I just finished reading Peter Andrews’s article “The Press” (October). I found it extremely interesting on the historical background of how we’ve come to the journalism that we, as readers and consumers, are forced to endure on a daily basis. But while I enjoyed the article, I take one exception: the author’s asking the readers of newspapers “to develop a bit of patience with newspaper coverage.”
For twenty years as a police officer I have been in a position to watch how our local and sometimes regional papers and electronic media can butcher a story, get it completely inaccurate, or simply lie. Once, for instance, my partner nearly lost a very serious and delicate rape investigation because an uncaring reporter and an indifferent editor decided to run a piece about the suspect.
You see, the suspect was the father of the two victims. Although the newspaper did not print the victims’ names, it printed his and revealed that the victims were his daughters. Both of them were in high school. You can imagine the problems this caused.
More recently, a local paper attacked county firefighters for their lengthy response time in getting to the scene of an accident in which the victim burned to death, citing mileage and driving times that were completely inaccurate. The editorial writer did not take the trouble to drive the distances himself, but used a map and as-the-crow-flies reckoning.
I’ve seen many other reporters who had the ability to get the information fail to do so and print erroneous stories and editorials that immediately affected the lives of those involved. When later the stories were found to be wrong, there was nary an apology, only a small retraction buried somewhere in the paper.
If I had brought such a brash and cavalier attitude to my job, I would have made many more sensational arrests, but I also would have had a great many more of them thrown out of court. I had to get the facts straight, put them down in a logical sequence in a report, and have it read by a superior and the district attorney before I could get a warrant for a felon’s arrest.
What is wrong with having a reporter do the same thing? I still believe that a free and independent press is one of the best things this country has, yet that freedom is handled by reporters and their papers in such a nonchalant way that I sometimes wonder if they realize the awesome power and responsibility they have.