Memo to Turner

Subject of CNN Story Issues Death Threat

Dietz declined to comment on Dix's mental state. But he says the harassers can exhibit a range of mental disorders, from someone who "merely exaggerates" his suffering to someone "whose claim has no basis in fact." For example, there are "a fair number of people who claim that chip makers have implanted chips in their brains."

Dietz says it's a mistake for a company to press minor charges like stalking or trespass, because those prosecutions rarely succeed. "All that happens is that the subject resents the company all the more and escalates the behavior." But once the harasser commits a felony, it's a good idea to prosecute because by sending him to jail or treatment, you can probably stop the unwanted behavior. Nevertheless, he says, "The law offers only blunt instruments for dealing with these situations."

Dietz says all media companies attract this kind of behavior, especially television, which creates "immediacy and the illusion of intimacy. The more electronic the medium, the more people think they are being persecuted by it." Perhaps the most famous case of delusions of media persecution was William Tager, who assaulted Dan Rather in 1986 and killed an NBC technician outside the studios of the Today show in 1994. Dietz says Tager believed that "various media were watching him through his television" and putting cameras "in his bedroom and bathroom and car."

Sean Dix may be deluded about the power of CNN. His product might have flopped anyway. But it's hard to see the wisdom of putting him in jail. On the other hand, who in his right mind would threaten to kill Ted Turner? In this day of competing media watchdogs, Dix might have gotten more relief by taking his case to the press.

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