Stalling Court Murders and Media
Sometime in the last couple of days, two people were murdered in Stalling Court… the same court where my family resides. While there were reports on the news that some people heard a bang yesterday (the day the bodies were found)… I am skeptical that there were gun shots yesterday. Later reports insinuated that the two people died some time ago. In fact, both my father and brother heard gunshots a previous night, early in the morning. (Whether those noises had anything to do with the murders is completely unknown.)
Already two news crews have interviewed me on camera (along with many of the other residents in our neighborhood) and it got me to thinking about the issue in a broader sense than just the murders themselves.
First, I must note that I never met the people who were murdered. I have seen a young woman coming and going from that home often; I do not know her name or how many people actually live there (or if she actually lived there). While I have grown up in this neighborhood (I have lived here for almost 25 years)… I have lost touch with the new families that have started moving in over the last few years.
One of the questions I was asked from both news crews was how quiet this neighborhood is; if I was surprised and what my reaction was to the murders. Despite a couple race scuffles in the early 1990s, I cannot recall much violence in this area. I was surprised to hear about the murders… but I was not exactly paranoid that the neighborhood is suddenly unsafe; Jenny and I agreed that the kids won’t go outside for a while until we know what happened… but it is very unlikely that this is a neighborhood-related issue as opposed to a domestic issue. My instincts tell me that the murders were a lovers’ quarrel or something along those lines—which can happen anywhere.
Despite the tragedy for the two victims, there is another issue that this incident brought to my mind. It involves the media; as someone who has personal experience in the media, I am trying to be diplomatic about this. I am always concerned that media organizations are always too eager to get a juicy scoop. Because of this vulture-like desire to get the news out before anyone else, it is easy for news providers to jump the gun.
In this case, the news reported bangs (like gunshots) from locals. While there may have been bangs yesterday, the later reports make it more likely that there were no gunshots yesterday. This does not make the reporters irresponsible… but it shows that there is a lack of caution. Anyone who spends time studying humans know how prone we all are at "spicing” up facts when the spotlight is on. People like to feel like they are involved in public events.
This reminds me of the media reports that flooded out immediately after Dimebag Darrel was murdered at the Alrosa Villa a couple years ago. I have friends who were on stage when Dimebag was murdered… and according to those eyewitnesses… Dimebag was shot in the head. New reports at the time, however, included people who claimed to attempt to give Dimebag CPR. While I am not contradicting those facts (I was not present)… I would be very skeptical that anyone tried to give CPR to anyone who had just been shot in the head—it would probably be too gruesome for anyone to handle.
What I am stressing is that media organizations ought to exercise a little more discretion and restraint in getting the news out. For example, what harm is it to wait for the investigators to return facts before sharing the accounts of locals. I am not saying that reporters should not refrain from collecting local accounts and eyewitness accounts… but that the media’s reporting of the events should be held to strict facts and not personal experience accounts until enough information is collected to warrant the validity of the claims. I say this because people are easily influenced; regarding the recent shootings in my neighborhood, people who did not hear anything might still support false reports just to feel like they are part of something going on around them—and this certainly cannot help the investigators trying to figure out the actual circumstances of the tragedy.
A gunshot heard on the wrong day can change the results of an investigation and prosecution; getting the facts accurately is very important. For example, I know of a murder investigation in another state; the prosecutors are relying on the testimonials of the dates of events in Ohio to validate their case. If eyewitnesses who were not paying attention or even present make claims about events, they can adversely affect the outcome of the case.
The media plays a necessary and important role in our democratic society. At the same time, I feel hesitation about sensationalism. News reporting is more competitive than it ought to be, especially when it comes to events that are sensational, scandalous or shocking. I know it won’t change, but I would love to see the media have the same type of obsessive pursuit of stories that are educational and uplifting rather than sensational.
Also read Problems with Journalism.
2011-11-11 The links to video footage of my interview has long-since vanished from the web.