Note: An interesting discussion — mostly about mental health issues — follows this brief post.
It’s nearly a week now since the tragic shooting and loss of innocent life in Connecticut. Like many, I’m hesitant to write about this most recent mass murder out of respect for the families, and because so much information is unknown.
Two observations stand out, however, regarding television news coverage:
First, a great deal of speculation has been aired about mental illness. Never before have the words “autism“ and “Asperger’s” been spoken so often on television in such a short time. It’s probably misleading to even classify autism and Asperger’s as mental illnesses, at least not without clarification. They certainly should not be associated with conditions such as Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’d wager that many people are hearing about Asperger’s Syndrome for the first time, and half-baked information is apt to create an undeserved stigma for both autism and Asperger’s.
Second, after nearly a week, authorities and news media should have provided the public with much more complete information. I know the following from experience as a reporter and editor: Despite the confusion surrounding an unexpected violent event, competent reporters can usually piece together a fairly complete account within a few hours.
Even when police withhold or refuse to confirm information, witnesses and residents of the locale know who is involved and what happened, and reporters quickly collect all the pertinent information. However, newspapers often decline to print names until next of kin have been located, or to protect the identity of minors. And editors, especially small-town editors, routinely decide not to print gruesome details or disclose private personal information in times of tragedy.
During my newsroom days (mostly nights, actually) I was often amazed how much information reporters and editors are able to collect and organize under pressure of deadline. The first day’s report usually lacks some names and details, often out of an abundance of caution by the editors.
But certainly, a full 24 hours after the crime, the fundamental facts are known. The second-day story contains a nearly complete report, with liberal use of qualifying words such as “allegedly” and “apparently.” No known fact or circumstance is withheld without compelling justification.
In the Connecticut shooting, police are being circumspect in the extreme. I’m not in a position to judge whether they’re being overly cautious or not. The blanket police protection of the crime scene and most of the witnesses has made it more difficult than usual for reporters to collect information, and reporters are being prudently respectful of the tragic circumstances.
But after nearly a week, shouldn’t we know more than a few sketchy details about the lives of the shooter and his mother? Makes you wonder what the police and media might be hiding.
Downsizing of news staffs over the past two decades has compromised effective reporting. Journalists are in the habit of relying entirely on official information, rather than reporting the news by observation and independent interviews and investigation.
Confusion over news from the Connecticut shooting is eerily similar to the bungling of information from Benghazi, Libya, a few weeks ago. In both cases, there were errors in the initial reports, and the full story took a week or more to emerge. Almost all the information was released through government channels.
The relevance of the mainstream media is fast eroding and will probably be impossible to restore. If the trend continues, the public will lose confidence in any and all information coming from both the government and the media. No wonder there’s no consensus about global warming.
New media, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, are woefully inadequate and unreliable for dissemination of serious news, with the possible exception of weather and cultural reporting. Blogs and social media are more likely to spread lies, rumors and hoaxes than factual information.
It’s entirely possible that we’re entering a dark age of confusion, misinformation, and even superstition.
— John Hayden
- Asperger’s can’t explain what happened in Newton school shooting, experts say (o.canada.com)
- Newtown, Lanza and an Asperger’s backlash (dcmontreal.wordpress.com)
- Fox News And The New York Times Abet Media Effort To Falsely Link Autism With CT Shooting (mediaite.com)