Roanoke Times columnist Dan Radmacher’s critique of the Va. Tech media coverage speaks for many, I’m afraid. Key passage:
Tech students interviewed on national television also showed more restraint than I could have mustered, especially a couple who appeared on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now.”
Zahn was trying mightily to get the students to criticize the response of campus police and administrators because of the now infamous two-hour delay between the first two shootings and any notification of students.
Speaking with Jamal Albarghouti, the Palestinian student who took the much-viewed video cellphone footage of police approaching Norris Hall while the sound of shot after shot rang out, Zahn asked, “So, Jamal, how outraged are students tonight that almost two hours and 20 minutes passed from the first shooting where police now admit tonight they thought it was contained, they thought it was a domestic disturbance, they actually were questioning someone they thought was potentially involved in the dorm shooting when the Norris shooting came down?”
Albarghouti admitted some students were angry, but said, “Personally I think the Virginia Tech police did a good job. Unfortunately, many people have died. It’s really easy to come after the accident and say, we should have done something.”
Zahn’s effort to stir up outrage over the Va. Tech police reaction reminds me of Anderson Cooper’s emotional outburst at Sen. Mary Landrieu during Hurricane Katrina. The media still view their coverage of Katrina as a largely successful, highly laudable moment in the history of journalism — the day they “got their spine back” after what their left-wing critics viewed as five years of deferential coverage of the Bush administration. I got the sense last week that many were trying to duplicate that style of emotional, accusational coverage.
The media were wrong to point fingers before all the facts were known during Katrina, and they were wrong to do the same thing last week. The difference, and the reason why the public isn’t buying it this time, is that their target during Katrina — the Bush administration — was at that time entering into a deep decline in popularity, giving the media a large national cheering section as they pinned most of the blame on Bush. This time, they didn’t find a large section of the country with a pre-existing enmity toward their targets, be they the Va. Tech police or the university’s administration. They compounded their folly later in the week by saturating the airwaves with the killer’s lurid self-portrait and deranged manifesto. By Sunday, the students at Virginia Tech were asking them to leave, and many MSM press critics were chastising the way the story was handled. Romenesko has a round-up of their mostly negative reactions.
Here’s another key passage from Radmacher:
I understand the dilemma. This was an important story. It deserved ongoing coverage. But the necessity to keep talking even when there was nothing new to say led to some very disappointing moments.
The most ludicrous was when a local radio anchor asked a reporter on the scene at Virginia Tech, “So, what’s the mood on campus?”
The reporter managed a competent answer. Mine, I fear, would have been along the lines of, “Thirty students have been shot dead. What do you think the mood is on campus?”
Agreed. To me the most ludicrous came when MSNBC’s Alison Stewart, on the phone with a student who had just been shot in the arm, asked him, “How are you feeling?” Duh.