Life, Death and Local News
I spent 14 years as a news reporter, anchor and later investigative reporter for NBC. I began at a tiny ABC station in Bozeman, Montana when I was about 22 or 23. I was sent out on live shots to every imaginable kind of newsworthy event. I covered snowstorms, thunderstorms, car accidents, a school shooting, elections and a whole lot of human interest stories.
I did some stories that I considered to be in fairly hostile territory, including an in depth report on the Ku Klux Klan in Southern Ohio. I sometimes wondered if I might get punched in the face. And one time I had an angry man try to run me and my photographer over with a pickup truck for covering a secretive cult. I don’t think however I was ever truly in fear for my life.
Today something happened I had considered a possibility over the past few weeks. I thought on a few occasions how easy it would be to pick off a reporter on live TV in pursuit of some twisted political goal. I mean would anyone have been surprised if a reporter had been shot in the name of Jihad or get run over by rioters in the streets? I certainly wouldn’t have been and I don’t think you would have either.
Having said that I was still stunned when the news of a double homicide on live TV buzzed through my cell phone. 24 year old reporter Alison Parker and 27 year old cameraman Adam Ward were gunned down in Moneta, Virginia during a routine morning report at a lake and marina.
The killer Vester Lee Flanagan himself a former reporter at the station also videotaped the shooting, holding a cellphone as he carried out the methodical murders. His video was later posted on Twitter and Facebook pages registered to "Bryce Williams," showing the shooter walking up to the victims and standing a few feet away while holding the weapon. The three, in the midst of a live TV interview, do not seem to notice the gunman, who doesn't start shooting until Ward points the camera at Parker and her interview subject.
This is where we enter territory we have no business. Several websites posted the ‘selfie snuff film’ for all to see. Where is this ok? Why is this ok? The simple answer is, it’s not ok. There is not one bit of justification for this disgusting display of callousness. These two young people lay dead only a short time before the internet lit up with the gut wrenching images of them being gunned down by an evil man.
I say evil because I will not for a minute allow for the easy out of “well he was insane”. He obviously had serious issues but he knew exactly what he was doing and carried out the plot to assassinate two former co-workers with enough precision to pull it off.
Flanagan claimed he was a target of ridicule because he was a gay black man but those that terminated him from the station say more accurately he was a hothead that “wasn’t very good” at the job of being a reporter.
Vester Lee Flanagan, later killed himself along a Virginia highway some time after apparently faxing a 23-page manifesto of sorts to an ABC network news office. Flanagan blamed his rage on the June 17 shootings of nine black worshipers in a Charleston, S.C., church, grievances he had while working as a reporter with the two victims and discrimination he claimed he faced. Those allegations were thrown out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for having no merit.
The sad thing is that newsrooms around America and the world, large and small lit up today to cover the story of the fallen journalists. News directors love this kind of thing, it’s true. These are the men and women who send reporters and photographers into the eye of the storm for a point or two in the ratings book. They will deny it but trust me they don’t care about anything but the ratings book.
Reporters meanwhile will be looking over their shoulders for awhile and it’s too bad because now they may well become the targets of copy cat killers. I mean I am sure there is a disturbed soul out there tonight trying to figure out how he can kill more people on live TV than the last guy.