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Friday, June 22, 2012

A Rant.


A few weeks ago, something tragic happened to a family living about a half-mile down my street.  I don’t know them, and I’m not going to include the details here.  In the end though, the part that horrified me most was the press reaction to the incident.
 
I don’t watch news often.  I learned about the episode on my street when my phone rang one morning and a family-member living in a neighboring state informed me what had occurred at the the other end of the stone-lined road.  The event was hot news because it occurred in our “affluent” community. That afternoon on my way back from work, I paused as I always do, at a stop-sign around the corner from the house in question.  Looking to the right, I gasped.  Satellite trucks from every local TV station as well as FOX TV lined the road across from the scene. 

I watched the news that evening, and reading between sensationalized headlines, it was pretty clear what occurred the night before was a dreadful accident.  But every story began with incendiary and leading statements that would lead a viewer to perceive otherwise.   The press dredged up peripheral facts, how much those involved paid for their house, their past business relationships, details that had no bearing on what had happened the night before, and featured them prominently—anything to pique the interested of the consumer, I suppose.

Thankfully, the story had no legs.  Local people who knew the folks involved, understood a bigger picture, and the thing dropped—from the public eye anyway.  But not before the poor family had to stage a clandestine getaway to a relative’s house far from our “comfortable community.”  And not before I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in a long time who, because she knew I lived on the same street, commented on all the trumped-up details and then tried to pump me for more.

I hadn’t thought about that situation for a few weeks, until yesterday.  I’m about a quarter of the way through The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, a novel I pick up every few years to re-read, because Shreve’s writing amazes me.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, it begins with the news of a terrible accident and unfolds from there.  I just finished reading the part where the main character has to beat her way through a crowd of reporters to get into her house, and the scene reminded me of what happened to our neighbors.

Before last month, any exposure I’d had to an insatiable press occurred via TV, the movies or books.  But this was different.   This lead story indicted an ordinary family by detonating a perception of wrongdoing over the air, with zero respect for the outcome of the case.  The “stars” of this debacle weren’t celebrities, or even public figures.  They were regular folks, like you and me.  But because of their zip code, the awful, painful and unplanned circumstances in which they found themselves became fodder for “Live from the Scene,” and “Story at Six.” 

It frightens me to think that news stations are evaluated by ratings.  Advertisers choose their spots based on this system and so, to attract market share, objectivity is lost.  I’m aware this point isn’t news to most people.  But seeing how it impacted average lives, brought it all a bit too, well, close to home.

The reminder of this real world situation, which percolated back to me through Shreves' exceptional writing, made me realize that unless you are an eye witness, there is no such thing as knowing what really happened.  There’s only the spin put on the “facts,” and the misinformation and gossip that ensues.  
  
The thought made me want to lock my doors and get down on my knees and pray that nothing “newsworthy” EVER happens to folks I know and love.

May your weekend be wonderful and "news" free.

19 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Liza, it is a sad thing. I like to know what's going on around me and in the world but the news at 6 shows very little meat and a whole lot of conjecture.

I've seen the new hound frenzy. It ain't pretty. If you happen to be anywhere in the area or live there, you're pounced on for nuggets. Not of truth but things to add to the *pop* of the story.

I'm sorry for your neighbors and I think I'll join you in your prayers.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's terrible. The news feeds on sensationalism, adding more to amp up the fear factor.
Really sorry about what happened to your neighbors.

E.J. Wesley said...

Sorry to hear it Liza. Hopefully they can get back to their lives soon.

Old Kitty said...

I think we do need news and news features and stories - but stemming from investigative and ethical journalism, not the corrupt and seedy and unscrupulous journalistic world uncovered at the moment here in the UK by the Levenson Inquiry.

I'm sorry to hear your neighbours suffered such awful and uncalled for intrusion.

Take care
x

Mimi said...

I'll join in your prayers too.
Some years back, my sister had a constructive dismissal case against her former employer, and our family were the brunt of media intrusion (though thankfully just newspaper reporters, not live tv), and it is awful.
Newspaper headlines branded her a golddigger (which couldn't be further from the truth) and I was very upset at the lies that were told.
It's funny too how people come out of the woodwork looking for "the inside track", former "friends" etc. We had the same thing!
You're a very kind person, Lisa, and I know you'll be good to your neighbours.

Vicki Orians said...

Sorry to hear about your neighbors. I can only imagine how awful it would've been for all those news reporters to be there.

It is sad that people get so hyped up about reading about/watching other people's lives. Like the stupid "reality TV" shows. Our world gets a kick out of watching others be stupid and fail. It's sad really.

I hope you never have to experience it either!

cd sutton said...

Yes, news people need a story that is exciting enough to build a following or they lose money. Unfortunately news can't just be news anymore. And it is horrible to bring in irrelevant details. I pray that anyone that has to go through this find strength in strong support systems surrounding them.

Robin said...

It really does make you wonder about the reliability of the "news." All facets really. So sorry that this happened to your neighbors, but it is a vivid reminder that it could happen to ANYONE.

Tonja said...

I agree that news stations should be objective and shouldn't cover stories like that for ratings.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Good post. It seems there is no such thing as an "accident" anymore. And we are all guilty until proven innocent. It reminds me of the poor family in Australia who were accused of killing their baby who was actually dragged off by dingos on a camping trip. I can't imagine the horror of that being compounded by such dreadful accusations.

Juliann Wetz said...

It's incredible how the media twists things, isn't it? Like you, I hope nothing 'newsworthy' ever happens to me or my family.

Anne Gallagher said...

I wonder if the sleazy reporters actually know what they're doing when they invade a person's life like that. Do they not have any moral compass at all?

Sad to see our society breaking down into such contemptable acts of insidious gossip just for tv ratings.

Carol Kilgore said...

I missed this on Friday. Often even eyewitnesses offer conflicting statements because each sees through his own frame of reference. We often don't notice things we don't expect to see.

glnroz said...

"the news" should be liable for some of the twisted paths they take to "give us the newws"...

mshatch said...

there is a good side and a bad side to a free press. You and your neighbors have unfortunately been subjected to the bad side. Your post is a reminder not to believe everything we read or see or hear.

Catherine A. Winn said...

Well said and I can't agree more. How sad the news media has come to that. It used to be left to tabloids to report fiction as fact, what does that say about us as viewers?

Robin said...

I left you a little something on my last post: Bullets and Ribbons.

'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

Oh Liza, so sorry this happened to your neighbors. While I am glad that you can see the reality of the situation, it is a hard pill to swallow.
I once was very involved in a high profile sad situation that involved a place where children were cared for and I couldn't believe the things that the press would do to get at those kids. They were hungry for meat and didn't care what their story did to those kids or how fragile their world had suddenly become. I found myself literally putting myself between the kids and the cameras.
It made me know that I didn't trust the media and that when I chose not to go into journalism I had definitely made the right choice...

Kittie Howard said...

I'm sorry about what happened to your neighbors. The media is out of control with its 'doom and gloom' sensationalism that feeds ratings. Like the commenter above, I also think reality TV is part of the problem. Even more, I think Fox 'News' is part of the real news problem. Stations envy their ratings and mimic its approach. Problem is, this stuff sells. Worrisome!

On a lighter note, the neighbor down the street planted daisies. The wrong wind direction -- yipes!