Tragedy And The Media

Posted on December 17, 2012 

In the wake of the terrible and tragic shootings Friday in Newtown, Conn., much has been made of the media coverage as events unfolded.

On social media, there was a message supposedly from actor Morgan Freeman -- later proven to be a hoax -- that criticized how the media covers these events.

Even though the message was a hoax, the content of it -- turning these shooters into celebrities while their victims remain anonymous -- bears some examination. The message indicates that by the media covering these events, we encourage further tragedies in the future because the perpetrators of these crimes seek the attention and notoriety they will gain from committing them.

As a member of the media for 18 years, I can tell you from first-hand there's no easy way to cover these things. Talking to the families of crime victims, witnesses, law enforcement, etc. -- there's no easy way of going about it, and each situation is certainly unique.

While I've never covered anything on the scale of Newtown (fortunately), I can understand the situation the reporters were in, even if I don't agree with some of their actions. For example, authorities gave the media incorrect information about the shooter, the number of victims, etc., which the media released as fact.

It's kind of a rock-and-a-hard place type situation, in that the masses want to know what happened as soon as possible, and reporters tend to trust law enforcement to get them the correct information. But in everyone's rush to get that information out there, the shooter was mis-identified as his older brother and so forth.

In the wake of the 24-hour news cycle and online media moving to the forefront, the focus has been on getting information quickly rather than correctly. In the wake of such an event, it's better to say "I don't know" and wait a few hours to get the correct information rather than rush to put things out there without double-checking.

Regardless, I don't see the media trying to make celebrities of these guys. When an event as horrific as this one takes place -- and honestly, I can't think of a single worse thing than 20 first graders and their teachers being murdered -- people want to know one thing: why did this happen? Why would a person commit such an atrocity?

The reasons why we want to know are many, but ultimately, I think people want to know if they and their children are safe. What were the warning signs? What can be done in the future to prevent another tragedy?

There aren't easy answers, but that doesn't mean we stop asking the questions.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: CBS must think the world will end on Friday, giving us quite a bit of new stuff this week, including two new episodes of "HIMYM" beginning at 8 p.m., followed by "Two Broke Girls" and "Mike & Molly." A new "Hawaii Five-0" guest stars George Takei as Chin's uncle. (That's so Takei!) I hope he has a few cool internet memes to share.

NBC has the finals of "The Voice" at 8 p.m., followed by a sneak preview of the winter replacement sitcom, "1600 Penn" with Bill Pullman and Josh Gad, at 9:30 p.m.

Finally, "Gossip Girl" airs its two-hour finale (CW, 8 p.m.), including revealing the title character's identity.

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