Suspicions at Bay

Nathan Carman was rescued by a passing freighter last Sunday after being lost at sea for a week. He was found 100 miles off the coast of Massachusetts after his boat sank on a mother-son fishing trip. His mother is still missing and presumed dead. Carman is now being questioned by the police and the National guard as part of an investigation. This is nothing out of the ordinary seeing as he was the only other person with his mom on the boat at the time of her disappearance.

That is the brief background of the story that is still unfolding, but only the surface. Carman was also a suspect in the unsolved slaying of his 87-year-old grandfather, John Chakalos, in 2013. This is where it gets interesting. Chakalos was a wealthy real estate developer who, in his will, left an estate worth more than $42 million to his four adult daughters, one being Carman’s mother. Carman was the last person known to have seen his grandfather before he was shot multiple times inside his home in Windsor, Connecticut. Carman was not charged due to insufficient evidence but still to this day remains a person of interest. Carman who has Asperger’s syndrome, also has records of a violent past from his childhood into his teen years.

In the past week, news outlets have been reporting on the boating incident in various ways. Some articles originally lead with headlines like “Boat Accident Survivor Now in Boston,” with no mention of the previous suspicions in his grandfather’s murder. While other headlines paint a different picture entirely. “Search Warrants Paint Disturbing Picture of Man Rescued at Sea” reads the CBS Boston headline that leads into a story that is more focused on Carman’s past than the recent boating accident.

Carman has spoken out on this issue saying that dredging up the past is “compounding his grief” over his missing mother. He spoke out to the Hartford Courant on their unfair coverage of his story.

“I’m lucky to be alive, I lost my mother and very, very difficult people, especially the Hartford Courant are trying or, raking up the time when I lost my grandfather. [He] was like a father to me and casting that in just a very, very wrong light.”

While reading the articles that delve into his past, I found myself being completely convinced that he sunk his boat on purpose to murder his mother. This was solely based on the fact that I knew he was a suspect in his grandfather’s murder. But if I hadn’t known that, I would have thought differently and sympathized with this young man who lost two very important people in his life.

I started to ask myself a lot of questions. If I were reporting on this story, what would I include? It is obviously causing more harm to Carman associating his grandfather’s case with his mother’s disappearance so much so that he has spoken out against specific news organizations. Does the public need to know that he was a suspect in a previous case or has a violent background in high school? Or is that irrelevant information at this point? Is it ethical for the media to create a bias against Nathan Carman or should the media be reporting solely on the information about this case?

After reading multiple articles on his story, I concluded that as a journalist I would report on the facts of the boating trip case. I would mention the death of his grandfather but not highlight that he was a suspect since he was never charged. I believe that would cause the least amount of harm towards Carman and his family while also holding up my obligation as a journalist to state the truth while remaining independent.




6 thoughts on “Suspicions at Bay

  1. You bring up a very interesting point about how news outlets report and speculate about crimes. I too have noticed that the local media tend to create their own narrative with available information regardless of the fact that in our legal system, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Recently this has become a huge problem as many new sources attract readers by having an enticing headline, also known as “click-bait” when on the Internet. Nancy Grace and other television speculators often convict the accused of crimes in the public arena and makes it difficult for one to observe the legal process unbiasedly.

    In this instance however, I do think regardless of the commonality of being questioned by police in this situation, he is the suspect in the crimes of both the death of his grandfather AND mother, so it is worth mentioning. I don’t however think it’s a reporter’s job to piece together the facts of his past and the circumstances of his grandfather’s murder to create a narrative that isn’t backed by the court findings. If new information comes out tying him to his grandfather’s murder – than speculation is fair game.


  2. I agree with Elena that I think this information regarding Carman’s priors should be included in the reporting. I completely sympathize with Carman’s plight – he feels that in light of his extreme emotional distress over his mother’s disappearance, he should not have such gruesome details about his past plastered over newspapers and TV stations all around Boston and the nation. I even agree with your assertion Olivia that the fact of his prior involvements in his grandfather’s murder case cast him in an incredibly negative light. But the fact remains that he is STILL a person of interest in both these cases and does have a violent past, which not only makes that information relevant to the case at hand but also seems to me to be of public interest. These aren’t interpretations or skewed reporting – these are facts, plain and simple. If he is found to be guilty in the disappearance/possible death of his mother and/or the murder of his grandfather, how would it look if the media had gone to great lengths not to highlight his involvement and instead depict him just as a victim suffering from Asperger’s syndrome? It’s always tough especially when dealing with persons who have a physical or mental disability – the tendency is to want to protect them from harm. But if a crime has been committed and police regard him as a person of interest, the public should know about that – and they should also absolutely know if/when he is found to be innocent.


  3. I think there’s a difference between reporting that he was a POI in a murder and reporting about his history of violence, and I’m ethically okay with one and not the other. When someone has been involved in something as major as a murder investigation, it is worth mentioning it whenever that person winds up in the news. I think the book gave an example that, even though obituaries aren’t the place to bring up certain negative details, a Richard Nixon obituary needs a reference to Watergate because it was such a big deal in his life. I think the fact that he was a suspect is on that level of importance that it needs to be brought up.
    However, I think it’s inappropriate to mention his history with violence. In doing so, the media sources seems to almost be pointing a finger at him and looking for information to condemn him or indicate that this could be a murder. If there’s no evidence beyond the suspicion that he may have killed another relative that makes this look like a murder, then I don’t think the newspapers have any business playing police and trying to pin it on him based on their own circumstantial investigation.


  4. As much as I understand the harm it has caused to Carman in including his suspected involvement in his grandfather’s murder and his history with violence, I do think that his past needs to be mentioned as part of this story, especially when it is such a huge case involving murder. I agree that his violent past should be omitted because it will definitely concretize the judgment of the public against him, and paint him as the outright criminal. On reporting about someone with mental disability, it is always tough but that fact about them is part of the truth and sheds deeper light to the public about his condition and could explain his actions.


  5. Like many of the others who commented above, I believe that the information about his previous suspected involvement in another murder case should be included in this more recent story. However, I don’t think that it should be anywhere near the focus of the story, only as background and including the lack of sufficient evidence, so as not to sway the reader’s immediate opinion of Carman.

    I also agree with Elena’s comment, positing that the titles were meant to be clickbait-type material, which is where I draw the ethical line in this situation. While Carman’s prior instance of being a suspect in a familial murder case should be included in the story as background, it does not at all belong in the title. This also goes for titles that hint at that immediate bias, such as the CBS title — by including the phrase “disturbing picture,” Carman is already pinned as the murderer without the reader having read the actual story.


  6. Although it is important that he was a person of interest in his grandfather’s death, I do agree that if I were a journalist writing the story about the boating trip, I wouldn’t highlight the fact that he was a suspect. Like you said, he was never charged anyway. Ethically, I’m not comfortable with mentioning that he was the suspect because even though it is really interesting that he happened to be the last person seen with both his mother and his grandfather, as a reader I would think that he killed both of them, but as a journalist I wouldn’t want to sway the public’s opinion and mentioning that he was a suspect in a previous case would obviously sway the public’s perception that he’s guilty of both murder.

    If I were writing an article about the boating trip, I would just highlight the fact that he survived but his mother didn’t, he’s being questioned, and he lost his grandfather without mentioning that he was the suspect. I feel like when you mention that he was also a suspect for his grandfather’s death, you’re trying to tell the reader that he’s probably guilty, but in a subtle way while not trying to make it so obvious.


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