Yesterday in Jefferson County, Colorado, some 54-year old creep named Dwayne Morrison snuck into a school and took six female students hostage. Over the next several hours, police worked to negotiate with him over the release of the girls. Tragically, a sixteen year old girl was killed in the incident and if anyone cares, the gunman is also dead. While I have no comments on the actions of the police department, I do have some comments on the media coverage, especially in the national aspect. As often as I do watch CNN, I found that yesterdays broadcast of the hostage situation utterly pathetic. Here is an article from the Denver Post by Joanne Ostrow, which is a fairly accurate outline of just how bad it was:
Midway through the hostage crisis at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, the anchors on CNN Headline News excitedly shifted focus. The wife of the gunman is one of the hostages, they reported inaccurately.
That means it is not a random shooting but an escalated domestic situation, they explained. Quickly, they jumped on a new line of questions: “How often is a hostage situation a crime of passion?”
Another miserably wrong speculation: While watching a body on a stretcher being loaded slowly onto a helicopter, CNN opined that the emergency workers were not rushing, “probably because the injury is not severe.”
Misinformation, speculation and backtracking were the norm through a tense afternoon of media coverage Wednesday as the nation once again watched a Colorado school crisis unfold.
For the first hour, the media’s aerial shots focused on the administration building as the site of the events, instead of the second floor of the high school.
Columbine coverage was on everyone’s mind as local media rushed to the scene, with each of the four network affiliates providing shots via helicopter to national news networks. Columbine residue was apparent even in the questions asked at a school-side news conference: “What was the gunman wearing?” Was a black trench coat on anyone’s mind?
On the plus side, no local stations put students on the air via cellphone from inside Platte Canyon High, as happened during Columbine. There was no discussion on 24-hour cable of who was hiding where, as during the 1999 tragedy.
Lessons learned in 1999 saved local TV from committing the same mistakes, but the flow of misinformation and unconfirmed reports was disheartening.
“There are always lessons to learn every time you do this. Every time, mistakes are made and there will be some moment you wish you could take back,” said KMGH-Channel 7 news director Byron Grandy. You hope the new lessons “play out in muscle memory” the next time.
With Columbine in mind, local stations proceeded carefully. But even the lessons learned and sorrowful memories of seven years ago were not enough to keep the national cable networks from letting competitive fervor push the line on good judgement.