Saturday, December 15, 2012

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unspeakableadjectiveunspeakable delightsindescribablebeyond description,inexpressibleunutterableindefinableunimaginable, unspeakable crimehorrificawfulappallingdreadful,horrifyinghorrendousabominablefrightfulfearful,shockingghastlygruesomemonstrousheinousegregious,deplorabledespicableexecrablevile.

When an inexpressibly sad, shocking or horrific event happens -- an unspeakable act -- there's no need to speak.

Some dignified silence on television would have been merciful following the appalling Newtown murder of children. But no, television being what it is these says, there had to be verbiage, and lots of it, to fill the time.

Perhaps the most egregious way to approach the unapproachable was conducted by ABC news, personified by Diane Sawyer and Chris Cuomo.  With few facts to report, they shamelessly inserted themselves into the story.

"Look at my monumental humanity and empathy," they seemed to be broadcasting. As the old joke goes, once you can fake sincerity you've got it made. 

During the quaint days of real  journalism, reporters were required to be objective. That meant that no reporter was to insert his or her feelings into a story.

If the story is so horrible it leaves you without words, think of some words. That's what you were being paid for. 

Under no circumstances could you have turned in a few pages about how there was no way to express the story. Describing your own horror: no. Revealing the weakness of your vocabulary: no.

But what viewers got instead was an unctuous Chris Cuomo "interviewing" a young girl about the shootings. In self-conscious fake felicity he put words in her mouth, expressed self-conscious  concern for her, and generally scaled the heights of bathos.

WTNH was better, by a little. No one at channel 8 could apparently stomach the false sincerity of Sawyer or Cuomo. 
What our local news men and women did was sincere, but clunky.

 That evening was not the time to reflect on your own children over the cable. Or how as a parent you could imagine the terror or grief (You could not possibly).  Or how difficult your job is. Or what a strain you are under. Or how devastated you are. Or how you are coping with unspeakable tragedy.

By doing so, they converted the story into themselves. 

It's not necessary to tell viewers that 20 kindergarten kids being shot methodically by a deranged man is worse than horrible. 

But that was the easiest way to fill time, and given the usual undermanned staff that newspapers and television stations have acquired,  doing any more would have been difficult. What more?

Ideally, find a story.

 That's what you're being paid to do. If that cannot be done, how about a few blessed minutes of video without commentary? Show, don't tell. 

And by that, I mean do not show how slick you are, or how well you can simulate humanity. Enlighten. Disseminate some news.  State Police spokesman  Lt. Paul Vance was the clearest-headed person at the scene, and had a monopoly on useful, real information. 

He explained cogently why details were scarce. If anyone was listening, he said that the crime scene had to be thoroughly examined, and evidence had to be preserved.

Maybe someone could have asked him why.

That crime scene was incredibly complicated and traumatic to the men and women who were collecting shell casings, or some other nightmarish, grisly task.

 Do we need to know the path of each round, or what type of ammunition was used? Those kinds of details seem pointless. However, there might have been compelling forensic reasons for doing so. 

When a spokesman is orders of magnitude sharper, clearer, more articulate and  well composed than the reporters at the scene of a crisis, something is wrong. 

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