Reflections on media intrusion in Newtown and Sandy Hook School

December 17, 2012

Ten days before my wed­ding, Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school and killed sev­en­teen people, six­teen of them very young children.

The media des­cen­ded. I des­cen­ded. I was film­ing an hour or so away and arrived on the scene as shattered par­ents waited for news, and local TV news crews slung their cam­eras, unsure as to whether or not to film. I was sure. Film first, decide later. Our job as tele­vi­sion journ­al­ists was to bear witness.

We won awards for the cov­er­age that day. Not awards given by rel­at­ives or view­ers, but those given by our fel­low tele­vi­sion journ­al­ists. The hos­til­ity of local people, look­ing for someone to curse, was palp­able. The curi­os­ity of every­one else in the coun­try, around the world, unquenchable.

My wife-to-be arrived too. She was a tele­vi­sion journ­al­ist. In the next couple of days she was a reg­u­lar at the police brief­ings. She got to know the Super­in­tend­ent in charge of the scene. He was wor­ried that the fam­il­ies and the com­munity needed space away from news crews and note­pads. She sug­ges­ted that he ask news chiefs to quietly pull back. And so they did.

It wasn’t the kind of thing to take credit for, and she’s never asked for any or received any, and I — clumsy idiot that I am — made it the sub­ject for our first argu­ment of mar­ried life.

And — being, to this day, both clumsy and an idiot — I still think it was the wrong thing to do. I think the only thing that makes our post-modern soci­ety a soci­ety is shar­ing stor­ies and telling stor­ies, be they of tragedy or cel­eb­ra­tion. As John Donne wrote: “Each man’s death dimin­ishes me, for I am involved in man­kind.” And we — journ­al­ists — we are the tolling bell.

But my wife dis­agreed. And she still dis­agrees. And she won the day.