Australian music site Tone Deaf has been forced to spike a story mocking a fragile Jack White fan as the millionaire singer’s promoters went to ground over the bitter onstage rant that sparked the furore.
The piece, removed last night, explored in extreme detail a troubling incident which began at White’s gig last week at Melbourne’s Festival Hall. The Detroit rocker seemed peeved about a minor incident that occurred two years ago during a previous Australian tour of side project The Dead Weather.
During his set, White interrupted tune Top Yourself (by other side project The Raconteurs) to personally target the fan, revealing he had banned her from the gig. The lyrics of Top Yourself urge a former lover to commit suicide.
Tone Deaf did not identify the fan but mounted an in-depth investigation of her social media output in a strange attempt to prove the star’s fears were justified. It described the girl as “crazed” and an “obsessive” and ended with the usual disclaimer pointing to mental health services like Lifeline and beyondblue.
Ben Hart, head of public affairs at national youth mental health foundation Headspace, slammed White this morning, telling Crikey it appeared the singer had set out to deliberately mock someone in a fragile mental state.
“It’s one thing to be angry and frustrated at alleged gross invasions of privacy. It’s entirely another thing to publicly taunt someone in the way that Jack White appears to have done, if the reporting of this incident is correct,” he said.
“Based on the transcript we’ve seen, the comments White makes seem from the outside to be designed to publicly ridicule someone who has self-identified mental illness issues. As an organisation supporting young people going through a hard time, we find this really concerning.
“In addition, media outlets should always be mindful about the impact that publication may have on people involved. Simply putting some helpline numbers at the end doesn’t mean that requirement is covered off.”
Tone Deaf editor Nicholas Jones says he pulled the piece, penned by assistant editor Al Newstead, after the “situation escalated” last night.
“We do have policies regarding this … but I think we have failed that test,” he said. “Obviously it’s a sensitive issue. There was a judgment call made and obviously it’s the wrong judgement call.
“We’ll be using this as learning experience and making sure we handle these things in the future in terms of sensitivity to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The story was in clear breach of planned media guidelines for reporting of mental health issues. Marc Bryant, project manager from the Mindframe National Media Initiative, says that, in general, journalists need to express extreme caution.
“It can be challenging to report on mental illness and self-harm as these are complex issues to convey succinctly with minimal research time under demanding pressures to publish fast,” he told Crikey.
“Media should try to avoid perpetuating common myths deliberate self-harming or non-suicidal self-injury. It is inaccurate to imply that individuals engage in these kinds of behaviours to manipulate other people or situations, attract attention and/or feign suicidal ideation. Such assumptions can minimise the seriousness of the issue and stigmatise individuals, preventing them from seeking help.
The consequences could be awful: “Negative reporting of mental illness appears to influence community attitudes resulting in the development of more negative and inaccurate beliefs about mental illness.
“Media professionals can help improve understanding and community attitudes towards mental illness and self-harm by providing accurate information and encourage people in distress to seek help, for instance by providing helpline numbers. They can also help break down myths about mental illness and seek expert clinical comment.”
White’s local entourage seems unrepentant. A sensitive soul called “Eloise” from Frontier Touring left a message on Crikey‘s voicemail this morning saying the company didn’t have a comment about the “said crazy girl”.
The reaction in cyberspace has ranged from supportive to bilious. Blogger Amy Gray took to the web yesterday to blast Tone Deaf for its insensitivity, noting the site’s editors had failed to gauge the impact of the story on its target.
*Media can get more information on reporting these issues at www.mindframe-media.info. Young people in need of immediate support can contact Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information about mental health issues visit www.reachout.com.