Monday, January 17, 2011

How Should Journalists Handle Tragedies?

AS NEWS OF the shooting in Tuscon unfolded last week, journalists scrambled to get information to the public.

Early reports said that newly-elected Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was killed in the attack in which six people were murdered. Giffords, who was shot at close-range in the head, survived and continues to recover.

Many pundits and news outlets latched onto the idea that the shooting was politically motivated, specifically citing the political action committee (PAC) connected to Sarah Palin. The PAC's website showed targeted congressional districts and marked them with rifle crosshairs.

At this point, no one knows exactly why the shooter took such actions. The public, however, wants answers.

What should journalists do at this point? Should they try to piece together information and present what they have, even if it involves conjecture?

Or should the media stay quiet until there are facts to report? Is that even possible?


Kate McCann said...

In a case that is so delicate as this, journalists should put facts together before "guessing" what has happened or why it has happened.
Because the families and friends of these victims are so hurt, devastated and confused, it is in the media's best interest to lay low until they can carefully relay what they have found. I suppose it gets difficult in some instances because there are not always answers found in situations such as these, but rushing to be the first journalist with some thrown-together answer is not going to be beneficial to anyone anyway.

With some hard evidence, journalists can try and piece together what they have but when conjecture becomes involved, there is usually too much opinion behind the journalist's supposed answer.

Blaming these shootings, or suggesting they have any relation to Sarah Palin is superfluous and only has confused society and the victims' families. I know that America needs immediate reactions, solutions and answers, but sometimes we will all just have to wait until something real is ready to be presented. And sometimes, there just is no answer.

Jonathan said...

TIME magazine just did an excellent special edition about Tucson. I liked how they actually had an article about Loughner's previous mental history and had multiple experts in the field address the supposition that political rhetoric motivated him (short answer: not really, as he was unhinged enough that almost anything could set him off, and he and Giffords had a prior history).

That said, I find Palin's PAC saying they never meant to reference firearms a bit ridiculous.

-Jonathan, J1111 fall 2010 alum :)

James McCreery said...

Palin should be held completely responsible for the half retarded moron that shot up the place...right?? Noooooooo, but, she has to know that there are people in the states who take things literally. The Bible for instance, but that's a whole different story. She posted those targets on the areas she needed to change. And yeah, some idiot took it seriously, what else is knew. Funny thing is, those are the kind of people who actually follow Palin and its sad.

Michelle Montalvo said...

in my honest opinion, those blaming anyone but Jared Loughner’s actions on anyone but Jared Loughner are just as misguided as those who tried to blame the Columbine Massacre on Marilyn Manson and violent video games.While many can argue quite effectively that the political rhetoric in this country has become too vitriolic, the media as well as others should not look at civility a going hand in hand with limiting free speech.

Also, despite how the mainstream media may portray him

JARED LOUGHNER WAS NOT A PRODUCT OF THE LEFT OR THE RIGHT. Even if he claimed to be apart of one political philosophy over the other, it was only he who decided to take out those actions.



Paynay said...

When such an event hits at the core of the American spirit such as the shooting at Tuscon, it is the duty of a journalist to work to his or her's fullest capabilities in order to bring information and clarity to a worried and disoriented public. It is not accurate to say that Loughner was politically motivated when the only real evidence anyone had to make the argument were things such as his youtube account and his list of favorite books, which included: "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Phantom Toll Booth." To report with such unreliable information is unethical and goes against one of the main principles of journalism that we discussed in class-- report with the obligation to the truth.

Although Loughner was not politically motivated, it would be good journalism to report on the state of mental health in American. What are the policies we have on mental disorders? Is it covered through health care? Should be people like Loughner be allowed to get a gun with such ease? Those are the questions that should be raised and reported on. That is good journalism, by acting as "watchdogs" for the general welfare of the public and sticking to the truth.

While Sarah Palin is not to blame for the shooting, it is apparently clear that the political atmosphere in this nation is becoming increasingly violent, especially on the right. Everyone knows what is being suggested when they see Palin's targeted congressional districts and listening to her cry out, "Don't retreat! Reload!" It's obvious what is being implied when we see congressional advertisements by a candidate from Virginia shooting the health care bill out of the air with a hunting rifle, and Sharron Angle's suggestion of "second amendment remedies." I for one applaud journalists such as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann (now ex-journalist) for reporting on issues of such rhetoric. Yes their bias might be exposed, but at least they're backing up their bias with factual accounts and logic, unlike Fox News, who ran a FALSE story on how President Obama's trip to India would cost the taxpayers $200 million a day.

Regardless of the subject, regardless of the opinion, journalists must report on subjects that will raise debate and benefit the people, without distorting the truth.

- Payne Schroeder (J1111, tuc39872)