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Deadly Radio Prank -- Who's Laughing Now?

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"Have you heard the one about two disc jockeys who call a hospital pretending to be the Queen of England and Prince Charles?" It sounds like the beginning of a silly, if not stupid, joke, but it took on a serious and somber tone this week. The apparent suicide of Jacintha Sadanha, the nurse who was working the switchboard at King Edward VII Hospital, is sad and tragic. It is hard to imagine the humiliation that mother of two must have felt for sending a prank call through to Kate Middleton's nurse on duty.

But let's not lose sight of an important question we must ask: Was Saldanha's ultimate reaction reasonable and expected under the circumstances? Should those two radio DJs be held accountable and vilified, as they have been around the world? Their stunt was sophomoric at best. Their impersonations of the queen and Prince Charles were laughably bad. Even the real Prince Charles himself seemed bemused when asked about the hoax by reporters prior to this tragic turn of events.

The receptionist exchanged a mere two dozen words with the pranksters before passing the call through. Keep in mind that Saldanha herself did not reveal any information about anyone, let alone about the duchess of Cambridge's medical condition. The conversation with the nurse on duty which followed became downright ridiculous. Yet, that nurse didn't seem surprised one bit that the woman on the other end of the line, whom she believed to be the queen of England, was calling to check on Kate's "tummy bug." Imagine calling the White House claiming to be George Hussein Obama, the president's half-brother from Nairobi. How far do you think that conversation would go with whomever answered the phone?

Given the tenacity of the British press in covering the royals, it is amazing that tighter screening was not in place for all incoming calls relating to the hospital's famous current patient. But we are asked to decry the behavior of two radio personalities and call them monsters, if not killers. Lets get real, shall we? Do I condone the behavior of those DJs? No, although I have a somewhat deserved reputation among my friends for pulling off the occasional, if not frequent, phone prank. They are, however, limited to personal friends and never, never done on the air in an effort to publicly ridicule or humiliate.

But isn't that what many radio hosts do for a living? There is a popular segment on Ryan Seacrest's KIIS-FM show called "Ryan's Roses" where a person who suspects their partner is a philanderer enlists Seacrest's help in putting their fears to the test. The suspected cheater, usually a man, is called (on the air) by a staffer pretending to be a florist who offers a dozen roses to a recipient of the "winner's" choosing. The accused cheater's significant other waits and listens quietly while the "winner" announces who will get the flowers. Keep in mind that the person called by Seacrest's show has no knowledge that the conversation is being heard by their significant other, let alone by a sizable radio audience. Of course, the drama (and presumably the entertainment value) lies with the anticipation that person will get busted as a cheater by naming a recipient other than his or her partner. Now that is a gag with a potential for a nightmarish conclusion. Imagine what an enraged man or woman might do during their first encounter with their partner after being caught on the air and publicly humiliated? Luckily, and somewhat amazingly, nothing horrible has happened, yet.

But today, we are assailing two radio hosts who are undoubtedly unnerved and distraught over where their juvenile prank has led. They will carry that guilt with them for the rest of their lives. But let's not condemn them as criminals, shall we? If we do, then ultimately, the joke's on us.