The Coroner’s report on George Michael’s death on Christmas Day has finally been released: The post-mortem found that he had dilated cardiomyopathy and myocarditis. That means that he had a dilated and enlarged heart that would be less efficient than it should be and tat there was also some inflammation of the heart muscle itself. There are a handful of common causes of this kind of problem. He also had a fatty liver as a lot of us overweight Scots will also be living with. Eat more fruit and veg and cut out the bread… I was a doctor before I opened VoxBox six years ago and am still. Maybe because of that, I was never happy with the initial reporting that George Michael may have died of a heroin overdose and I mentioned the shoddy reporting by The Daily Telegraph in the last blog. The worldwide press had already quoted and spread the Telegraph’s report.
My reasoning that he died of something other than a heroin overdose was simply that heroin addicts tend to die quickly when they overdose. They will stop breathing shortly after injecting or snorting and they will therefore have the signs of drug use around them. A needle and syringe and a tourniquet won’t be far away and that would be seen by the police. An addict in recovery who has been prescribed methadone can overdose with nothing suspicious seen around the body. However, the pharmacies and his GP could quickly establish if he was prescribed this. Street methadone is harder to obtain than heroin but not impossible. However, George Michael’s closest relatives had quickly said that he was not using opiates. Opiates can usually be found rapidly on toxicology testing.
I’m no Columbo but George Michael was very candid about drug use to the press and presumably to those close to him. The family’s immediate response made me think that the opiate claim was going to be wrong. It is pretty difficult to hide heroin addiction from close friends and family. Close friends and family will usually know that something isn’t right -Not always, but the story didn’t sound right to me.
And another thing… They are also likely to be aware of other things that could have been much more likely to have caused the death. Their instant refutation made me feel that they were likely to be right and should have been listened to.
Anyway, with the Coroner’s report hot off the press, I’ve written a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation for the first time in my life. I feel they breached their code of practice. I had wondered about offering alternative reasons as to why he could have died but it’s not the right thing to do and The General Medical Council and other ethical bodies say that doctors shouldn’t publicly speculate about diagnoses of people in the public eye. (For example some Psychiatrists are excusing diagnosing Donald Trump with various neuroses as being for the good of the world). If I were to have speculated as to the cause of George Michael’s death on this blog I’d be in real trouble with the GMC. And rightly so. I believe that when a journalist quotes an unnamed source and creates a wave of worldwide gossip that they should be held to account. They can’t just say “he told me so” or “well he told me they were related” and then publish these things.
This is not a subject I wanted to have to blog about but I respect George Michael a lot and grew up with some of his songs that I really didn’t like (Mostly Wham) and wasn’t much interested in the charts in the Careless Whisper period. But I was impressed by the huge comeback circa 1996 with the Fastlove stuff which I thought was great.
We don’t sell many Wham or George Michael records but I liked the man a lot and his struggle for control of the use of his music against his label in the 1990s was eyeopening as to how the music industry works. It’s all on Youtube. But ultimately, I’d like to try to stop this kind of lazy speculative reporting. Instead of informing us, it really makes us all dumber. Is this “Fake News”?
Sorry about the miserable subject of this.
Lots of good things to come but I just had to get this off my chest.
Here’s the email sent to IPSO today. I hope they act on it. Click on the tune below before you begin to read as it is a dull read and you may well need something to help you as you go through it.
My complaint is regarding the publication of two articles by The Daily Telegraph following the death of singer George Michael. The first article appeared on the 27th December, two days after his death. This speculated that he may have died of a drug overdose. The journalist quoted an anonymous source who had allegedly said that George Michael had been using heroin, had been rushed to hospital earlier in the year with an overdose (without saying what drug he allegedly overdosed on). I can’t find the original article online. The later article was published on the 30th December following a post-mortmen that had failed to find an exact cause of death. This article actually refers to the earlier Telegraph article when the journalist writes, “More tests will be conducted on the star, who, it has been claimed, has battled heroin addiction this year, and are expected to take a number of weeks.” This rehashing of the original anonymous source published by the Telegraph adds emphasis to the speculation. The fact that the people who perhaps knew George Michael best -family, friends and legal team, all denied that he had used heroin in the weeks prior to his death was acknowledged in the article but the stress of the article was not the diagnostic uncertainty but the speculation.
The first line is “Singer George Michael’s death could be linked to heroin”! The singer’s death could also have been rumoured to be linked to careless whispering or having free drinks at Club Tropicana but unless they are corroborated they should be reported on as speculation (or ideally not at all). The story was picked up by the press worldwide who could then honestly report the speculation by saying “it has been reported that George Micahel was using heroin”. All due to an anonymous source quoted by The Daily Telegraph. The Coroner’s report is now available and he has been deemed to have died of “natural causes”. Toxicology that would have shown opiates in his system was negative. I feel they have breached the Code of Practice: i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. This information was poor quality and corroboration with people that knew him well could have prevented this error and the following wildfire of speculative coverage. I believe that his cousin may have been revealed now as the source. Although family, he would surely have had to prove that he was close to George. I have 16 cousins many of whom I haven’t spoken to in many years. It would be absurd for anyone to quote them about circumstances of my untimely demise without checking the closeness of the relationship. It simply reeked of poor reporting.
The second complaint was regarding IPSO 6 which states: “In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.”
The media circus following George Michael’s death would have been difficult for his family and friends to endure. The false accusations of heroin addiction and perhaps the stigma attached to drug addiction led to them feeling the need to challenge the speculation publicly only two days following his death. I’m sure that if the close family and friends had been told about the speculation that was about to be published they would have been distressed and pleaded that it was untrue. -and it has now been proven to be untrue. I feel that the reporting has put George Michael’s family under unnecessary stress and with no sympathy or discretion at a time of deep personal grief and upheaval.
I am glad that the family have been vindicated following the Coroner’s report. However some of the public will always think that he was a heroin addict at the time of his death. Some will still believe that he died of an overdose. George Michael was always candid about past drug use but I think he never claimed in an interview to have ever been a heroin user. I’m not a fan as such but I have a small record shop and a love of music and I despise shoddy reporting like this. The initial story never rang true to me and now that the Coroner’s report is available, I think that now is the time to raise a formal complaint.
*A few parts of the email sent to IPSO have been edited for the blog post to help with clarity and the odd spelling mistake. But let us see what happens.