Last night, I wrote about 200 words about the Boston Marathon that I just deleted. I’m glad I took a moment to reflect instead of publishing for the sake of timeliness–the ever looming news quality that couples with any story.
By late evening, the world didn’t need to turn to billkline.com to learn that a horrific event had unfolded at the Boston Marathon. Any reader who happens to come across this blog doesn’t need me to conjure up another adjective from the thesaurus to describe yesterday’s events.
Like many others, I watched the news coverage with intensity. I attempted to report to my audience with the most pertinent and accurate information I could derive from New York. One phrase happened to play in my mind as seemingly often as the gory images that saturated the airwaves yesterday and today: “Here’s what we know.”
I kept thinking back to episode four of The Newsroom, which revisited the 2011 Tucson Shooting. That shooting killed six people and injured 14, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Ultimately, that episode raised an important question about news in the 21st century: Is it more important to be first? Or is it more important to be accurate?
In the immediate moments after such a horrifying incident–and potentially life-threatening one at that–the public needs to know that there is a danger to avoid, clearly. In those moments of pure chaos, it’s easy to get lost in the limited flow of information. Conflicting stories arrive from all over, including the “official” sources, and the virtues of patience and silence in such a situation are the exact opposite of the journalist’s nature.
When a reporter on-air or on deadline gets cut off from the flow of information, they seem to instinctually begin speculating and analyzing to account for the fact that they quite simply do not know. It’s an ignorance complex that’s inherent to all reporters. We must know everything at any given time in case somebody else needs to know.
Once they get a sliver of information, they readily spew it into the homes of a scared, confused and vulnerable public. Based on everything I owe in student loans, that’s a “Donny Don’t” in the media. I rarely see it practiced, but nevertheless I watched MSNBC yesterday as it did a fair job of restraining itself. Even when those channels of information shut down, and the dead air called for analysis, they did not confirm until they knew for certain and generally speaking, they did not sensationalize.
Then Hardball with Chris Matthews started.
I can’t say much else on that front because I had to change the channel within minutes of the show starting. I turned to CBS before becoming dizzy and enraged in Matthews’ blur of 9/11 comparisons and hyperbole. I felt much more comforted with CBS’s repetition of the limited, but solid information; I also felt much less indignant by their choice of language, visuals and audio samples that aired on loop.
It’s not the media’s job to comfort. In depicting what we now assume is a war-zone, however, reporters, editors, producers, etc., need only to publish enough to demonstrate the severity of the situation. Insisting upon punching us in the eyes and soul with the most gruesome of images–again and again–only serves to insult the victims. It should insult us too.
We’re a smart enough society to realize when a wrong has been perpetrated upon human existence. That’s why resilience is so inspiring in the aftermath of a situation such as yesterday. Just when we think the worst in each other, when we think that society has degraded to its most apathetic, ignorant and evil, the stories of heroism start to give us hope again.
It took Patton Oswalt, to sum it up best: “the good will always outnumber the evil.” As we witness these tragedies strike Boston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Madrid, London, lower Manhattan, D.C., Shanksville, Columbine, etc., it does nothing but strengthen the resolve of that contingent of good.
So here’s what we know: The “bad” are failing at the mission of dividing “the good.” In this situation, we don’t even know who the bad is or are yet, but quite frankly, that shouldn’t really matter.