27 August 2015
For those who work in TV newsrooms, today was a nightmare come true.
You may not realize it, but TV News is a rather small business. At least two people in our newsroom know someone who works at WDBJ TV in Roanoke, (I am one of the two) and what happened today has long been a real fear among reporters and anchors. Almost all of us know of folks who have been stalked, or received death threats from crazies, and security is never far from our minds. You cannot get into our building (or most TV stations) without a key card, and the reason is because of the fear of what actually happened today. My friend Bill Shory, the News Director at WAVE in Louisville put it well in this Facebook Post from earlier today:
We are not doing any live shots today, unless we need to cover breaking news. We’ve urged our crews to be vigilant when they do them in the future. And we hope the public finally understands why we don’t think it’s too damn funny when they jump into our live shots and yell that obscene phrase. Because when you’re focused on doing your job, it’s impossible to tell if that guy running at you in the corner of your eye is going to shout some dirty words, or if he’s going to shoot you.
Tomorrow, our crews will hit the streets again. We will cover the news, we will cover it well, and – whether it’s critical breaking news, a major investigation, or just a fun look at local tradition – we will do it live. In the end, the only thing we can do to honor the memory of these two young journalists is this: We will do our jobs, and we will not be cowed.
The one thing you have to tell yourself often ,when you work as a cop, or in TV, (and as an NWS meteorologist as well!) is that not everyone is crazy as a loon. We just run into them a lot more than other folks do. Unfortunately it’s gotten much worse. There is an epidemic of crazy in this country right now, and it may very well stem from the ability of these folks to reinforce their crazy beliefs with like-minded people online.
Add in a stunning lack of science literacy, and it’s really not surprising to find that 5% of Americans believe that Obama is spewing mind control chemicals behind commercial airliners. A friend of mine who works for the NWS received a death threat from someone who blamed him for the Fukushima radiation that is killing him (there is no radiation killing him, the idiot is in Alabama, not Japan). I’ve also not forgotten about Patrick Crawford, the Chief Meteorologist at a Waco,TX station, who was shot by an unknown man in the car park leaving the studio. He survived, but many on air mets couldn’t help but wonder if he was the victim of some deluded conspiracy follower, and the shooter is still at large.
Today was different, but the kind of things I describe above happens because we have a nation where a large percentage of the population are comfortable discarding scientific truth like their garbage. I know several researchers who work on climate science, and the stories of threats they have endured are nothing short of alarming. In short we have an epidemic of stupid, and it’s past time to just try and ignore them, or pretend they have as valid an opinion as anyone else, because they don’t. I highly recommend reading No, it’s not your opinion, you’re just wrong, by Jef Rouner.
Yes, I know what happened today was a work related incident, but there’s well founded worry that there will be copycat crazies, especially since it appears that this incident was inspired by another mass shooting. The problem with threats, is that you never know which one is just a harmless kook, and which one is from someone who is dangerous. Bill Shory conveyed that very well in his thoughts above.
So, the question becomes what do we do about this as a society.
Here are my own personal thoughts:
It’s obvious that we must do something about mental illness. Our services for mentally ill people are not just inadequate, but downright abysmal. We lock the mentally ill up instead of treating them, and in a prison system that is not much different from what existed in the 19th century. We only do that however after they shoot up a movie theatre, or school, and not before. If we don’t come up with the money to treat the mentally ill, this will continue. If that means we all pay more in taxes, so be it.
The second problem of course is the elephant in the room.
The easy access to guns. Second amendment or not, there is a watershed coming on this issue. It may (or may not) be as great a rending as the Civil War, but it IS coming. The end of it will bring a more sensible policy on the access to weapons in this country. The statistics above are shameful, and I heard someone today darkly comment that we should indeed build a wall around the U.S. If only to keep our gun culture from spreading.
As long as guns are easily available to unstable people, then reporters, meteorologists, and climate experts (and anyone else!) can never tell if that death threat is something to really worry about or not. The management at WDBJ did everything right, but the easy access to guns meant that it wasn’t enough. The crazy may last a while longer, but a watershed is coming.
One piece of advice for my fellow journalists (and meteorologists/science researchers): If you get a threat, don’t ignore it. Call the police and file a complaint. Contact their internet provider, and if necessary get a virtual protection order against them. This sends a warning message to other crazies, so don’t be quiet about it. If you do not get action, go visit the district attorney, and ask why. If you still don’t get action, go public and get loud.
You just may save your own life or someone else’s.
Note- Because of the subject matter I am not going to publish comments on this post.