Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This Is Journalism?

A headline on Drudge caught my eye: "Parents Demand Firing of Virginia Tech President, Police Chief Over Poor Handling of Mass Shooting."

If you click on the actual Fox News.com article -- which has no byline but notes that Fox News' Liza Porteus and the AP "contributed" to the article -- you find that it is an interview solely expressing the opinions of one set of parents. Out of 26,000 students?

Of course, the parents interviewed had an opinion that fit with the agenda that seems to have quickly developed in the media, which is to cast blame on the university and law enforcement.

Rush Limbaugh said this morning that he felt actual facts were slow to develop in the TV coverage yesterday, because early on the media were so focused on casting blame (seemingly more on the school and law enforcement than the shooter) and on feeding a gun control agenda. Finding information which fit the agenda, rather than developing all the facts, seemed to be the priority.

I happened to see some of Paula Zahn on CNN last night and was struck by the unmeasured way she attempted to stoke anger against the school and police in each interview she conducted. There was no balance to her questions, taking into account that the campus and its population are the equivalent of a small city. She was not attempting to get the full picture and let fact-based judgments be made later -- it seems she had already made her judgment and was asking the questions that fit her point of view. There seemed to be some odd "anger displacement" going on with the media, blaming just about anyone but the murderer.

As I noted yesterday, "The question which seems to be on everyone's minds is why the campus wasn't locked down in the hours after the initial shootings. I suspect it is too early yet for all the facts to be clear, let alone consider whether or not that is a fair criticism."

It will certainly be fair in future to calmly analyze what happened and why and how things could have been handled better, particularly so that all universities can assess how to better handle emergency situations. But hindsight is always 20/20, and the immediate casting of judgment in the emotion of the moment does not serve anyone well.

We saw the same emotion-based rush to judgment during Hurricane Katrina, only to later find that much of the media "reporting" was either inaccurate or downright fraudulent. What I later termed Katrina Freeway Overpass Syndrome was a large part of the problem, as reporters at the scene were so close to the emotions of the story they lost all perspective or ability to see the facts in front of them in context of a larger picture. (We saw this emotion-driven coverage again following the mining accident in January 2006.) As the saying goes, rumor is out the door before truth gets its shoes on, and even today many of the myths of Hurricane Katrina live on, continuing to feed the agenda of many against the Bush Administration.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem many in the media have learned from those past experiences, and I fear we're going to see more "Katrina style" reporting this week, driven more by emotions and an agenda than the facts. I hope I'm wrong.


Blogger Dana said...

Sharp and accurate assessment of Zahn's manipulation of tragedy. Let the blame game begin...and ensuing lawsuits. This is America after all.

It didn't take the vultures long to spin. Shameful assumptions, inferences, and an unabashed working of an unspeakable tragedy. The media never learns. I just hope mostly that they leave the families who lost loved ones, alone. But I'm not counting on it.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Dana, I appreciate your feedback.

Hugh Hewitt did a very nice radio show today, addressing the importance of not following the "blame" path of so many in the media over the last day, and also the importance of not rushing past grief. The instant politicization of this event, combined with a desire in some quarters for an instant healing process (addressed by Dennis Prager Monday) is not a healthy combination. There will be time for calm assessments and "moving on" in due course...but not on the very day or week of an event of such unspeakable awfulness.


11:06 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Unfortunately, too, Laura, this will no doubt in some bizarre way morph into a tool of use to blame the left and/or the right, depending on whose got the mic. Cynical? Perhaps. Or perhaps just being realistic.

6:23 AM  

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