An Apology: On Bikers, Helmets & Jeremy Choate

Categories: Crime

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We recently posted an item discussing the fact that lighting designer Jeremy Choate was not wearing a helmet when he was hit by a car and killed while riding a motorcycle. We also argued that if he had been wearing a helmet, he might have survived, and so he did, in part, contribute to his death.

Many of you -- even those agreeing that wearing a helmet is important -- thought we were insensitive both in timing and tone. For that I apologize and agree we could have done better, as do the writer of the piece and his immediate editor.

But please understand that the intent of raising this issue was precisely because it was very much in everyone's mind and that the loss of such a talent as Choate was particularly sad. And if we were stating the obvious -- helmets make a motorcycle ride a bit safer -- then it is something obvious that a lot of people choose to ignore.

We could have said nothing about the missing helmet, other than to note that Choate was not wearing one and let readers draw their own conclusions. We chose not to do that. I believe that we should be able to write about helmet safety and bring it home in a way that matters to people.

But in perfect hindsight, we should have waited to raise this discussion at some later time. There is no way of knowing whether Choate would have survived his injuries, helmet or not. It is a question that can probably never be answered.

Again, we apologize for bringing additional pain to people already grieving for the loss of a friend and loved one.

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34 comments
wwjd
wwjd

See there are no comments to this smut article in the Alief Post. The only comments in the Houston Press are 99% from ticked off friends and family members, and the only reason it was read at all was because Jeremy Choate's name was in it. Perhaps if these two papers wanted a bigger audience, they would have wrote an article on how talented he was, instead of using his name for smut.

wwjd
wwjd

Don't feel the apology was an apology, but an admission of guilt. Guilty of libel and slander for sure. Some things should be censored that's why there are libel and slander laws. Don't agree that an article on helmet safety should have been used as a slap in the face to the family and friends of Jeremy at their time of grief. I know that I will never forget this article and I pray that I will outlive Terrence McCoy so I can submit my own article to his loved ones titled, "Reporter Reaps What He Sows!" "Or God's The Judge, Not Terrence McCoy!"

HMkP
HMkP

Who are these people that read the Houston Press for super-sensitive reporting? If you don't want local articles that bitingly slant in contrary and unpopular directions go read the Chronicle.  Grief doesn't give us the right to control how the stories of our loved ones are told.  And there is something deeply ironic about an "arts community" demanding the Press censor their article because they disagree with its content.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Non-apology. I don't expect anything better from a media source that makes its money through backpage.

trae_tech
trae_tech

As a reader I appreciate the apology. I think pointing out the fact that wearing a helmet or not is the only choice the rider had control of. We cannot control the cars or drivers around us and that the drunk driver IS at fault. We as cyclists CAN control at least  the fact that we can put on a helmet or not.

slumpville
slumpville

What I had really hoped for was "We are sorry that we made the victim look like a criminal and the criminal look like a victim."

v.divecha
v.divecha

The original blog post, the newly created comment of the day section, and this apology affects us all, deeply. It affects us in that your apology has holes in in it. You're still defending the idea of the original blog in your apology. Let me ask you something--and it is being borrowed from other questions that are still yet to be answered for. Would blame a young woman for wearing a short skirt because she was raped? Jeremy was a victim of a rear ended collision that occurred because someone ran into him while he was legally stopped, in legal fashion at a stop light. Writing about motorcycle safety and telling hundreds and thousands of readers that, basically his death was his own fault are two different things. The original blog insults Jeremy and his loved ones, and your new apology continues to defend the original blog.

 

As your patrons, the ones that help keep you in business, we have requests:

 

-We need the original writer to apologize and pin point that his comparisons and his statements were incorrect and he should not have written them.

-Next, we need you to remove the article.  If you removed what was written you show the arts community that you are in fact answering for what you wrote. You've already generated thousands of page views and trust me, everyone knows about the original story--it's not going to go away by deleting it.

 

If you're going to tell us that you can't change policy especially on en error such as that is shameful on your part because then I will know that page views dictate your policy and not ethics.

 

Fulfilling these requests will be a great way for you you will make things right, Margaret. If this is not done, you will surely lose out on advertising revenue from the arts community.

 

Vipul H. Divecha

 

John Carpenter
John Carpenter

His father is an old friend and high school classmate of mine. He also rides, without a helmet. Your opinion was hurtful indeed.

