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Bakersfield newspaper pulled Chris Burrous autopsy report hours after publishing it

A Bakersfield newspaper says it pulled a lengthy autopsy report detailing the final moments of a former area news anchor’s life shortly after publishing a digitally-altered version of it online.

In early March, the Bakersfield Californian said it obtained a detailed autopsy and coroner’s report detailing the events leading up to the death of former KTLA-TV (Channel 5) anchor Chris Burrous.

Burrous was found unresponsive by first responders in a hotel room a few days after Christmas last year. The circumstances surrounding his death remained largely a mystery for over two months as officials refused to provide details about what happened that evening.

That lack of information led to intense speculation about what Burrous, a married man, was doing by himself in a hotel room — and whether he was actually by himself at all. Some of that speculation was confirmed through an investigator’s report included in documents about Burrous’ autopsy that said the KTLA news anchor met with another man for a sexual encounter that involved adult toys and some drugs.

The coroner’s report said Burrous died from a combination of methamphetamine toxicity and cardiovascular disease.

The existence of the report was first published by an entertainment blog that included numerous, graphic details about what Burrous was allegedly doing with the other man before his death. Other news outlets declined to include those details, limiting information about his death solely to what caused it.

But the Californian took one extra step in that it decided to publish the full coroner’s report online. In doing so, a columnist for the paper admitted the newspaper edited the report to include warnings that the content of the report may not be suitable for all readers. Editors also inserted the phrase “contains explicit detail” underneath the title of the report, the paper said.

It was not clear who made the call to publish the report (The Desk also published the report, though that version was not altered). After a few hours, some in the newsroom objected to providing readers with a copy of the report, and the document was pulled from their website.

“Not everyone here at The Californian agrees with me, although most do: It was a step too far,” senior editor and columnist Robert Price wrote. “I don’t recall us ever having second-guessed ourselves like that, but it was the right thing to do.”

Burrous was a public figure, Price said, having once worked at a Bakersfield TV station during his career. That he was a public figure made his death and the circumstances around it “fair game,” Price said, but in some cases editors weigh whether or not those details could harm other individuals if they are published.

“One could argue that Burrous’ actions harmed his family,” Price wrote. “That’s where I’m conflicted.”

The Bakersfield Californian: “Did we go too far in reporting on Chris Burrous’ bizarre death?”

Disclosure: The author of this post was a personal friend of Burrous.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).