The media aren’t doing their job. We need them to stand up for us. That’s what it means to be the fourth estate. They can bring the powerful to heel, because they represent all of us. Instead, they act like lackeys, lap dogs, and lazy people who think about themselves more than they do their calling.
Let’s take Sandy Hook as an example. Reporters made a superabundance of errors in that story. The guns, including the murder weapon, were here. Then they were there. Suspects were chased down in the woods. We never saw them again, nor did the media seem to care what happened to them. The killer was Ryan Lanza, then it was Adam Lanza. Nancy Lanza worked at the school as a kindergarten teacher, then she didn’t. The car at the scene belonged to Nancy Lanza, then it belonged to someone else, then it belonged to Nancy again. The police kept all the bodies in the school until 3:00 a.m., then removed them under cover of night with no explanation, no questions asked. No forensic evidence proves Adam Lanza shot twenty-seven people inside the school, or even his mother. No questions asked.
What were the media doing that day? When I make a mistake at work, I try to reconstruct the circumstances that led to it. I try to understand why it occurred. We saw no analysis of why reporters initially misidentified the killer. We had no reasons given for so much confusion about the weapons at the scene. Forget about the car, the strangely quiet aerial photography, the children dumped on a neighbor’s lawn, the lack of security video, or any ballistic or forensic evidence to tie a particular shooter to a particular weapon. The media seemed out of touch and out to lunch, except when it came to lapping up the official story. Self important as ever, they passed it on with the assurance, “Yes, we got it right this time.” With a performance like that, and official sources who almost never tell the truth, why should we think you got it right?
The media will say well, it takes a while for the true story to settle out in a horrific situation like this one. It takes a while for the rumors to go away while we ascertain exactly what happened. That’s true. Rumors fly. But whoever thought the media were in the business of reporting rumors? And who thinks officials who point the media away from rumors toward not-rumors are trustworthy? Everyone is under pressure to get the scoop straight, and they work it out as they go. Why should we think officials can distinguish rumors from not-rumors any better than reporters can? If something is fishy or confused, officials have a big incentive to downplay those parts in favor of the simplest possible narrative.
Aren’t reporters supposed to ascertain the truth independently of what officials say? The way events unfolded on December 14, facts became facts because officials said they were true. Take the initial report that Ryan Lanza was the killer. How could a misidentification like that occur? Apparently Adam Lanza had his brother’s ID card on him. So of course people thought Adam was Ryan when they found Ryan’s card on his body. Another problem solved!
This behavior is beyond me, I’ll say that. Where is the curiosity and skepticism that investigators bring to their work? Why didn’t anyone ask why Ryan’s ID card was on his brother’s body in the first place? When was the last time Ryan and Adam were together? Why would Ryan give his brother his ID card? Was it a driver’s license? Did Ryan know his brother had his ID card? What does Ryan say about the matter?
Even more egregious was the lack of curiosity about why the police, the coroner, and every other official involved acted to keep all the bodies inside the school until three in the morning. They said they wanted to use photographs to identify victims in order to spare families additional pain. Whoever heard of such a thing? Have you? If I were a father who lost my daughter in a school shooting, I’m not sure how I would react, but I can tell you I would not let police prevent me from holding my daughter one last time without a fight. Community norms and our habitual deference to authority would make it difficult to pick a fight like that alone. In the end, local authorities were wrong to prevent grieving families from seeing their little children. It was not their decision to make. It was the parents’ decision.
Moreover, removing the bodies from the school under cover of darkness makes the decision seem extraordinarily fishy. People do things in the dark when they have something to hide. Even if they don’t have something to hide, behavior like that makes it look like they do. Yet reporters said nothing – no questions, no appeals on behalf of the parents, no challenge to the officials’ inexplicable behavior. If officials had offered parents photographs as an option, that would be explicable. To tell parents they will have no access to their little children – you have no choice about this – is high handed, callous, and suspicious.
When James Tracy, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, questioned media behavior that day, he was pilloried. People wanted to have him fired. Anderson Cooper said Tracy’s remarks were “beyond crazy.” What is crazy about questioning a reporting job that was beyond slipshod? Tracy focused on the strangeness of the reports coming out of Newtown, yet people accused him of being inexcusably offensive.
