TABLOIDED: The Legal and Ethical Quandaries of the "East Side Butcher" Case

Categories: Media

One thing's for certain: Now that the writers' strike is over, chances are the murder of Upper East Side therapist Kathryn Faughey is going to get "ripped from the headlines" for an excellent episode of Law & Order. Said headlines are already playing out the cop procedural narrative. This is day three of the coverage, and we're at the point where Brisco and Curtis (our favorite team of L&O detectives, RIP Jerry Orbach) would be screaming at Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy for their inability to get the patient records they need to investigate who would want to brutally murder this woman.

The Post has deemed the killer the "East Side Butcher," and the paper's front page screams it's "NUTS!" that the cops are blocked from accessing patient files. Their article blames the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a 1996 law responsible for protecting patients' medical information. The Post makes sure to reminder its readers that Bill Clinton signed this act into law, therefore making the former President yet again responsible for anything that ever goes wrong in this country.

The big development in the "Butcher" case yesterday was the questioning of one William Kunsman, a 42-year-old friend of Faughey's who lives in Pennsylvania. Dr. Kent Shinbach, the therapist who survived the attack, picked Kunsman out of an informal lineup, and the adult diapers in the suitcase left behind in Faughey's building were available in Kunsman's hometown of Coplay, Pa. Kunsman had been in touch with Faughey several times over the days before her death, so police picked him up and questioned him for several hours. Kunsman told the cops he was home all day with his wife when the murders occurred. The Post says his alibi was confirmed, while the Daily News says police have not been able to confirm it. (Perhaps this Daily News tidbit is a holdover from an earlier edition, but we don't know.)

Dealing with Kunsman's involvement with Faughey is a tricky proposition, and this is where the ethical quandaries of journalism come into play. Both papers have quotes from the man, but the Post story features the revelation that Kunsman suffers from bipolar disorder and that since losing his job, he had been calling and e-mailing Faughey for money and help in getting his medication. The News just mentions Faughey's "worsening personal problems."

Was it necessary to mention Kunsman's condition? It does somewhat prove the point that the Post is trying to make by declaring how "NUTS!" it is that police don't have access to the information they might need for the investigation, but it also is outing someone's medical condition, one that is stigmatized in our society. Yes, Kunsman is the one who is admitting to his bipolar disorder, but one wonders if it was a necessary revelation by the Post. On the other hand, the Daily News also has a button asking, "Want more? Hear William Kunsman play his guitar" at the paper's website. (Faughey and Kunsman met at a guitar festival). Perhaps keeping quiet about Kunsman's mental condition gave the News access to his music? Who knows?

Meanwhile the News includes a sidebar on how the adult diapers point to a "sexual sicko" in this case. It figures that someone picked up that especially lurid angle. Our friends have been commenting on that part for the past couple of days.

In other news, the Daily News has an "exclusive photo" of Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. They claim it's of him looking "like he lost his best friend," but to us, it just looks like dude is chillin' on his day off before he heads to Spring Training on Monday. Pettitte told reporters he won't be saying anything until Monday, when he reports back to work.

Follow-ups There are several of these today, including a remarkable one in the Daily News about Georgia the cat. If you recall, Georgia jumped out of her carrier and off the 59th and Lexington Ave. subway platform a few weeks ago. Her owner has braced herself for the worst, but a transit worker spotted a cat matching Georgia's description in the tunnel at 55th and Lex on Wednesday. The MTA is resuming its search for the feline.

The Post reports that the M&M's version of the Naked Cowboy has been yanked from the candy's Times Square billboard. The actual Naked Cowboy, Robert Burck, has not dropped his $6 million lawsuit for trademark infringement.

Both papers report on the guilty plea of construction worker Diego Pilico, who killed actress Adrienne Shelly in November 2006 and staged it to look like a suicide.

And, as you all were waiting with bated breath to find out the outcome of the Daily News page-2 proposal, we are happy to report that Janna Hennikoff said "yes" to boyfriend Eiyal Hillel. Now Hillel just needs to finalize his divorce from his first wife.

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