MargaretDowning
MargaretDowning

You asked for an apology and we issued one. Now you are picking apart the apology. As editor of the Houston Press and www.houstonpress.com, when I say we are apologizing and say that both the writer of the original post and the immediate editor of that post are also sorry then yes, we have ALL apologized. Also some of you say that I missed the point and didn't address the manner in which the post was written. What did you think I was saying when I referred to the "tone" of our original post, acknowledging it was wrong and apologizing for it? The Houston Press devotes an immense amount of its coverage to the local arts scene every day. I certainly support your right to disagree with us at any time; I would just hope there would be some balance, perspective and acknowledgment that most of the time we get it right. As for the request from a few of you that we delete the original post, our policy is not to remove posts. At this point it would be easier to do so – but then we wouldn't be answering for what we wrote originally; we'd be pretending it didn't happen.

halfwit2k
halfwit2k

Wow.  Y'all just keep blowing it.  The snide comments in the original article that blame the victim virtually ignore the woman who hit him were the problem.  I am even willing to agree that no one ever made an intelligent decision to not wear a helmet on a motorcycle.  But to go after the victim with a post dripping in sarcasm and "cleverness" was a truly shitty thing to do.  There were 20 different ways to make this point and to discuss helmets that would not be so hurtful, but that was apparently a bridge too far for your sorry writer.

vonHaupstadt
vonHaupstadt

This strikes me as rather odd. Yes, it was a terribly insensitive piece to begin with; an obit ought never to serve merely as a means to an end, no matter how worthy that end, and it struck many that this piece did just that, exploited a tragedy in order to deliver a PSA for motorcycling safety.

 

On the other hand, I'm also struck at how quickly your readers recently assigned blame to a four year old and/or her parents when her foot was caught and injured in the Spindletop restaurant downtown. According to many commenters this child got what she deserved and her parents were greedy for suing Hyatt: the child and parents were cast as 100% culpable.

 

During another piece, when a bike rider was reported injured after being hit while riding without lights, commenters scoffed that the guy was an idiot --- too cool to care, and hipsters on lightless fixies be damned for poor choices. Again, the knee jerk reaction was to blame the victim.

 

Now, though, the victim is completely faultless and culpable for nothing?

RobertThoth
RobertThoth

Thanks, Margaret, but that's not good enough. We need an apology from Terrence McCoy, the writer of the original post. We need the original post to go away altogether. Jeremy's daughters shouldn't get the chance read it. (the daughters Terrence brought up to fully illustrate his lack of grace, journalistic acumen, or understanding of subtext.)

 

 If this doesn't happen, Houston Press can expect a drop in arts advertising money. Judging by the rate your advertising people call my arts organization, I'd say the Houston Press is operating paycheck-to-paycheck. Terrence's post has insulted a man who is rightly canonized by the Houston arts community. I don't think the arts community will reward that with continued ad revenue. 

 

You've messed with your own money, Houston Press. We'll make sure it. Get Terrence to apologize and delete his 'article'. 

 

Robert Thoth

FrenetiCore and Frenetic Theater

kelly.d.switzer
kelly.d.switzer

I read about more articles fatal drunk driving accidents than I do motorcycle crashes--perhaps you could have focused on the person who was actually BREAKING THE LAW, directly resulting in the death of an innocent person who was stopped at a red light and abiding by the law. 

 

But go ahead, keep blaming the victim. 

jnodler1
jnodler1

"We could have said nothing about the missing helmet, other than to note that Choate was not wearing one and let readers draw their own conclusions. We chose not to do that. I believe that we should be able to write about helmet safety and bring it home in a way that matters to people."

 

Who doesn't love a good straw man?

 

I believe you should be able to write about helmet safety too.  Nobody disagrees with that.  And to act like that's what's upset people is disingenuous.

 

You didn't have to call the killer an easy scapegoat and the victim a blame-worthy orphan-maker.

 

Marge Schott issued apologies like this.

Craigley
Craigley

This is nowhere near as bad as quoting the former employer of the drunk lady last week.  If I were her family I'd be layering up, because you don't speak in detail or print in public details about former employees! 

 

As far as the rube who chose not to wear a helmet, I'm more appalled that you think some artist is more worthy of any attention than all the other rubes who die helmet-less.

amaraltx
amaraltx

The problem was never in talking about helmet safety, hell, not even the timing of the publishing, if only it had been written with tact and respect for the departed. Missed a good opportunity to talk about the subject, by shitting all over it... clearly going for the controversy and trying to seem like they were "gutsy" for talking about it. Shameful.

gentian
gentian

 @v.divecha Though I understand and sympathize with the sentiment behind most of the comments here, this thing is beginning to take on an eerie Soviet feel. The request, in light of the editor's apology, that the post be forever deleted reminds me of Milan Kundera's rendering of how a totalitarian regime would ordinarily airbrush offensive people and things from history. Poof, they're gone, never happened, no pictures, no evidence.

