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Friday, December 04, 2015

Unrestrained and Uninformed


It was a scene straight out of the Jake Gyllenhaal movie, "Nightcrawler." 

One of most ridiculous things I've seen on TV in a long time was the sight of TV reporters gaining access to the home of the San Bernadino shooters and then rummaging through what they found -- as viewers watched live this afternoon. There were no editorial decisions being made about what was appropriate to show and what wasn't; no context offered for what any of it means. At one point on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell had to scold Kerry Saunders to not show pictures of the couple's six-month-old daughter -- as a still photographer captured those very pictures over his shoulder.

I'm not sure what the point was in the first place, other than to discover that the shooters had a rented townhouse that looked like everyone else's place inside. There are a lot of things wrong with today's instant-news delivery systems, and the first is the utter lack of gatekeepers. Nothing important or even remotely revealing was found but, as always, the simple fact that they could do it meant they had to do it -- at least in the minds of the cable networks that presented it breathlessly.

FBI assistant director David Bowdich was asked later why anyone was allowed in the home in the first place. His response was that the bureau had executed a search warrant the night before and removed anything it considered relevant, but "once we boarded up, anyone who goes in there, that's got nothing to do with us." You could hear legal experts all over the country groaning at the thought of outsiders trampling some evidence that had been overlooked by the FBI's first foray.

The media's actions today showed a complete lack of restraint, typical of the hysteria that surrounds the first couple of days of every one of these stories, complete with rumors and speculation. Even at the Bowdich press conference, he was asked leading question after leading question to which he repeatedly replied, "We don't know yet, we're still investigating." If only CNN, Fox, and MSNBC had an inkling what it means to wait for the facts to emerge.

Or what it is to have some sort of integrity in the news business.