We have a rule in our family that if anyone gets a speeding ticket while he or she is a designated driver, the name of the person is not to be given out to the press.
This incident happened the other day when someone driving several happy people home from a party was stopped by the police for doing 50 miles an hour in a 25 mph zone.The reason that we don't reveal the name, unless the family member wants us to, is that he or she could be harassed by the media.
Therefore, it came as a surprise to me when a British tabloid called The Daily Dirt identified the driver and also ran a picture under the headline "Designated Driver With Party Girls in Back Seat Wins Indianapolis 500."
I was disappointed but not concerned that the Brits had violated the American rule on confidentiality. But I figured, who reads the London yellow press anyway?
Apparently I was overconfident because three days later in the local supermarket I saw a copy of the National Pinocchio (a newspaper devoted to lies and innuendoes). Blazoned across the front page was the headline, "Police Say Designated Driver Depressed When He Received Speeding Ticket." Underneath was a color photo of the family member involved.
I called the editor of the Pinocchio and said, "Have you people gone crazy? Why did you print the name and picture of the driver, knowing that it could destroy his life forever?"
He replied, "The British papers used it, so we had no choice. Why should people in Britain know something we don't?"
It hurt, but I realized that nothing can be done to control trash. Then the other morning I went out to pick up my New York Times.
Lo and behold, on the front page, right above the story on the Kurds, was a large feature, revealing not only the name of the driver but devoting a page to a profile on him. It wasn't very flattering.
I telephoned the circulation manager for my area and told her, "I can't believe a paper of your distinction would stoop so low as to violate the rule of protecting the name of a speeding designated driver. "
The circulation manager said, "We didn't print anything new. All we did was report the same terrible details that appeared in the National Pinocchio. As a paper of distinction, we feel that we cannot allow the National Pinocchio be the only one to record all the news that's fit to print. We had to weigh the public's right to know against the circulation war we are now engaged in with the Daily News, the New York Post and Newsday."
I hung up in disgust. That night I got home and turned on the NBC Evening News. The lead item was NBC's decision to announce the name of the designated driver. The NBC vice president in charge of revealing names appeared on camera and explained that NBC News could not stand by while there was one unnamed victim in this country.
Once the New York Times broke the silence, he said, the NBC executives had no choice but to follow suit, not only because of their duty to tell the truth, but they also needed a big boost in their ratings.