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Misinformation in the wake of tragedy

Jim's Jams

December 19, 2012
Jim Krajewski ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Jam of the week: "I Think It Is Beautiful That You Are 256 Colors Too" by Black Moth Super Rainbow

Misinformation is an unfortunate reality of life. It will always exist as a side-affect of the imperfection of human nature. Memories of events become obscured through the passage of time. A textbook prints a dated piece of information that children use for years later. A report is tampered with for personal gain. Misinformation will always exist, but it is the duty of every person who collects or publishes information to minimize that risk.

On Friday, a day off for me, I poured myself a small glass of eggnog and decided to surf the television, waiting for motivation to do some cleaning to strike. I happened upon the horrific news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on cable news shortly after.

I think many others know the feeling of first hearing news of such catastrophe and becoming glued to a television. Past the first few minutes of turning to cable news, I didn't really find out anything new. I was simply too shocked to think about anything else.

The only thing that shook me from my trance was a journalistic act that was, in my opinion, unconscionable. Reporters were interviewing children outside the school not moments after their classmates were slain. I was swept in a wave of sadness and anger as I watched an elementary school girl say how she would never see her teacher again.

I've heard arguments as to why the interviewing of these children was OK. Their parents gave reporters permission to interview their child. The children interviewed didn't show outward signs of distress immediately following the shooting. They were on scene and thus eyewitnesses for the shooting. To that, I say, "malarkey." The only person equipped to judge the state of those children is a mental health professional. Reporters could have their quotes from an eyewitness from staff. They also could have waited for more official reports, but waiting isn't something that a 24-hour news cycle accommodates. How is the information of a clearly traumatized child considered close to acceptable, accurate information?

Several news outlets also misidentified the shooter as Ryan Lanza. Those news organizations also used a photo from his facebook profile. In a very short amount of time, his profile photo had been shared 13,000 times. The photos were retracted, but such an error in the midst of a tragedy that enraged a nation is hard to forgive.

A statement, allegedly released by actor Morgan Freeman, blamed a sensationalist media for giving fame to shooter Adam Lanza. The statement said, "Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster instead of a sad nobody." I saw the statement shared by several friends on Facebook. It turns out the statement itself was falsely attributed to Freeman, instead originating by a poster on social news website "Reddit." The rant was attributed to Freeman in an attempt to help spread it across the internet. It succeeded until Freeman's agent contacted media outlets to clear up the situation.

This is usually the point in my column where I come to a conclusion. Arriving to a logical point through disappointment in those that share my profession, a country in mourning and 20 dead children seems impossible right now outside of the politics of the situation. I don't think media outlets that shelter these practices will change unless people tune them out.

I hope the next time such a massacre happens, I will be able to hear the news and respectfully withdraw from the television. Having just barely gotten past the tragedy occupying my mind, the all too recurrent realization that we will all have to bear this grief again enters. For all of our sakes, I hope that day does not come for a long time.



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