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.

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