 

Are you going to apply the same standard to artwork? Should an offensive play or novel be expunged because it incensed the masses? Should Satanic Verses be erased? Should Pussy Riot be deleted? Should evil hip-shakin Elvis be removed if the Taliban comes to power? Piss Christ? No, no, no and no.

 

Granted, that first post about Jeremy's death was overly didactic and insensitive, and the editor said as much in her apology. Leave it at that. Be brave in your commentary. Let others decide, and learn. Don't slip into advocating that uncomfortable things simply vanish from the pages of history. 

 

 

 

 

my2cents
my2cents

Some folks are just never satisfied, although the original article was perhaps untimely... you have in fact showing that the media can admit when they should have done a better job. 

jnodler1
jnodler1

 @MargaretDowning Incidentally, I'm no kind of libertarian.  I favor strict helmet laws for all bikers and I favor a ban on cell phone usage while driving, as other municipalities have already passed.  This situation has nothing to do with bikes, bikers, helmets, or safety.  The fact that your apology begins "On Bikers, Helmets..." misses the point of apologizing in the first place.  Jeremy wasn't in a motorcycle accident.  He was in a sitting accident.  He was legally sitting on a vehicle, stopped as per the law, and he was rear ended to death.  I share your feelings on helmet laws, but none of this is about safety.  And to defend, even a little, the writer and editor responsible for the original and subsequent offenses, only makes things worse.

amaraltx
amaraltx

 @MargaretDowning  ... and again I must apologize for continually picking on you but writing "You asked for an apology and we issued one" right after an apology makes it sound a bit insincere...   please don't do it just because we asked you for it.

 

jnodler1
jnodler1

 @MargaretDowning Also, if Mr. X or whomever were to punch Mr. Y in the face and then Mr. Z came along to say Mr. Y was really sorry, did Mr. Y apologize?  No.

 

We want to hear from the pricks that did this.

jnodler1
jnodler1

 @MargaretDowning Todd Akin issued an apology today too.  I assume you were satisfied with it and will encourage any Missourians you might know to remember all his good deeds?  I mean, we all asked for an apology and we got one.  Good enough, right?  I always levy my complaints with The Press by saying the main reason for my disappointment is that you all *are* typically such great supporters of the local arts scene.  I'd have no cause to be disappointed if I didn't expect more from you all.  My company got a particularly bad review from The Press once and when I next saw the critic she said, "I expect more from you."  I said, "Fair enough.  And thank you for feeling that way.  I will try harder."

 

The nature of the offending article was bad enough that when the last words from the writer himself were, "I'm not apologizing," we need an apology from him to be satisfied.  He did the first crime; he should say he is sorry.  What Connelly did was far worse.  On the day of Jeremy's memorial, the day most people commented in outrage, Connelly doubled down -- he rubbed salt in the wound(s) and did so cheerfully.  He created a brand new "Comment of the Day" section in order only that he could post the one and only comment that agreed with the shitty article.  We need an apology from him to be satisfied.

 

It takes a whole lot for the vast majority of the local arts community to become so angry with a business that does so much to allow us even to exist, for without the Press it is unlikely many people would even know about any of us, about art in this town at all.  But McCoy and Connelly managed to do it; to unite us in outrage; to bite the hand that feeds us on the eve of the first annual Theatre Awards.  They did it.

 

The apology was defensive and repeated again in its very first paragraph that Jeremy [definitively] bears some responsibility for his own death and for the orphaning of his children, simply by repeating the false notion that he definitely died in part because he wasn't wearing a helmet.  In the penultimate paragraph, that notion is (correctly) corrected.  Which is it?

 

I've also yet to receive any sort of response to the following questions:

 

- How is this different from blaming a rape victim for making the mistake of walking home alone at night?

- How did Jeremy not wearing a helmet while sitting at a stoplight differ from a person crossing -- with the right of way -- and not wearing a helmet while walking on foot?  The pedestrian would have been as likely to be killed as Jeremy was.  Explain the difference, please.

- How did The Press miss the opportunity to slag one of its own when Chris Gray, a known heavy smoker and drinker, was lying in the hospital in critical condition?  He did far more to contribute to his own tragic situation than did Jeremy.  What a great opportunity to point out the dangers of smoking (as with helmets, as if we didn't know about them already) but you missed it.  Maybe you were concerned with your friend and thought of him more as a person than as a means to prop up a quite obvious cause.

