Friday, June 3, 2016

Who, What, When, Where but most of all WHY?

If you write, or have even taken a decent high school English class,  one of the first things you're taught is your responsibility to the reader.  We were given the rule that the basis of a complete story began by answering the above questions, "Who, What, When Where, Why (and sometimes How).  The answer to all five should appear in the first paragraph of an article.  It was then your job, as the the writer/reporter, to expand upon each of those in the following paragraphs for a full description of events.

A task simple enough for a high school kid to follow.  Unfortunately, it's a concept that much of today's media is not familiar.

I know.  Political years bring out more stupid than sane ideas.  And while it's hard to fight that on a national level, you'd think local media would try harder to fairly represent stories about their businesses, neighbors, or family.  It's your community.  There needs to be a shared trust and willingness to help each other.  Sadly I've just witnessed something on the local level that has me both shaking my head and angry.

On May 24th a cell phone video was given to a local television station.  I'm not sure how the "concerned citizen" choose from the 4 stations in our state.  But it appears no one at the chosen station is familiar with fact checking.  A local paper ran a brief, one paragraph report of the incident which probably raised more questions than it answered.  But I got the feeling it was a token, "There.  We heard your 'concern'.  Here's our report.  We're done".

In a nutshell, here's what the grainy video shows.  An older fireman is berating an apparently younger fireman, using language which your mama wouldn't approve.  Ironically, the younger man's face is blurred, while the older man's is not.  At the end, the older one slaps the younger one's face.  Not a knock-you-out-of-your-seat move, but stronger than a love tap.  The young man says, very calmly, "Don't do that."  The older man, clearly agitated, does so again, telling the young man to get out of his seat and go do his job. 

The firefighter is named, then the audience is advised the incident was shared with the Fire Chief, who passed it to the County Administrator. The Administrator responded with the usual "personnel matter", noting the suspension/training was already completed.  The older man was suspended for 3 days without pay and ordered to attend an Anger Management training. Then, to make sure the audience is still there, it's revealed that the young firefighter is actually ...gasp!...the older man's son, who is not named. The newscast ended with the fact charges could be pending from the local Chief of Police, and that no replies had been received from the reporter's e-mails to the police chief and firefighter.

So, sounds fair right?  Bad fireman yelled his way into a suspension, loss of pay, and possible criminal assault charges because a concerned citizen stepped forward to share physical evidence.

But what if I told you the actual event occurred over a year ago?

That's right.  There's a lot which was omitted.  Sadly, too many reporters are, quite frankly, lazy.  Reporters once used their feet, not the internet, to interview subjects.  Rather than face to face conversations, it's apparently now assumed any unanswered reporter e-mail inquiries makes the other party automatically guilty.  And yet amazingly, journalism "sources" are still protected.  Don't you wonder why it took the "concerned citizen",  never mentioned by name, so long to come forward with the video?  If he was so concerned, why allow such an irate firefighter to keep doing a job paid for by tax dollars?  

Viewers join this video "conversation" shortly after it's begun. Mr. Concerned Citizen appears to have a ringside seat, yet says nothing.   The only voice you hear is  the Firefighter's profanity laced speech.  If you can get past that, you hear something else: agitation, tinged with frustration.  What's lost on John Q. Public is the lesson he was trying to impart.  A lesson?  Screaming and slapping is a lesson, you ask? 

The difference is, I know the Firefighter and his son.  I also did some research of my own.  Yes, I like knowing both sides of the story.  Even the less sensational, worn down, parental side.

I've known this Firefighter for over 20 years.  I've known the son since he was a toddler.  Even as an adult, this kid still acts like a spoiled brat from time to time.  Let's just say God himself would have a hard time restraining himself from corporal punishment when it comes to Junior.  For the record, Dad wasn't just some volunteer fireman who suddenly decided to do so full time.  Recently retired after 20 years as a Game Warden, he also assisted local law enforcement hunt down drug dealers and other law breakers. In his "spare" time he bikes with a group of law enforcement guys who raise money to aid others.

Here's what the reporter didn't tell you.  Junior had been bragging that if he came to a house fire with gun fire involved, he'd kick in the door and fight the fire without waiting for back up.  Dad had told him that wasn't procedure and it was dangerous.  Evidently Junior then called Dad an impolite term for a cat.  What the aired portion of the video shows is Dad's frustration boiling over.  I'm not sure what Junior said, because his face was blurred, by there's a moment of hesitation before Dad's slap occurs.  This is a kid who doesn't know when to stop, doesn't acknowledge when "enough is enough" and enjoys provoking just to get a reaction.  Anyone who knows him, knows that.  Yet, all human's have their breaking point.  There is a taunt in Junior's eerily calm reply of, "Don't do that", just before Dad slaps him again and orders him to go do his job.

And so, what should've been, at best, a teaching moment in private, becomes a childish taunt causing a parent to snap while someone they probably work with sits idly by and records the whole thing.  Then sits on it.  For a year.

Why a year?  I have my own theory.  Dad is helping a local candidate run for Sheriff against a two term Sheriff he'd aided in years past to collar bad guys.  To be honest, it is time for a change in that office.  Yet one of the few things in the south which never seems to change is political grudges.  

As for that television station, I have lots of WHYS.  Why didn't your reporter do her homework and discover this incident happened a year ago?  Why didn't you look beyond the "concern" of an anonymous citizen for an additional motive because he'd kept quiet for so long?  Why send an e-mail when you could've at least picked up the phone to hear the other side?  Why would you drag a public servant through the mud, humiliating him and his family, without sharing that Junior now works at another station several counties away?  Why did you suddenly delete comments on your website when members of the community pointed out the true age of this story?

HOW can you sleep at night, knowing you only told half the story?

UPDATE:  And the plot thickens.  

It appears the video has been sitting for a year at...the Sheriff's Department.  In addition, I've learned the whole incident was set Junior.  He told his friend (Mr. Videographer) to get out his phone and get ready: he was going to make his father so angry that he'd lose it and slap his son. So what started off as a sick prank took a horrible turn.  Probably politically motivated at this point.  But the media won't report that...because it would entail looking for the truth.


savannah said...

Thank you! All to often around here (I live here, so I'm only going to talk about here, i.e., The South) it is exactly that: grudge politics! It saddens me, as a former journalism student, to watch the news or read the paper for exactly the reasons you've noted! Sometimes, it seems the internet brings out the absolute worst in us as a species! xoxoxo

hope said...

Sav: it's beyond frustrating at this point. (And if you read my Update you'll know why my blood pressure went up). Deep down, I keep waiting for the grown ups to show up and do something. Then I look around and see I'm standing in that age group...and nothing is getting done. Thanks for being a source of sanity through this.