NEWS- Info flow: Camblos blasts baby victim ID

The Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney's Office called a press conference last Friday, and they were steaming. The reason? The Daily Progress had revealed the name of eight-month-old Alexis "Ali" McFadyen, who died November 16, allegedly a victim of shaken-baby syndrome.

"We are very disappointed and dismayed that the Daily Progress chose to release the name of the infant victim," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Murray in a statement. "We have consistently tried to balance the right of the public to know versus the wishes of the family as they deal with this tragedy."

But some free speech advocates see it differently.

"There's certainly some privacy protection for victims, but that's live victims," says Frosty Landon with the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. "I can't think of anything that would allow [a victim's name] to be withheld." But that's what happened.

Albemarle police issued a press release February 13 announcing the arrest of Robert Wayne Wyant, 32, for second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and felony child abuse– but not the name of the girl. Wyant was a friend of the girl's family, and she was under his care, Murray said. Her death was declared a homicide by blunt force trauma to the head consistent with shaken baby syndrome.

Looking at court records, the autopsy report, and obituaries, according to sources cited in his article, Progress reporter Rob Seal (who declined to speak with the Hook for this story) determined McFadyen was the victim. Police and the commonwealth's attorney declined to release the name of the victim and how she died– until after Seal's story was published February 16.

The court file mentions the death of an infant designated only as "A.M.," and Commonwealth's Attorney James Camblos, who is said to be a finalist for the position of Albemarle Circuit Court judge, says the press would be wise to be super-cautious. "What if this were the one in a million where it was not the same A.M.?" Camblos asks.

Wendell Cochran, journalism ethics professor at American University, expresses surprise at any outrage over naming names.

"I can't conjure an example where naming a murder victim would be an ethical problem for a journalist," says Cochran. "The press would not be doing its job if it routinely withheld names of victims. Yes, it's a horrible thing for the family. But the alternative seems a lot worse to me."

However, Jeff Seglin, who writes a weekly ethics column for the New York Times, calls the situation a gray area and suggests doing the story without adding pain to a victim's family.

"You have to ask, what's to be gained by bringing that name to the story," says Seglin. "If the only reason for it to be there is for the titillation factor, there's absolutely no reason for it to be there. All it does then is add additional pain for the family."

Cochran suggests that because family members, church members, and others in the community already know, it's a short trip to the archives– especially knowing the date of the victim's death– to find her obituary. "Privacy typically belongs to an individual," says Cochran. "It dies with them."

"When somebody is murdered, it's not something the community can keep quiet," agrees Landon. "When someone dies, privacy ends."

Scottsville resident Robert Wyant, a former volunteer with the East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company, was a family friend allegedly looking after eight-month old "Ali" McFadyen when she sustained the injuries November 14 that caused her death two days later.



While it certainly is an unfortunate situation, and I can understand the "additional pain to the family argument," it seems as though it would be only a matter of time before the name of the baby surfaced to public knowledge. It also seems that there is the discrepancy of maintaining the identity of the live vs. dead, the former seeming less morally imperative. As well as the fact that (and I know this can seem like an insensitive pill to swallow) there is an apparent difference in maintaining the anonymity of a 13yo or a 16yo who have formed much more of an identity within the public sphere. It’s a tough call but I firmly believe that Mr. Seal did his job appropriately and made the right decision.

Integrity is the key issue in this matter. Wars are being fought as we speak to preserve our right to freedom of speech. Thank God and all of the American soldiers who have, and are, fighting for the freedoms we enjoy. However, one must use discretion when choosing to use those freedoms and Mr. Seal obviously did not think before he put his pen into action.
The Daily Progress should have regarded Mr. Seal’s disgraceful “tight lipped” article as daily regression and tossed it wayside before it made them all look like a bunch of asinine idiots without all of the facts. Mr. Seal answered his own question in the very article he wrote. Why were the authorities so tight lipped? He printed it in black and white and never saw the writing on the wall. “Teixeira said Monday that the secrecy surrounding the Wyant case is intended to preserve the integrity of the investigation and to protect the victim’s family. It’s a very sensitive and tragic case, and it’s been very difficult for everyone involved, especially the family,” he said. “We’re trying to protect them and also to get a conviction.” Did he miss the point?
Subsequently, he wrote the article for the sheer “titillation factor” and stood nothing to gain except flirting with a future in a disreputable journalistic career. Exposing the baby’s name and using it to tickle his fancy was as preposterous as the monster that exerted his power to kill her. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family who is dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.

This incident is bad all the way around.

It doesn't add anything to the "story" to publish a speculative article in an attempt to name the victim, especially a baby.

But I can't ever remember a case where someone was charged with murder and the victim's name was kept secret because they were under 18.

Why would the authorities conceal the identity of a murdered infant when they wouldn't conceal the identity of a murdered adult? Is the family in the first case more bereaved than the family in the second?

Still, the name itself doesn't seem like news to me. Maybe if they had named the girl in a story with some actual content, it might not seem so scummy.

So, I guess, thumbs down to the cops and Camblos for being so hush-hush, and thumbs down to Seal and the Progress for acting without any class.

Wouldn't the name have come out anyway in court? If so, A) why would the authorities try and hide it, knowing it would come out in a few months, and B) why couldn't the Progress just wait for the name to be revealed naturally?