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Don't Blame the Radio Prank for the Nurse's Suicide

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Kate Middleton prank went horribly wrong

I'll make this quick.

You're going to see and hear these words quite a bit over the next 24-to-48 hours so you may as well get ready: "What started as a cruel radio prank has ended in tragedy." I've already read this statement or some minor variation of it at least three times this morning. The story it's referencing in traditionally melodramatic fashion is the death of a young nurse and receptionist at King Edward VII Hospital in London -- a woman who apparently killed herself because she was responsible for putting a call through to Kate Middleton's private room that claimed to be from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. The call, however, wasn't from the royals -- it was from two Australian DJs playing an on-air phone prank. Apparently, either the publicity from the, pardon the pun, royal screw-up or the knowledge that it had been allowed to happen in the first place was too much for Jacintha Saldanha to take and so she committed suicide.

First of all, about the call. If you've heard it for yourself you know: There was nothing cruel or vicious about it; it was the textbook definition of an innocent joke. The two DJs, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, could barely contain themselves at how horrible their accents and impersonations of the royals were and their representation of them was so over-the-top that you could tell they expected not only to not get through to Kate's ward but to be hung up on in short order every single second of the bit. What's really worth pointing out, though, is the fact that this wasn't a prank done on the fly; it was prerecorded and had been vetted by a phalanx of high-priced and I'm willing to bet largely humorless media lawyers.

What none of those lawyers could've predicted, however, was the certainly tragic but ultimately, let's face it, batshit crazy reaction of one woman willing to take her own life -- leaving behind a husband and two children -- because she got duped by a radio show. I'm not sure which is more disturbing a possibility, that Jacintha Saldanha killed herself because she felt like a worldwide laughingstock, which she absolutely wasn't, or because she believed she had somehow let the royal family down by being gullible and allowing a miniscule amount of Kate Middleton's private medical information to be made public. I think I'll go with the latter, because if your dedication to the royals is that paralyzing, even as a British subject -- if you're willing to throw yourself on the nearest sword for believing that you've brought disgrace upon the throne -- you seriously need to be in the hospital yourself.

It almost goes without saying that the two DJs, Christian and Grieg, are now the targets of global outrage -- because of course it was their fault that what was intended to be a harmless joke happened to inadvertently fall into the hands of someone who I have no doubt was a really terrific person but who had to be at least mildly unbalanced. Jesus, the nurse who took the call and who inexplicably didn't catch on to the fact that the ridiculously exaggerated caricatures she was speaking to for five minutes weren't, in fact, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles -- this woman is still alive. The person who connected the call, however, kills herself. I'd ask if that makes sense at all but it would be a laughable conceit since none of this makes any sense.

No, what ultimately wound up happening in this admittedly tragic incident isn't the fault of the DJs nor the radio station. They didn't kill Jacintha Saldanha. Sadly, she did that herself -- for reasons we'll likely never understand.

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