CNN and alt.suicide.holiday sign now

The recent piece featured on Paula Zahns NOW entitled Cyber Suicide (aired on 11/10/05 on CNN, transcript available at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0511/10/pzn.01.html), and the article "Parents: Online newsgroup helped daughter commit suicide" on the CNN website (http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/11/04/suicide.internet/index.html), have greatly disappointed and insulted many of the people who post frequently to the Usenet group, alt.suicide.holiday (sometimes referred to as ASH).

CNN has a responsibility to provide clear, accurate and unbiased reports. CNN is also responsible to follow ethical journalistic practices, and when material is produced that is in error, they have the responsibility to correct it.

Although it is clear that the producers of the piece had access to the point of view of multiple ASHers (people who post frequently to ASH), this information was discarded. Email correspondence with a couple ASHers led to phone conversations, and interviews in person. Only two short quotes of River were used for the NOW piece, and a single quote from Geo and River were used in the article.

Not only was this information not used, the views expressed were ignored. Opposing views, depicting these ASHers as encouraging suicide, were emphasized. Also, the availability of information on suicide methods was condemned.

These views come from Paula Zahn, questions and statements made by Thelma Gutierrez, and the responses by Mike Gonzales, the father of Suzy Gonzales. Suzy was a poster to the ASH group and committed suicide. Mike accuses the ASH community of encouraging her suicide, and preventing her from getting help for her depression. Although it is their right to have these opinions, that does not mean they are correct.

These errors are ones of omission. Paula Zahn said, There are actually places on the Web where people go to talk about killing themselves and to actually share advice on exactly how to do it. There is no statement of the other activity on the group. Discussion of suicide methods is much less common than this quote leads the viewer to believe.

Gutierrez said, Why would this bright young woman with a promising future end her own life? The answer provided, through the rest of the piece, is ASH. This fails to take into account all of the reasons Suzy stated on ASH (of which there are records). The viewer is falsely led to believe the group is the only reason for her to choose suicide. She also said, [H]e discovered nearly 100 messages Suzy had written to total strangers on ASH, detailing her grim plans. The majority of her messages are not related to suicide plans.

Gutierrez ended the piece with this quote: [T]hey are left withthe heartbreaking belief that they could have stopped Suzys deadly countdown, had it not been for an online suicide club called ASH. Despite this being a valid belief of the Gonzales, it suggests that ASH is the only reason for their inability to prevent her death. There are many other factors involved.

These, among others, are the kinds of errors of omission that make this piece biased.

The points of view that were discarded are of a completely different nature regarding this group. It is the view of ASHers that they receive a therapeutic effect from being able to discuss suicide issues with others that understand them. This support group effect has prolonged the life of many ASHers, who may have already committed suicide otherwise, and many ASHers are willing to attest to this. People who visit this group can expect to see encouraging posts, promoting life, but at the same time respecting the right of an individual to choose death.

As well as many ASHers professing to the therapeutic benefits of finding empathy and friendship, a number of the counselors and other professionals helping members also support this central aspect.

For the majority of ASHers, ASH is not the only way they seek to solve their problems. Many are seeing health professionals and taking medication. These kinds of activities are encouraged in the ASH environment. Despite these measures, many are still coping with suicidal ideation.

As a result, it is only natural to be interested in the details of the subject. Discussion of suicide methods is firmly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Not only is it the right of ASHers to discuss methods, this information is available other places. This includes the books Final Exit by Derek Humphrey, and Suicide and Attempted Suicide by Geo Stone, as well as countless reports in medical literature. Suicides and murders are also freely described in works of fiction and the news media although an attempt to imitate such stories is likely to result in debilitating injury unless detailed study takes place.

Suzy had similar views on suicide, as can be seen from her posting history on alt.suicide.holiday. She describes her history of depression, the circumstances of her life, and her experience with health professionals. The lack of support in her lifes relationships, and the support she found in the ASH community are also explained. A list of relevant posts has been attached to this letter. This information shows that Suzys suicidal ideation led her to ASH, rather than being caused by ASH. She chose to post to this group and was not coerced in any way.

Because of the extremely negative portrayal, the newsgroup has seen an obscenely high traffic of posters that just learned of alt.suicide.holiday through CNNs piece. Their post content ranges from curious to belligerent and threatening. Some of these posts actually encourage suicide, a practice that is frowned upon in the group. Many of the posts call for the arrest, and in some cases death, of the ASHer known as River. Many other posters demand explanations from posters about the ASH philosophy, and then condemn it.

