Wick Communications

About those 911 tapes

In Ethics on 12 Dec 2013 at 3:07 pm

911 tapes pic

You may have noticed that both the national media and news outlets in Connecticut were wringing their hands over what to do with the newly released 911 tapes from the terrible day that a shooter rampaged through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

To me, the lack of consensus – and resultant reasoning – of these media organizations was more interesting than anything that could have possibly been in the tapes.

As the New York Times reported, most major outlets were treading lightly.

And it’s easy to see why. Some of those still grieving a year later had asked for privacy and that the intimate details of the tapes not be widely disseminated. We’re talking about the senseless deaths of children. It makes sense to be very careful. Very, very careful.

But I ask you: How is the release of the tapes front-page news if you aren’t going to tell us what’s in the tapes?

I found the self-congratulatory nature of the statements coming from those that chose not to air or publish the tapes very off-putting. It’s more a matter of the way they handled it than the decision not to publish. …

“We and our managers have listened to all the recordings that came in that day and out of respect for the victims we will be very sensitive with what we do put on FOX News Channel and across all of our platforms throughout the day and in the days to come,” the Fox News anchor, Shepard Smith, said in the New York Times.

Oh really? Is that the new standard? Respect for those in the news? Elsewhere in the story:

Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, said in an interview on Wednesday: “I was looking for any editorial imperative that might justify going against the wishes of the parents. I listened to the tapes. I can’t see any editorial imperative.”

I’ve been in this business a long, long time and never heard the term “editorial imperative,” much less used it twice in one paragraph.

The truth is, these same news outlets are absolutely notorious for trading off local tragedies like this. They want to go just as far as possible in showing the shivering family whose house has just burned down and the wailing mother who has just learned her son died in a shootout and so on. They are just calculating the exact spot at which that exploitation blows back in their faces. Again and again they have aired 911 tapes that have been terrible to hear.

Assessing community standards is not a new concept for community newspapers like ours. We don’t parachute in and out like CBS and FOX and all the rest. We live here. We are in a better position to decide whether we can look a distraught mother in the eye after the newspaper comes out.



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