‘We need dirty laundry’
I’m Just Sayin’
by SHEILA SMITH
“I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something – something I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry”
Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”
I will be the first to admit: some media outlets behave like a pack of rabid dogs that feed on kittens. Sure, there are times the stories are as mundane as “tax collections in May up two percent” or “council asking residents to preserve water during drought.” But sometimes, the media just has to have the upper hand. Sometimes, the media thinks too highly of itself.
Additionally, the media is a member of corporate America and wants its money. Sure, the media wants high ratings and subscriptions but even more than that, it wants advertising dollars. Is it always about keeping the public informed? Absolutely not. Sometimes, it’s about bragging rights and money.
You might think that’s coldhearted and unethical, but the only way the media’s methods work is because the public enables those tactics. As much as reporters love dirty laundry, readers and viewers love it even more. It’s a partnership created in hell.
I thought about this over the weekend while following local coverage of the search for Mickey Shunick, 22, who has been missing from Lafayette since May 19. Mickey’s image and story is everywhere – local newspapers and television stations, national news networks, online social networks and more.
But this weekend, one local news station showed its ugly side and as a reporter and supporter of the search for Mickey, I was infuriated for the Shunick family and friends and the integrity of responsible journalists.
With a number of rumors already flooding the community, this station – in its latest kindergarten attempt to be “first” – released information about Mickey’s bike being located near the Whiskey Bay exit before anyone had a chance to react. The Lafayette Police Department (LPD) had not released an official statement or officially confirmed the find. The Shunick family and their supporters, who have done an amazing job at keeping people updated on the search and volunteers efforts via Facebook, were even referring to the station’s claim as rumor because they had yet to be told this information was fact.
To the station, all that mattered was being the first to report a story. Forget the family that has absolutely no answers in the sudden disappearance of a precious young woman. Forget the communities torn apart and paralyzed with fear by her disappearance. Forget the LPD’s excellent handling of keeping the media and public informed on this case.
This station just had to be first. It was at least 30 minutes before two other local news stations took the responsible route, made contact with LPD officials and quoted an actual police officer when confirming Mickey’s bike had been found.
I can’t place the blame solely on the news station (which most recently aired a series on an erotic novel’s effects on sales at a local porn store – great reporting. Pays homage to the great journalists that came before us like Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, etc. Important story, too. I know sometimes while reading up on the local economy I wonder, “Is the porn store making a profit?” Because if the porn stores fail, we might as well pack up and migrate west.)
No, the reason the station was able to gain pass for this – and its other reporting styles – is because of the people who like trash news. I was blown away: the Shunick family and supporters issued a statement through their Facebook page asking that the public only depend on information coming straight from the LPD or the family’s page, because at that time, no one had officially confirmed that the bike in question belonged to Mickey.
People actually began defending the news station on the family’s page! One person even suggested that the person in charge of the page was “too close emotionally” to the case.
Really? The page is run by friends and family of the victim and you think they are “too close emotionally”? Honestly, if I actually knew where I could have found that person, I would have driven to their house, kicked them in the face, then made coffee in their own kitchen while waiting for law enforcement to arrive.
Other people added that they wholeheartedly supported the news station and always trusted its findings (because if there are two things in this world you should live by, it’s the Bible and the media – trust me, you should cling to the first one and the first one only).
But these are the same people who have been posting theories and demanding answers on their personal networking sites and the networking sites of local stations and newspapers.
When the LPD released images recently of a vehicle seen in the same area as Mickey at the time of her disappearance, the agency hoped someone would recognize the vehicle. Instead, the super sleuths came out like insects: “It has a silver fuel cap.” “It has rims…they need to check local rim shops.” “Have they considered contacting a dealership to identify the make and model?” “Have they taken this photo to auto body shops?” “How long have they had these pictures? Why are they only releasing them now?”
It was the same when the LPD confirmed Mickey’s bike was found.
“They need to search that area.” “There are cameras at that exit … they need to check those cameras.”
Really? Any rookie cop involved in this investigation could have made the same evaluations. If there are two things cops know, it’s makes and models of vehicles. They also know to search the area where evidence is found. They also know to check cameras.
In fact, middle school students are familiar with those tactics.
But just like the television station had to be first with the news, members of the public want to feel important, too. They want a piece of the dirty laundry so they can have their name in the spotlight.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, LPD, Louisiana State Police, EQUUsearch and other agencies are working this case. They know far more about investigating than people who sit behind computers and play Inspector Gadget. If you have valid information, the cops need and want it; if you have suggestions or opinions, you are just playing “Crime Scene Investigation” and wasting time that could be spent finding Mickey.
This isn’t a Hollywood movie; a real human being is missing and, as far as has been revealed, no one has any idea what happened to her. People are grieving her absence. Every law enforcement officer on this case is under extreme pressure to find leads and, most importantly, Mickey.
Whether a news organization or a member of the public, no one has the right to information in this case before Mickey’s loved ones. Furthermore, any reporter or news agency that disregards that fact through its reporting tactics is making the bold statement that it’s all about getting dirty laundry, not getting the public to understand the facts.
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