These kinds of attacks are the reason why the newsgroup exists, as many ASHers experience them often in day to day life. The volume of these posts, and the resulting arguments, have made it impossible to have a normal, on topic conversation. With a lack of support once found on ASH, and the extremely offensive nature of these posts, this CNN piece has caused undue emotional stress to people who already have emotional issues. They have been alienated, persecuted, and abused. As ASH is a public forum, and not moderated, ASHers, and those that support them (collectively, the undersigned), have no recourse but to send this petition.

The reason for this letter, first, is to demand an official and public apology from CNN on Paula Zahn's NOW, alt.suicide.holiday, and the CNN website. Not only have ASHers been insulted by a biased television program, they have had their lives disrupted. Perhaps some have been pushed close to suicide because of these experiences. ASHers feel they have little to live for, and have had one of those things taken away.

Second, it is demanded that the ASHer point of view is given a fair and equal airtime. Had this been done properly in the Cyber Suicide, it is likely that the ill effects felt on ASH could have been greatly reduced.

Third, an official and public retraction of the "Cyber Suicide" story on Paula Zahn's Now, and the "Parents: Online newsgroup helped daughter commit suicide" article on the CNN website is demanded. Without this, the ill effects of these stories may be felt for as long as they exist.

Also included are the individual letters from the undersigned that wish to add their thoughts and feelings. There is no possible way to include all the effects this piece had on the lives of these people.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and timely reply.


List of relevant posts:
Suzys first post. List of reasons why she wants to die. Sun, Jan 12, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/d00291c75c4432d2/12f23e460229649c?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=99&hl=en#12f23e460229649c

Suzy describes a non-situational depression. Expresses disappointment over late delivery of KCN. Mon, Jan 20, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.recovery/browse_thread/thread/ccc701ec3c90d453/21999743756a9da8?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=97&hl=en#21999743756a9da8
Unless she requested overnight or 2-3 day shipping, she must have order the KCN before her first post to alt.suicide.holiday. Based on the fact that she hasnt received the package the following Monday, overnight delivery is highly unlikely.

Suzy describes a sense of community in alt.suicide.holiday. Wed, Jan 29, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/b7fe4b5af4a576ff/73560b08e5b9f2ed?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=93&hl=en#73560b08e5b9f2ed

Suzy further describes a non-situational depression. Thurs, Jan 30, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/a71c9ad53ef267a0/ea4d5af04d97420c?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=91&hl=en#ea4d5af04d97420c

Suzy explains that she has not yet seen a doctor or taken medication. Wed, Feb 12, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/dd6d1063c1543363/6580e6909844289c?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=75&hl=en#6580e6909844289c

Suzy explains her suicidal feelings, the state of her life, sense of community in alt.suicide.holiday, and relationship with boyfriend. She also details a visit to a counselor at her university, and phone conversations with 1800-Suicide, and the lack of support regarding suicide from people in her life. Both: Thurs, Feb 13, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/43171df10f8356a2/b2ab436b01c1a890?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=47#b2ab436b01c1a890

Suzy describes sense of community on alt.suicide.holiday. Suzy uses dark humor. Wed, Feb 19, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/56ef39aa447ae9e0/cabcbaeae756aaa2?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=41#cabcbaeae756aaa2

Suzy details her suicidal history, and lack of support from people in her life. Fri, Feb 21, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/8afdd73f5fc722f3/9128b6cd1d285e53?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=35#9128b6cd1d285e53

Suzy describes a sense of community in ASH. Fri, Feb 21, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/2f7903e00970a8dd/6f72b88c23ca6d1d?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=31#6f72b88c23ca6d1d

Suzy starts taking Lexapro, an antidepressant. She has seen a doctor about her depression. Wed, Feb 26, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/f5a9950236676df4/5f9eb3a9e343e4f7?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=27#5f9eb3a9e343e4f7

Suzy details a lack of understanding from friends. Mon, March 3, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/7c84dbf4a5633235/3f56107ab0b8b3b7?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=22#3f56107ab0b8b3b7

Suzy has been taking Lexapro for nine days. She has not seen an improvement in depression, perhaps it is actually worsening. Further down the thread, River shows a respect of choice, but also a desire for Suzy to continue to live. Thurs, March 6, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/281c2a9526aae516/c598416d24a66602?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=14#c598416d24a66602

Suzy congratulates a poster for overcoming suicidal ideations and expresses a desire for similar developments for all posters to alt.suicide.holiday. Thurs, March 6, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_thread/thread/3bb8cc323c208fd5/9b4dd27bf48454e7?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=12#9b4dd27bf48454e7

Suzys last post saying goodbye. Sun, March 23, 2003.
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.suicide.holiday/browse_frm/thread/fa79bd975fb85845/6dbc860e73357184?lnk=st&q=group:alt.suicide.holiday+author:[email protected]&rnum=1&hl=en#6dbc860e73357184

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TO: CNN, a portion of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., A Time Warner Company

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