A sad story, or a sad bit of exploitation

I’ve never been a huge fan of the “put it out there and let the public decide” school of journalism.  If you write, you have an obligation to use your head.

It is with that thought in mind I ponder a story in the SL media here (click) about Alma Welch, the former wife of Tom Welch, the guy who ran the Salt Lake olympic bid for a number of years.

According to the story, she’s now broke and homeless, having lost her east side Federal Heights home to foreclosure or something.

On its face, it’s one of those “look how the rich blow money” stories — nobody feels sorry for boxers or football players who go through their millions of dollars.

But the more one reads the story, the more one wonders if she’s got some sort of mental issues going on — she seems, from reading the article, to be unable to deal effectively with her situation. There is talk of alienating family and friends.

I wasn’t the reporter, and don’t know him and have not called to say “so why did you do this story?” I wonder if a news story really helps Ms. Welch out at this point. Then again, stories of the rich and famous are grist for the journalistic mill. Public figures are fair game.

I get calls from far less famous folks in hard situations a lot — usually my first attempt is to say “well, have you tried this?” and then refer them to the appropriate agency. I tell people quite often “You don’t need a reporter, you need a lawyer/counselor/advisor/whatever.”

People who say they are homeless and nobody will help them, especially, give me great pause because I know the homeless community around here and you have to be trying really hard to make them not want to help you, just to give one example.

The story discusses how Ms. Welch got a $400,000 line of credit on her home despite having no income, and that is a good question. Banks were handing out money willy-nilly for a while there. But on the other hand, who’s fault is it if she applied for the loan and took it?

It speculates she is a victim of the housing crisis, but in my experience a lot of the victims of that crisis have a self-responsibility component to their troubles. I don’t buy the “Silly me, I don’t know how to handle money” claim too many people make.

And despite having a million dollars in stuff put away for auction or something, she can’t come up with rent on an apartment? 

One of the hardest things to do if you’ve lived a rich lifestyle is take it back to something you or I might find more than comfortable.

I dunno. A disturbing story on many levels. I hope the story inspires someone to get her some help, but not money help.

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7 Responses to A sad story, or a sad bit of exploitation

  1. Bob Becker says:

    You note: “I wonder if a news story really helps Ms. Welch out at this point. “

    This story probably didn’t, but I wonder, is helping someone out the purpose of a straight news story? Should it be? This wasn’t a column, like the ones you occasionally write, highlighting someone in difficulties [usually put there by illness] who could use a helping hand for some worthy purpose. This was a straight news story. Should it’s purpose, as a news story, have been to help the subject of it?

    I wondered too about her stability, to put it delicately. But I confess too that she struck me as a kind of down-market Leona Helmsley and I found it hard to feel much sympathy for her.

  2. Patty says:

    I agree with your ideas about this story. It does make one uncomfortable deciding what the point of it was. What the purpose of ‘airing’ this issue truly was. I went on a righteous rant and then caught myself. HELP, real help, doesn’t usually come in the form of money or ‘overnight’ fix all. Real help is sometimes what others refer to as ‘tough love’. I don’t like that phrase. It is a broad brush that seems to cover a lot of negative things. Either way, it does sound like someone, somewhere has failed her by not caring enough to really HELP, that or she won’t listen. And the Mental issue is a hard one to say. The ‘fall’ may have thrown her for a loop. Life crisis often bring on illness that was dormant. BUT – mental illness can also be overlooked due to money :) If you have status in a community, your behavior is written off to being ”charismatic”, ”eccentric”, ”driven” etc. If you can ‘do something’ or show something for your ‘quirks’ we seem to be okay with mental illness. If on the other hand you cannot function (which is hard to do if you live in poverty) or it looks like you are struggling, we are quick to claim mental problems. Money can cover and fix so many issues that would ordinarily look like illness.

  3. Patty says:

    In hindsight I seriously wonder if she didn’t call the media herself? She may not be ‘mental’ at all, but wise to the fact that media attention can help her plight. She was after all, drenched in media attention prior to the financial problems. She could very well have set this up, hoping to spread the word, get attention and find someone willing to ”help her”. Some could say it is a smart thing to do in her situation, others could say manipulative, but either way, it is working. They ‘used’ her (the article seems to touch on her bitterness about that)and so… today she is turning the tables in search of relief.
    It is all the rage now, Media attention that is. Negative or positive, spoofs and stunts seem to work for others and create a ‘come back’ of sorts.

    • laytonian says:

      I think you’ve got it, Patty.

      She’s got all those Lladros and “rare antiques” she’s trying to flog in Beautiful Downtown Murray.

      Of course, if “used” Lladros were tres valuable, people would have lined up to buy them. But they’re just expensive Beanie Babies.

      If her stuff was truly attractive to the super-wealthy (ie, wealthier than you’ll find in Utah), she’d be selling it at Sotheby’s.

      I really think it started as a publicity ploy, and went south on her.

  4. Charles Trentelman says:

    it is possible she called the press — someone certainly did. And I’ve had that happen.

    Bob, the problem with calling anything a “straight news story” is that that, too often, gets used as a cover for running information that may be “correct today,” but isn’t correct in the long run.

    And motive is always an issue — as I said, I get lots of calls from people wanting help and I end up doing casework on them before I’m willing to do a story saying they need help — I have to satisfy myself that they really do need help and that a story might help them. Usually I call the caseworkers at St. Anne’s and turn the case over to them and don’t do a story because however bad the story is I have, the caseworkers have a dozen just like it or worse, and is it fair to publicize just one and get that one help?

    Then there’s the whole problem of the sort of help a news story brings not really being helpful — I’ve had people call up and offer housing, cars, even jobs, and I supposed its possible those things will help, say, a homeless family stuck in a motel at christmastime, but what that family REALLY needs is training to be able to deal with life so they don’t end up like that in the first place.

    No easy solution.

  5. Tom says:

    The public does seem to love it when the high and mighty crash to the ground. Big airplanes falling from the sky and other major disasters are equally popular in the media. We just simply luvs our big flaming orange balls in the sky!

    The one thing I kept wondering when I read this article about the now poor and former wife of Tom Welch is – where is our old home town boy Tom in all this? Not one word on his current circumstances and residence. Interesting that the Trib would do such a big piece on poor old, and apparently addled, Alma and not touch on the current doins of the original star of this debacle. And what about their kids, why hasn’t some one in a position to really do something about this stepped forward and taken legal control of Alma’s few remaining worldlies considering that her going over the edge has been a long time evolving thing?

  6. laytonian says:

    Yes, it’s a sad story, but it’s also a lesson in ethics and morality.

    We pity Alma, but why? Because she’s a woman who was never taught how to manage her own finances, and didn’t understand that her fame-by-reflection was only fleeting? Because there’s no mention of mental issues before her husband’s downfall?

    There’s a reason we don’t remember the names of other Olympics organizations (or their spouses): they are business people, not starlets.

    The people who tried to \help\ her by giving her unattached loans, weren’t friends.
    Her family, who claims to have tried, aren’t friends.

    For one reason, I believe it was a good story: all you \get rich quick\ folks out there, flaunting your wealth, might want to pay attention. Your miracle juice and Ponzi scheme money won’t last long. There’s always someone to take your place.

    If the story was about Bernie Madoff’s wife, would we feel the same pity?

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