Efforts to silence people, and to punish them when they are not silent, are troublesome. They make the silencers appear as if they actually don’t want to know the truth. To condemn Tracy is to suggest the media did a good job of communicating the truth on December 14 and afterward. It suggests the media demonstrated initiative, that they cared enough to piece together what happened that day without assistance from all those officials. Alternately, absent initiative, it suggests we should believe our officials and the reporters who speak for them. That’s beyond crazy.
Joe Eckstein (@empowerusjoe) said:
It seems more than a bit unreasonable to keep the parents out. Moving the bodies at night seems like they are hiding something, but coroners offices don’t have 30 bags on hand usually, let alone smaller ones. :*( So, I can see the decision work being made to serve the community privacy, since the news was staring at them. A competent judge would order the path of the killer unsealed, along with some ballistic evidence, that doesn’t tie a type of wound to a particular individual. The parents probably saw things after, anyhow, but it really would be a family decision how to allow evidence about a child to appear in public.
Steven Greffenius said:
Thank you for your comment! I’m not sure I understand the latter part of the second to last sentence: “…that doesn’t tie a type of wound to a particular individual.” I agree that basic ballistic evidence would not tell the whole story.
You make a good point that some privacy while media are swarming is good. That justification for secrecy diminishes after reporters have left town.
Bruce Deitrick Price (@educatt) said:
Media is shamelessly silent about SH and thus complicit. You can go to N Y Times and search Sandy Hook hoax or discrepancies–and find nothing.
There are so many discrepancies; people still have no idea.
But I agree that actions and decisions near the school’s entrance were the most troubling. There’s not enough going on, mainly. 26 people shot? You’d expect a war zone. Cops to move in and take over–after all, who knows how many more shooters might be in there? Then other cops to do the CSI stuff. Then we’d expect a vast medical presence. Ambulances coming and going (but they are roped off by the fire house).
Steven Greffenius said:
Thank you, Bruce! Your comments are to the point. I didn’t know the acronym CSI, so I googled it: Crime Scene Investigation. I didn’t even watch the TV coverage, but I’m writing a book called Infamy that drew my interest to commentary on Sandy Hook.
I think the term hoax in this case is unfortunate, even if it turns out to be true. That is, if twenty-six people died in the school, then use of a word like that is hurtful to their families. I’m not referring to your use of the term, but the way the discussion has evolved on the Internet.
So we have to consider the possibilities: 1) the massacre happened the way the media said it happened; 2) the massacre happened, but not the way the media said it happened; 3) the massacre didn’t happen. In the latter case, one has to deal with a basic difficulty: it is hard to fake someone’s death. It’s much harder to fake twenty-six deaths in a widely publicized massacre.
But it’s still unbelievable to me that authorities kept twenty-six bodies in the school until three in the morning, then spirited them away under cover of darkness. Did parents actually acquiesce to such a thing? You want to show me a photograph, and prohibit me from holding my son or daughter before you cut into the body for an autopsy?
So your comment about activity at Sandy Hook’s door vs. activity at the fire station is exactly right. By concentrating activity at the fire station, you distract from what is, and is not, happening at the school’s door.
I’m reminded here of the well known video of news reporters around five o’clock on 9/11, who said that World Trade Center 7 had collapsed. The building stands in the background as the reporter speaks. About twenty minutes later, the building collapses in a controlled demolition. You figure if the media are going to participate in such incompetence, they would at least try to make themselves look a little less foolish. When you dance with government, you’ll look just as clumsy as government.
I have to add another observation: secrecy always undermines trust. Authorities may claim they want to protect the families in a case like this, but secrecy has the opposite result. It leaves the families part of swirling rumors about a hoax. What would openness require here? Release the school’s security videos. Schools do not have security cameras in the classrooms – not yet, I hope – so the video recordings would not show murders. Release photographs of the killer’s point of entry to the school, with analysis of how the killer was able to defeat the school’s security system. Release complete information about Adam and Nancy Lanza. And of course release the ballistics and autopsy reports as soon as possible. Watch down the line to see if they are ever released.