David Frum

12.17.12

'Common Sense Media Coverage'

Matt Lewis caused quite a stir this weekend with a piece calling for "common sense media control." (Note: he was being satirical.) Lewis surveyed the media's handling of the Newtown shootings in a less than positive tone.

The media originally reported the wrong name of the alleged shooter. (The suspected killer was Ryan Lanza, they breathlessly reported. Turns out it was actually Ryan's brother, Adam.) Then, some in the media advertised Ryan's Facebook and Twitter pages. (This, of course, brings to mind Brian Ross' irresponsible and premature on-air suggestion over the summer that the Aurora shooter was a Tea Party member.) As if those cases of egregiously mistaken identity weren't enough, producers and reporters began trolling Twitter, seeking to proposition friends and relatives of the victims for an interview.

Meanwhile, others staked out the young survivors, and then proceeded to conduct on-air interviews with these young children. This was unseemly and superfluous. As TIME's James Poniewozik wrote, "There is no good journalistic reason to put a child at a mass-murder scene on live TV, permission of the parents or not."

I share Lewis' disgust at our (he and I are certainly part of the media) handling of Friday's events. My Twitter timeline was filled with speculation as to the shooter's name, his whereabouts, the weapon(s) used, and his social media footprint. The race to be first to linking his Facebook page was absolutely sickening. The near glee at each new morsel of unconfirmed detail was a national embarrassment to those we entrust as gatekeepers for our nation's informatoin. And at some point, it will end, because people will stop paying any attention. You can only create so many sickenly "clever" chyrons and people will tire of new names and dates of massacres. Until then, it's to those who comprise the media to display some basic decency.