This morning I woke up and started catching up on a few TV shows I keep tabs on during the week. Around 9am, after going through a number of them, I put the TV on the local stations. Instead of seeing the usual chat-fests I saw local reporters a lot less chipper than they normally are on the coffee and go morning news. There had been a shooting at a local high school, Independence High School in Glendale, AZ. The story was a developing one, which meant every local station was trying to be the first with new nuggets of information but since it was an ongoing story new information in the chaotic situation was slow to come out. Most of the broadcast in those first few hours were of reporters standing around, relying either on bystanders to give them information from kids at the school, who were getting their information from social media, or speculating among themselves what little information they had fit into the larger picture.
I know the drive to want to be first with breaking news is a big motivator for news coverage. The big events, either positive or negative, are the things that can make or break a news organization. What is frustrating for me in watching breaking news events is there isn’t really a lot of newsworthy information that comes out during a fast moving story. Rumors spreads faster than facts in these situations and something that isn’t thought about much in the speed of getting information put out on the news is the newsroom and the officials dealing with an incident are so concerned with covering their bases that they can overlook or, if you want to be cynical about it, scrub information to fit an agenda.
OK, it can sound a bit conspiratorial to think the media might be scrubbing information on a news story. I’m not even suggesting there is a nefarious reason for doing this. The editing of some information, and I’ll use that term so it’s less conspiracy feeling, may be done for no other reason than to spare exposing moral and social issues the station or officials may think are too sensitive for the public to deal with in the rush of the story.
Of course, there is good reason to be cautious of what narrative that is brought out in an evolving story. Think of the incident in San Bernardino a few months ago, where a Muslim couple shot people at a company holiday party. The press, from the very beginning, and this is before anyone knew who the perpetrators were, tried to downplay the possibility this was a terrorist shooting. I remember the first information I heard about it speculated it was an office rage issue. I get why this might be a good way to go considering the national climate. If the press had speculated this was a terrorist act sponsored by a foreign group, people would have lost their minds. The French shooting was fresh on everyone’s minds and a step in the wrong direction could have pushed opportunistic people to manipulate the situation further into possible policies and actions that could have longstanding implications for the country. Yes, I’m talking to you Homeland Security and NSA.
Now, that is the extreme on one end. The issue I see in the case of this local shooting is what I would consider an opposite reaction. The complication in this case is the shooting involves children, teenagers to be more precise but children in the eyes of society. In the early stages of the news story, from when I saw it at 9am, there wasn’t much information given by reporters, saying it was a fluid story, but in retrospect, going over the information they were giving out and the means they had to go through to get that information, it was obvious they knew more than they were passing on to the public. The reason why I say this, and it’s something crazy to think about, is that the information from social media at the time, in hindsight, was more up to date than what reporters were giving to the public. Well before it was officially announced at the press conference around 10:30am, I saw social media feeds saying that two female students were dead on the campus and that one gun was found near them. Reporters hinted two people were shot but didn’t give the status of them. What was the big issue leading up to the official announcement by officials was reporters were talking to parents and friends, who were talking via smartphones to student who were in lockdown in the school and they were giving information, admittedly based on unverified information, that turned out to be spot on.
What was learned by the pieced together information reporters had from conversations with people who were in communication with students was the two female students were lovers, and it could have been a suicide pact or a lover’s quarrel, and the results were that this was a murder/suicide. Being that the incident happened, for all purposes, on Valentine’s Day, made some speculate, and this was information from students on smartphones, that the two girls were having problems with coming out to others (others meaning adults/parents) and in Romeo and Juliet fashion decided to be together in death.
Now, at 10 am this was pure speculation in the sense that officials and reporters didn’t go with this scenario. It was pretty evident by the way reporters and officials dealt with the information released, the speculation was probably true. Since then, and I started working on this article at 4:30pm, the reports I have seen from numerous news outlets have done their best to minimize the reasons for the shooting. This has only served to make the story very confusing with the information they have released. With all the hours passed, the story is two girls were found dead with a gun near them. There is no reason for the shooting.
What I have seen the local news do during this story is promote information that will make this story an ‘it can happen to anyone’ kind of story. Experts have been called upon in studios to talk about how parents should monitor their kids’ activity on social media, how they should look for warning signs in their kids for disturbing behavior and to see who their kids are friends with. Images I have seen, and from a media point of view I can see why the shots are golden, are of people wandering around with red, heart shaped balloons, clutching stuffed animals and carrying red roses. It’s the contrast of Valentine’s Day, a school where parents believe their kids should be safe, and the anguish of another shooting that can happen to your kid.
Alright, after all that I have written above, at 5:30pm, one of the stations confirmed what social media had speculated. The police confirmed there was a suicide note, it was a murder/suicide and the two girls were ‘close friends.’ OK, for me the last part of the statement was a dodge by the police, which is why I used the quote they used in the statement, but they confirmed the obvious; the girls were lovers.
The reason why I have been slightly angry with the coverage of this story is I see coverage in stories like this try to present something that is palatable to a wide audience rather than give information that can open the eyes to people of a broader factor. I understand these were two teenage girls in love, but if this were a heterosexual teenage couple the news would have called it that as soon as they had information on this. They wouldn’t have been ‘close friends.’ There was a teenage couple from Phoenix that went missing a week or two ago and they weren’t called ‘friends’ in the press. They were referred to as a romantic couple, boyfriend and girlfriend.
I’m really sorry that parents feel it’s necessary to block ‘children’ from things the parents feel unconformable about but treating what they are uncomfortable with as a stigma and something not to talk about is not getting the right information to the public and especially in ways of dealing with such tragedies. Maybe if the girls didn’t feel it was them against the world maybe they wouldn’t have felt the need to do the murder/suicide. If I were to speculate the worse, that this was a break up gone wrong, could it be possible that one girl felt the other was so unique because she was a woman who had the same feelings she had, that she could have been worried that there were no other girls like her in school so if she lost ‘the love of her live’ she would never find love again? Yes, that scenario is the basis of every break up, but if you are homosexual and your social circle has you pegged as odd and you find whom you think is the one person who gets you, if that person wants to move on what does that do to your self-worth?
See, we can say it gets better to people but it’s one thing to offer that advice to a 30-year-old, it’s quite another to expect a teenager, in the middle of ‘raging hormones,’ to understand that things are going to get better. If we as adults continue to shy away from being honest, open and accepting of all people, it will be harder to cope with such tragedies with the honestly needed.