Friday, July 11, 2014

Just the Facts, Ma'am

The slaying of a local police officer in the line of duty, as happened last weekend in Indianapolis, is certainly a tragedy. Local news stations obviously covered this story and its aftermath, as they should have. However, while I know I'm inviting criticism for being somehow unsympathetic or uncaring, it is my opinion, as well as the opinions of others with whom I've spoken, that this local coverage was nothing short of severe overkill.

During the week, I've witnessed on every local news program on every channel a barrage of coverage from the actual shooting to the vigils to the processions to the funeral to the burial. And everywhere along the way I have been bombarded with the comments and Facebook posts from dozens of family members, friends, co=workers, neighbors, and just everyday strangers, as reported by the news media. All of them, of course, lauded IMPD officer Renn for his bravery and meritorious service to the city. And I have no doubt that he deserves this praise, as he was a brave officer who died in the line of duty. But I do not know any of these average citizens, nor do I care what they have to say about Renn.

During the week of over-coverage of the death of this officer, there were other shootings, homicides, and deaths in the line of duty of everyday people. Most of them received either a report on the local news, if it was a homicide or shooting, or at least an obituary in the local newspaper. But none of them received the attention bestowed on Renn.

We do this all the time. When those four officials were killed in our embassy in Benghazi in 2012, only one of them was our actual ambassador. But you never hear their names mentioned. When Benghazi is referred to (normally by Republicans) if any names are mentioned it is always the ambassador. Were his subordinates not as important as human beings?

People sometimes die. It's all part of the cycle of life. And the death of a person is tragic for those who knew and loved that person. If the person is established as a high-profile individual, it is normal and natural that their deaths are given appropriate news coverage. But news organizations should look long and hard as to what counts as appropriate and what goes beyond into gratuitous coverage.

Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are all in the public safety business. And maybe it is appropriate to provide more news coverage for them if they are killed in the line of duty. But that coverage should be confined to actual news, not maudlin fluff. As Sgt. Friday used to say every week on a popular detective show, "Just the facts, Ma'am."

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