Media circus is as media circus does
The farther someone is from the source, the harder it is to see clearly, said media ethics expert Kelly McBride.
McBride, part of a Florida-based think tank specializing in media studies, said young people seeking television cameras to talk to isn’t the latest thing, and that it also isn’t necessarily the best thing.
Local teen-agers have been paraded before television cameras, radio microphones and print reporters to recite what they know, or think they know, about the Kobe Bryant case and the night he allegedly sexually assaulted a 19-year-old Eagle woman.
“The further away you get from someone who has close knowledge of that individual, the less accurate, reliable or substantive the information is,” said McBride.
The only way to cover a story with a profile like this, McBride said, is to deal with primary sources – those with direct knowledge of what happened.
“If you want information about medicine, you go to the doctor, not to the receptionist,” said McBride. “If you want information about the individuals involved, you should seek out people who have a reason to know information, rather than a reason to just spout off.”
With each pronouncement, reporters are off chasing a new set of rumors before someone else gets it first. Most of those rumors, though, lack substance or basis in fact.
“There’s a sensationalism about the quest that doesn’t necessarily lead journalists to the facts of the matter,” said McBride.
McBride said the William Kennedy Smith case of 1991 was very similar to this case. Smith met a woman at either a party or a bar, and they ended up back at one of the Kennedy compound beach houses.
She accused him of raping her. He claimed it was consensual.
It became known as the “Blue Dot Trial.” During the televised proceedings she was concealed by a blue dot on the television screen.
Smith was acquitted.
Many people in that area had opinions, and many weren’t shy about sharing them with the media collected to cover the story.
The same dynamic, McBride said, applies in Eagle.
“Friends and hangers on are coming forth with statements that seem informative but don’t check out,” said McBride. “I don’t know that reporters are checking the veracity that these kids are saying.”
What friends, and those who call themselves friends. are saying is part of a broader statement about how the coverage has been prurient and voyeuristic, said McBride.
“I don’t know that there’s much that will stop it,” she said.
Individuals can take the responsibility that some journalists are not going to objectively portray what they say, McBride said. She said people being interviewed can demand to know how their words will be used, and in what context.
A reputable journalist, said McBride, will tell them the truth.
“It’s the journalists’ responsibility to determine when a person is telling the truth or being unfair,” said McBride. “The journalists should be the ones to sift out irresponsible comments.”
Opinions on parade
The parade of local teen-agers to the television lights finally slowed when the teen-agers started getting bored with it – more so when the alleged victim’s mother put out a call for her daughter’s friends to stop talking to the media.
Most did, although it took a few days for all the interviews to cycle through various print and broadcast outlets.
Locals said most journalists have been responsible and fair, and the national journalists continually marvel at how friendly the locals have been toward them.
Still, a few locals who granted interview requests were given a quick awakening about how the things they said can sometimes be portrayed. A one-hour interview could be slashed to a few sound bites, which left little to context. Eagle has been described as “torn,” “united,” “sleepy,” “hopping,” “racist,” and “balanced.”
One of the victim’s closest friends put a sign on the front door of her house, reading: “To the members of the media: You’re welcome to leave your business card, but at this point we’re respecting the victim’s family’s wishes to not do any more interviews.”
“A few producers will leave their business cards and proposals, but it’s slowing down,” said L.D. Alderson. “Once you say no, most people understand that. Some, though, have to be asked what part of “no’ they don’t understand.”
One reporter from a Front Range daily dug in for 45 minutes, refusing to leave.
“I finally yelled at him, “You’re the reason I have a sign on my door!'” said Alderson. “Larry King called. Not some producer, but Larry King himself. It didn’t take as long get rid of him as it did the print guy.”
The best, said Alderson, are those who jump out of their rental cars and wave like they were at a family reunion.
“I just look at them and think to myself, “I know you. You’re from that techno Woodstock across the street from the courthouse.”