Posted by Jessica Anderson
Journalists should know not to jump to conclusions. Getting the facts straight has been beaten into our minds relentlessly since our first journalism class. We’ve all been taught “if your mom says she loves you, you better fact check with dad.” But apparently, some journalists skipped this day of class.
American teen Natalee Holloway traveled to Aruba for her senior trip in 2005. The 18-year-old was last seen leaving a nightclub with Dutch teen Joran van der Sloot and his two Aruban friends. She has never been seen again, and despite extensive investigation, her disappearance remains a mystery as no one has been charged with her murder, and her remains have never been recovered.
After a couple vacationing in Aruba discovered a jawbone with intact teeth on the beach, media sites rushed to connect the bone with the mysterious disappearance of Holloway five years ago.
Articles such as “Natalee Holloway Found, Jawbone from Holloway’s Body?” , “Natalee Holloway’s jawbone found at Aruban beach?” and “Natalee Holloway Found?” have exploded on the Internet.
However, here’s the catch: Dutch forensic experts aren’t even sure the bone is human yet. The bone will be tested today to see if it belongs to a human or animal. If tests prove the bone is human, then it will be compared to Holloway’s DNA.
Media sources have been making quite the leap from this preliminary information.
If the jawbone was in fact Holloway’s, this would mark a major break—final proof of her death—in a case that has been plagued with little evidence, much controversy, and many unresolved questions.
While this discovery may finally solve the case or at least provide some form of closure for the Holloway family, anticipatory proclamations by the media are unhelpful.
Journalists have the responsibility to seek truth, report thoroughly, and minimize harm. Their job description doesn’t include making wild speculations—even if they are optimistic. The discovery of her body would finally allow Holloway’s friends and family to begin healing, but rumor-mongering will only pour salt in their wounds.
As a journalist, how would you react if you received information about this mysterious jaw on the beach? Do you believe that “optimistic reporting”–like proclaiming Natalee Holloway’s body has been found without having 100 percent certainty–is justifiable in sad circumstances?