 

Nowhere in this apology was any admission of wrongdoing for calling Jeremy responsible for dying or for orphaning his children.  Nowhere was an admission of wrongdoing for calling the killer an "easy scapegoat."  Nowhere was a retraction for a thing that ought to have been caught by any fact-checker: The "real" reason Jeremy died is because he was rear-ended by a drunk driver and even the expert you cited said he might as well have been killed helmet or not; that that was impossible to know.

 

This was a non-apology apology.  You're right, Margaret.  The Press is an excellent advocate for the arts in Houston and I personally appreciate the hell out of that.  It is still possible to really fuck up.  Here you all did.  And instead of cleaning up the mess, it's been made worse.  It would be easy for you to fix this.  You should do it.

amaraltx
amaraltx

 @MargaretDowning  I apologize (on my behalf) if I did pick apart your apology note. I think the level of immaturity and lack of empathy of the original article and the following slap in the face with the "Comment of the day" section has driven most of us over the edge.

amaraltx
amaraltx

 @jnodler1 ...  well said. A much needed apology, but still shows that you truly do not understand the issue so many of us had with your article in the first place. No one had a problem with the argument for wearing helmets... it was a valid and needed message which was unfortunately delivered in the worst of ways, without respect, empathy and aiming to create controversy.We all love spaghetti, just don't put shit sauce on it....

H_e_x
H_e_x

 @nikj I'm just saying that a non-apology is right in line with their ethics. They don't care about anything or anyone, other than money.

v.divecha
v.divecha

 @gentian The article was of poor taste and should not have been allowed to have been published by his immediate supervisor.  It's not a matter of comfort--to me it's a matter of libel. If you think my request compares to a totalitarian regime or that I'm asking to have it removed because it makes some people like me, uncomfortable, then you are wrong and you're comparing things that have nothing to do with slander and libel, which is what's happening here.

 

It's like a bunch of typos in the Dictionary, would Meriam Webster Inc. publish a bunch of typos? No, right? I needs to be removed not because it's uncomfortable but because it has its facts all wrong. I don't care if it pisses me off, that's free speech, but when you go and insinuate that it's his fault, when you damn well know that it was not his fault whatsoever, with a big super media like HP and the amount of circulation it gets, that's a lot of brainwashing and inspiring you're doing. Other readers who like HP and trust HP can read the article and say, you know what, this writer is right and his family and friends can go to hell.

 

It's not about comfort or removing something that makes something uncomfortable, it's about standing up to the Houston Press who seems to becoming this giant, massive circulating power of personal propoganda.

 

Put yourself in the victims shoes. Would you want your daughters to feel uncomfortable as a result of peer ridicule and what other kids might be saying to them because of this article? Sure, those kids might  not read the article, but their parents and older siblings will have read it and tweeted about and and talked about it and the chain goes on and on and on. Goes from newstand to parent's lunch break, to some immature kids making a very bad joke about it and then goes back to the little girls. Maybe not today or tomorrow or even in two years from now. Maybe in five or ten years from now it comes back to them because someone remembered the article they read about (since all of us are giving it so much attention) and all of a sudden it hits them and unimagineable events occur. All because the article existed to begin with.

 

So because of these reasons, yes, I advocate, poof, make this gone, forever from history.

 

 

amaraltx
amaraltx

 @MargaretDowning  unfortunately apologies don't undo the words and actions of the two who chose to maliciously create controversy instead of delivering the message in a respectful way, and then create a Comment of the Day section picking one of the few comments who had anything good to say about the piece (and also overlooked our reason for complaining in the first place). But I do agree with you that removing would just be pretending it didn't happen.

fultond
fultond

 @H_e_x  @nikj they, they, they...ok, it's one monolith. like the gubmint, I guess

gentian
gentian

 @v.divecha Poor taste, insensitive, overly didactic, bad timing, something to apologize for? Yes. Libelous? Hardly. What is libelous? Suggesting that wearing a helmet might have significantly increased his chance of survival? That's libelous? That's just fact. An uncomfortable one, given that a helmet can't mitigate against life's tragi-stance like a drunk driver.

 

Re his kids, you project a scary scenario: other children taunting his kids because he didn't take more precautions while riding a motorcycle. Your psyche can address that more than mine, I'm afraid. I don't wish to shelter my child from simply reality, and I know from experience that kids know what happens...even if adults try to make it disappear. It's not a fault here, but  it is a lesson, and I can't imagine the deceased would wish to keep that lesson outta sight, outta mind as you suggest.

 

 

 

 

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