Was it newsworthy, so much so that news networks would break into their regular afternoon programming to broadcast live the first official law enforcement press conference surrounding Williams' death? We think so. Williams was not just an iconic American comedian since he burst onto the scene with "Mork and Mindy" in the 1970s, he was perhaps the single funniest man in America. That he would die so suddenly understandably generated interest. When the word "suicide" appeared we became a nation of rubberneckers. We had to know what happened.
Actually there isn't a "need" to know, but the appetite is obvious. From Princess Diana to Michael Jackson to Heath Ledger to Philip Seymour Hoffman, the sudden, unexpected death of celebrities is a source not only of mourning, but also of great fascination. All the news networks showed up for live coverage because they knew their audiences were riveted to this story.
But how much should we be told?
Normally it baffles and frustrates when the official government spokesman approaches the massive bank of microphones and says -- nothing. His official statement tells you what you already knew, and when reporters attempt to gather details, they get bupkis."The investigation is ongoing." "I don't have details at this time." "We are not prepared to release that information at this time." The tone is monotonous, officious. Ten minutes after it began, the networks mercifully pull away as reporters scurry to make news out of what wasn't.
So when the Marin County coroner's office held a press conference 24 hours after Williams' body was discovered, to lay out the initial findings on this suicide, we tuned in expecting nothing more than the confirmation of what everyone already knew -- suicide -- with a barrage of questions providing little, or nothing else. Instead this time we got too much. Controversy erupted.
It didn't help that the press contact in this case seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. Before reading the first sentence in his statement, he had an announcement. "My last name is spelled B-O-Y-D," proclaimed Lt. Keith Boyd, with far too much brio in his voice given the topic at hand. At the end of his prepared remarks, he reminded the press that "Media inquiries should continue to be directed to me, Lieutenant Keith Boyd, via my email," and then he spelled that address out before taking questions, pointing at reporters with gusto.