopsy report. I, along with what I would guess to be most people, have no problem with the article itself. This story is certainly newsworthy to the readership of The Oklahoma Daily. However, posting the autopsy results does nothing but inflame the sensibilities of your readership without providing any substance to the story itself.
The next time you are dealing with such sensitive subject matter, I would hope that The Oklahoma Daily makes the decision to report the facts, and all the facts, in the most respectful way possible. Publishing the irrelevant autopsy results of a private student, in my opinion, shows a complete lack of social awareness, integrity, empathy and, most importantly, respect for the family and friends left behind. The Oklahoma Daily can, and should, be better.
Jake Krattiger, OU alumnus
While the autopsy report of Casey Cooke is a matter of public record, the need to make the report the subject of a tweet directed to over 5,000 followers crossed the line of journalism ethics. Many students and friends of Casey still struggle with this unspeakable loss, including myself. This could have happened to anyone. I do not believe that publishing such a document provides any gain to the university. However, it opened healing wounds for many in the Sooner community.
The question is not if publishing a public document is ethical. The question is where is the respect and sensitivity for our community and Casey’s loved ones? While I recognize that not all will agree with my opinion, I would still ask all fellow Sooners to respect Casey’s legacy to our university by not reading her autopsy report.
Thank you for consideration of my proposal and may Casey always be remembered for the person she was.
Nicole Jenkins, elementary education senior
As a student, and an everyday reader of The Daily, I was astonished to see what the link provided by The Daily led to on Tuesday night. To link to the medical examiner’s autopsy report seems to be out of line for a collegiate newspaper. To make matters worse, the link provided on Twitter, led directly to the report, with no warning of what it was.
Not only that, but the autopsy report in question has personal information of Cooke’s family on it, and the information was not redacted in any way. In my opinion, I would consider this to be an invasion of privacy.
I understand that the editors felt the need to report on the findings, but I feel it could have been handled in a much better way. All in all, I am incredibly disappointed to see our newspaper, which many students rely on to obtain information on events around campus, apparently stoop to a sensationalist level in order to gain website hits and total paper readings. The Oklahoma Daily has now lost a reader, and I will continue with my decision until changes are made.
Johnie Hill, language arts education junior
I am writing in response to the Casey Cooke story and its subsequent updates, tweets and Facebook posts from The OU Daily. I appreciate your staff’s dedication to keeping the OU community informed about this case. Understandably, the fact that she was drunk when she died makes it hard for many people to take the story as anything but insensitive, but the facts remain.
That being said, I think posting links to her autopsy was a huge misstep. Those files may be readily available to your organization, but the OU population does not need this at their disposal. That type of information is personal and sensitive. It is not “hard-hitting journalism,” it is simply offensive copy/paste of a link for a graphic document on a late OU student who still has friends and family that read this. Of course, what is done is done, and you will not be able to remove that link fully from the internet. Personally, I believe an apology should be printed expressing remorse about the lapse in judgment for posting that link and thinking it was a wise journalistic decision.
Alex Rivera, vocal music education senior
What is and what is not appropriate to feature in a news article? Merriam-Webster suggests that news is both “a report of recent events” and that such news is “previously unknown information.” When I stumbled across the Casey Cooke article in Wednesday’s OU Daily, I learned “new information” about relatively “recent events.” The article by itself, which has been a topic of much controversy on various social media sites, is not so terrible. The event was tragic, and considering the location of the accident, it seems nearly appropriate that the university’s newspaper report the facts.
What was neither necessary nor appropriate, however, was the publishing and hosting of a copy of the full autopsy report by The OU Daily. Certainly, there is a fine line that must be walked when deciding what information should be publicized and what — for the protection of the dignity of the victim and for respect to their family and friends — should be kept private. While autopsy information is public knowledge, there is good reason as to why this information is not publicized by the medical examiner directly. It is, instead, given only by request.
It is my hope, and the hope of many others at this university, that our peers who write these articles would step back and put serious thought into what they’re publishing. I am pleased to see that The Daily removed the autopsy report, but perhaps in the future this is a step that can be taken during editing — not following a post-print public outcry.
Mitchell D. West, chemistry senior
Casey was a very close friend of my son, and she was a proud graduate from OU. Her family has students that still attend OU; how could you allow this to be a tweeted as a breaking story?
Not only is it callous the way that it was presented, is absolutely unacceptable. Whoever is responsible for this article is cruel and cold-hearted. Why were there no positive and wonderful comments about this young and beautiful girl?
It is unbelievable that such a posting with a link to her autopsy report, which contains very sensitive and private information, would be approved by your editor, faculty or anyone associated with OU. Did you not think of her many dear friends at OU or her family that are still mourning for their loss? How would you feel if someone released this disturbing story about your sister or daughter?
Casey is a highly respected student from the university and deserves to be remembered for the wonderful person that she was, not this disgusting material that you are claiming to be news. Even if the information is public, you should know that it is wrong to publish this or think that anyone on campus would find the gruesome details of interest. Show some integrity and have some respect for her and remove this disgracing information before her family or friends see it. This is something that a trashy tabloid would publish. How can a campus newspaper think it is OK?
You should be ashamed. You owe her family a deep and sincere apology for being so disrespectful.
Tracy Thomas, mother of an OU graduate