Putting Polecats In the Oven And Calling Them Biscuits

This is not a news story.  It is my opinion.  But I think you will be interested, and might even share these thoughts: 

Raymond was barricaded.  He had shot his wife.  And police in the Burlington neighborhood of East Knoxville were trying to get him out.   I remember like it was yesterday….a many years-old cop story that disappeared after a half-day in the news cycle.  

I had covered other stories, including crime… but they had been after-the-fact.
There were no college journalism classes …  at least none I know of… .that taught how to do journalism from live, breaking news events.  So, in my reporting curriculum, I included my own school of hard-knock lessons learned.  Thankfully, professionals like WBIR’s Carl Williams and Jay Beeler were around, and willing to suffer endless questions on the what’s and how’s of police beat reporting. 

Then, at WSB, I added towering pros like Bob Ketchersid and Aubrey Morris… and manager Elmo Ellis to my list of teachers.   Mr. Ellis was an avid listener.. and if there were any problems, you could count on seeing a small note that said “See me,  E.”  You didn’t want to get a summons like that.
 Early-on my feet were held to the fire of responsibility and dignity. 

This long preamble is a long way around the barn to claim that during my career, I earned awards for covering  a huge amount of “spot” news…a couple of them national awards.  And some were big stories, like prison take-overs, riots, multiple killings, and mass casualty fires.   I don’t want to brag, I just want to kind of state my resume’. 

Now, I’ve been looking into a part of the news coverage from Boulder, Colorado and the slaughter of ten people.  
Many of you have seen the video that was streamed from the parking lot of that supermarket.  It even showed at least two bodies.  
That video didn’t come from a concerned citizen.  It came from a man who called himself a “journalist”.    His video feed was a way for the media to contact him concerning the broadcast rights to his video. 

Now, here’s where I see a very dark gray area.
The man doing the live streaming showed police officers reacting outside the building.  
I looked it up, and listened to nearly an hour of police radio communications, and here is what I learned:
Early on in the recording, I heard dispatchers tell the on-scene commander to “be advised someone was live streaming audio”..  That greatly concerned officers because they were afraid the killer might see where they were assembling, and how many were there… and how best to set up an ambush.   

Also- at that time, police had no idea of the condition of the (fatally) wounded officer, and were desperately trying to get super-hardened shields inside the store. 

Let’s switch to the video that you DIDN’T see.  
I also looked up, and watched the recording of the live stream.   And about the same time officers were warned that their actions were being streamed live, I watched a confrontation between police, and the video-taker.   He not only refused to move back, he told officers he would remain where he was…cursing them with “F-you’s”  several times.  I believe he refused to respond to  lawful commands.  Also- five or six officers had to corral the live streamer and funnel him out of the area.  I think police were more than restrained in a moment in time where I know they were worried about their brother officer reported shot.  

You have to know when to do the right thing, even though it might keep you away from the middle of things.  I’ve always held there were some things you just didn’t do.   There has to be a dignity in death.   There has to be a willingness to NOT add to the problem.   Of course, I would work my way as close to the action as I could.  There were times my car would be caught inside the familiar yellow tape perimeter.  You can always ask to get closer… or even get there right after something happens, and record the aftermath.   But the moment police tell you to move back… you move.   You might be able to find a supervisor who would allow you some leeway and move you closer to the story.  The time to argue comes later, and then you can complain or work to educate officers on what you need as a news gatherer. 

The action that you did not see, was irresponsible,  it put lives potentially in jeopardy, and was not “journalism”.   It was a matter of being “lucky” to be on the scene of an incident as it was unfolding.   

I don’t think taking the video was illegal… the law usually says in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy.  But, when officers told they guy  to move- he should have moved back behind police lines instead of asking for names, and  badge numbers, and cursing.  

If that’s what it takes to be a “journalist”- count me out. I’m done.
I know this will be an unpopular idea with many… but I believe that video is a news story all its own.  The few seconds of video were seen over-and-over.   Is it wrong to think that the stations who used the video should have explained the source…eventually?

And, an even larger question is the result of high quality video recorders in cell phones.  Can anyone with a camera claim to be a journalist, and expect the same consideration from officials afforded the larger media outlets?  How can a legitimate news source  use video collected in this way?   The temptation to use it and then explain later is tremendous.   And if one network as the video, you can bet the other two are screaming to get it, too. 

It’s something you don’t hear a lot about, but just about every city has one or two independent photographers who will occasionally take photos or recordings then sell the product to news departments.   (Side note- I once knew a guy who took free-lance film of news stories overnight and sold them to TV stations in Atlanta.  His name- Wayne Williams… the guy convicted in connection with the Atlanta Child Murders… a story for another day)

I did the research,watched a lot of footage, and heard police traffic from the first call to the call to command that an ambulance would not “be necessary” for the wounded officer…or anybody else except the suspect the police shot. 

The images you didn’t see is what bothers me.  I always thought of myself as a citizen first, and a reporter second.  And above all, a respecter of humanity, including a respecter of  the remains of those I was near and their loved ones. 

If this guy, full of profane rants, claiming to be a journalist.. is a harbinger of social media as news gathering….  I’m glad I walked away when I did… with my box full of awards… but more important– my dignity intact.


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