As I write this it’s Saturday, the day after the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, and I am avoiding most of my social media accounts right now, because watching the reactions of liberals and conservatives alike is literally making me nauseous. An old friend of mine pointed out on his Facebook today that this is not the time to engage in debates over gun control, or anything else. It is time to mourn. He is right, and I’m thankful that he said it. Because he did, I know I’m not the only one having this visceral response to the situation.
And I will not talk about those political issues here now. What I will say is that yesterday will be a day I will never forget for the rest of my life. It will be for me like the day John F. Kennedy died is for my mother. After all these years, she does not forget where she was when she heard the news, and she remembers just about every news report she heard that day. I hope I don’t remember the news reports as well as my mother did, even though that is the largest reason why I will never be able to remove those memories from my mind.
When I first heard about the shootings, I started picking up breadcrumbs of information online. At first, it seemed it was going to be another massacre that would be conjured up for political purposes – it undoubtedly will be. But, as the day wore on, I realized that the media did not seem to be worrying too much about verifying facts before airing them. We all eventually learned that the networks were all claiming that the wrong man had committed the crime. But, I knew something wasn’t right shortly after the wrong name went public on Fox News – the one network that was coming in last, when it came to broadcasting new developments.
In the race for the big story, journalists across the country yesterday suspended what should be considered mandatory fact checking. Instead of simply reading Ryan Lanza’s Facebook page in depth first, they apparently went straight to harassing his friends. And they didn’t manage to do that effectively either. The first question should have been “Have you heard from Ryan Lanza today?” If anyone said yes, then they should have asked when. Maybe some of them did, but obviously those journalists didn’t end up getting anyone to pay attention to them. So, there is the distinct possibility that Mandy Nagy from Breitbart.com was right in her fears that Ryan Lanza ended up learning about the deaths of his mother and brother via social media harassment by the press and public.
We’ve constantly been pointing out the shortcomings of the mainstream media for years, and now we are left with a tragic side effect of the lack of ethics and objectivity in the press. It’s been said many times that once the media becomes the story, it’s all over for them. Of course the media and users on the various social media networks will focus on the political issues surrounding this tragedy. No one will think twice about whether or not it is right for the press to get away with being so utterly incompetent and unprofessional as they were yesterday. I am not singling anyone out in this for a reason – all are equally culpable for abandoning the first lesson that every professor should be teaching on the first day of even the most basic Journalism class: You never run with a story before double-checking the facts, period. So, the question is, do we restrict ourselves to engaging in the inevitable gun control debate in the wake of this tragedy, or do we also take this opportunity to put the press in the spotlight? This time, their carelessness did additional harm to a family – all the families that were affected by this tragic event. Don’t think there won’t be a next time. The frightening thing is that once you’ve gone this low, how can you go any lower? Sadly, the media will probably figure out a way to do it.