Save Some Outrage for the Murderers
The N.Y. Times and the Washington Post blame everyone but the killers for a reporter's death.


Last week, D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby released a 69-page report on his investigation into Rosenbaum’s death. Though the report does not speculate on whether Rosenbaum might have survived if he had received proper care, it describes an unbroken chain of fatal blunders that began with the fire department’s initial response and continued with Rosenbaum’s treatment at the hospital.

The ambulance crew got lost on the way to the call, failed to notice Rosenbaum’s head wound, then took him to a hospital twice as far as the nearest emergency room. Once at the hospital, Rosenbaum was designated as a low-priority patient and remained on a gurney in a hallway for more than an hour before someone noticed his head wound, the injury that would prove to be fatal.

Willoughby’s report also faulted police officers for their failure to investigate what turned out to be a murder committed during the course of a robbery. They also neglected to search Rosenbaum for identification and failed to complete a report on the incident. Only when it was discovered the following day that Rosenbaum’s credit cards had been used did police realize he had been robbed. Two men were later arrested and charged with Rosenbaum’s murder.

Willoughby’s report paints a picture of an emergency medical system in advanced disarray. Sadly, it took the death of a high-profile victim to bring the system’s many deficiencies to light. Had Rosenbaum been just another D.C. murder victim his death would have aroused little if any interest in the media. But the New York Times and the Washington Post have given extensive news coverage to the case, and on Monday the Post ran an editorial calling for an overhaul of the District’s emergency services. Here is a chilling passage from that editorial:

The significance of the probe extends beyond this case. As [Willoughby’s] report observed, the multiple failures discovered by investigators “have generated concerns . . . about the systemic nature of problems related to the delivery of basic emergency medical services citywide.” In other words, what happened to Mr. Rosenbaum could happen anywhere in the District. The department is infected with “an impaired work ethic that must be addressed before it becomes pervasive,” the inspector general declared.

This is the type of media heat that usually causes heads to roll. Indeed, a member of the ambulance crew that transported Rosenbaum has already been fired, and disciplinary action has been initiated against the two police officers who handled the call. Given the “systemic nature of problems” cited in Willoughby’s report, some are demanding the scalps of people farther up the chains of command in both the police and fire departments. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has been noncommital on the matter, but two candidates running to unseat him have called for the removal of Fire Chief Adrian Thompson.

It should come as no surprise that the District’s emergency services are under a great deal of strain. Washington, D.C. is perennially among the America’s most violent cities, with a murder rate more than five times the national average. Add to this the havoc created by two generations of Kennedys careening about at all hours and you have the ingredients for a complete breakdown.

But for all the well-deserved outrage heaped on emergency workers in the Rosenbaum case, there has been precious little written about the men charged in the murder. On June 16, the New York Times ran a 71-word account from the Associated PRess on the indictment of Michael Hamlin, 23, and Percy Jordan, 42, who were also accused of two other robberies. On April 28, the Washington Post devoted 1,162 words to a story critical of the police for their failures in the Rosenbaum case, and for their lapses in investigaing earlier crimes now linked to the same suspects.

I don’t know a thing about either Hamlin or Jordan other than their ages, but I think I can safely predict what will be discovered should some enterprising reporter arouse sufficient curiosity to delve into their backgrounds. Both men will be revealed to be, as they say in Britain, well known to the police. In Jordan’s case, his criminal record will be shown to be one of staggering opulence, with at least three stretches in prison for violent crimes. No one commits his first robbery at age 42.

It’s all well and good for the New York Times and the Washington Post to harp — however legitimately — on the fatal defects of an emergency-services system, but is it beyond the bounds of their journalistic standards to reserve some of that ink-stained outrage for the men who (allegedly) did the killing?

I’m just asking.

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.