Friday, December 23, 2005
Why media covers disasters, violence and misery.
This post is somewhat of a response to my brothers at Second City Cop. http://secondcitycop.blogspot.com/2005/12/final-thought-on-stupid-stuff.html Some over there have questioned the gathering and posting of the photos of the Southwest Airlines crash at Midway airport. No, the posted pictures are not in any way offensive. However the posting of the pictures with officers posing, on the Internet was a questionable career move. Let's move on to my response here...
First of all, humans are curious about monumental events in the lives of people living in our world. It's natural to want to see and learn what went wrong that took or affected people's lives. We created and supported news organizations from the first day the Gutenberg press first rolled over newsprint. That has not changed since. Of course with the changes to technology, still-cameras, radio, film and today video cameras have entered our lives. They are all here to stay, quite simply because society demands their presence. The multi-billion dollar media outfits will be around as long as there are people.
There will always be attempts by forces to prevent others from seeing, learning or experiencing human events. They are the forces of censorship that want to control what we see and think. When we started this country our founders saw value in a free press and the flow of information we passed back and forth to each other. They made that protection the very first right in our Bill of Rights.
Nobody has a right to degrade or humiliate people in tragic events. The correct, and charitable thing to do is show basic respect for our fellow man. We rightfully question the media about whether they're exploiting a disaster or simply gathering images and information that the public wants to and has a right to see. There is no easy answer but the guidance given to us by the founders seems to be correct. Let them gather the news in peace.
As for cops keeping their own files and images, it's their choice and right to do just that. I really wish I kept so much more of that stuff that I could put into books or screenplays in my life after law enforcement. I was at the scene of countless homicides, major crimes, court proceedings, autopsies and alike. Cases like deaf, mute Donald Lang who killed two west side hookers; John Wayne Gacy's deeds and many long forgotten but not less important events were in my life.
I was one of the very first responding officers to 400 West Touhy Ave right next the Chicago Police Canine Center at O'Hare Airport on May 25th, 1979 15:15 hours. That was when and where American Airlines, flight 191 crashed. My partner and I were on days and only to be held over in order to bag bodies and dismembered parts until 04:00 hours the next morning. We saw most of the 273 souls close up and personal. There was a mix of officers, from the Cook County Sheriff's police who had jurisdiction on that county island, Chicago Police, Cook County Forest Preserve Police along with some Illinois State Troopers. The FBI, NTSB and FAA had people there too.
Along with who needed to be there were the tourists. A newly elected Mayor, Jane Byrne was gingerly walking among the corpses in her not so sensible shoes with the newly appointed police Superintendent, Richard Brzeczek at her side. Blond haired, blue eyed, Assistant States Attorney Terry Sullivan was wandering around and to this day I still don't have a clue what official function he had at the crash site. So was a Black postal inspector who claimed he was looking for mail.
I won't call him a tourist because he had a legitimate job to do, but I damn near arrested pushy, WMAQ newsman Dick Kay. Kay would not get his big cubic feet off the crash debris and stay out of our way. I did not care that he and his crew filmed the site; I just wanted him to back up about 50 or 100 feet. He finally got the message and began to retreat as I was removing my handcuffs from their case.
We broke into teams of three. One would do paper, another would take pictures and one would bag. We pounded stakes into the ground where we removed the remains and give the stake and body bag corresponding numbers.
I personally bagged the cockpit crew. I remember seeing the name, Lux marked by a blue ballpoint pen on the inside of an American Airline Hart, Scfaffner & Marx uniform jacket. That was Pilot Walter Lux's jacket. I remember how difficult it was to untangle him and the co-pilot from the many miles of cockpit instrument wire that surrounded them.
Many of us coped with our gallows humor especially when our food finally arrived. They brought us 2000 pieces of Brown's extra crispy fried chicken. Imagine eating your fried chicken being surrounded by so many badly burned corpses.
When our supervisors released us our cars were surrounded by hundreds of others since we got their first. We simply left our keys in the ignitions and those cars just sat there for days.
It took an entire week for the smell of burning jet fuel to leave my sinuses. My uniform was destroyed along with a brand new pair of shoes that were cut to ribbons by shreds of aircraft aluminum.
Ask yourself what the real benefit of having a disaster shown to the world by the media? If the people fortunate enough not to be involved know and see images of the event, they may become sympathetic and want to aid the victims. Imagine if there was no front row coverage of the carnage of the 9/11 attack or Hurricane Katrina? How would the Red Cross and other outfits get the support they need to help the victims? How would we know a criminal justice system has problems when murderers and rapists are released on early paroles? By simply going back to the original press coverage we soon learn the crime was brutal and disgusting.
There is no harm in documenting or sharing misery, death and destruction with our fellow human beings. We're all in this together and none of us are getting out alive.
Humor is not lost on my friends at Second City Cop. They have found additional pictires of our lady copper mugging in front of major events.
Here is a video about the crash of AA Flight 191