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Why the Media Must Talk About Sandy Hook

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~ George Santayana

I was listening to National Public Radio Monday afternoon when they aired a story about Noah Pozner, the youngest victim in the Sandy Hook shooting. Noah was a twin and the story highlighted how he and his twin sister were inseparable and how he was an inquisitive and spirited child.

At the end of the story, the reporter said the Noah's family chose to open the services to the public. They felt that would help the community and the family to heal. Additionally, Rabbi Shaul Praver, who officiated Monday's service, said Noah's mom wanted to share his story. They wanted people to know about him; they wanted people to remember him.

"They wanted to scream it from the rooftops: 'My little boy, you know, he was a beautiful boy. And I want to tell you all about it,'" Praver says in the NPR story, discussing the family's decision. "'I want you to see what he looks like and be part of our grief, because everyone that shares, maybe helps carry it a little bit.'"

It is stories like this that make me stand so strongly on my soapbox. The role of the media is to tell the story. We should do so respectfully, and with grace and compassion. If a grieving family does not want to talk, we should kindly offer our condolences and quietly walk away.

But when a family wants the world to know about their loved one, when they are desperately seeking for someone to tell the story, that is our job. It is what we do.

Long ago I came to terms with telling the terrible stories. And it was a column in the Chicago Tribune that I still have that got me there. It said (I am paraphrasing) that we take a story that would tell the public of the death of a nameless, faceless human being and make it a story about a person with a name and a face and family. It’s not enough to just stand witness to the tragedy. I have to try my best to tell the stories that need to be told from the people who want them to be told.

I've grown weary reading all the criticisms on social media about what the news reporters are or are not doing. First, the public took them to task because they were reporting the name of the shooter. That in doing so, the media is making him famous and somehow that makes the media responsible for the deaths of 26 people.

But then, when reporters dug into the stories of the people who lost their lives, we were criticized as heartless. I saw more than one person say that we should pack up our trucks and leave Newtown so that people can mourn in peace.

People mourn in different ways. And certainly, if someone wants peace and quiet, they should be entitled to it. But there has to be someone on hand to tell the stories of the people of that town to the others in the world. Especially if it will help them to heal.

I cannot say for sure how I would react. I am the mom to two wonderful, vivacious little boys. I hope I never have to find out how I would react. Maybe I would tell the reporters to get the (insert expletive) out of my face. Or, maybe I would be the first one in line telling the rest of the world what wonderful children I have so they can understand what a tragedy it would be if they were gone.

Stories about tragedy have to be shared. It was like that with the Holocaust. It was like that with 9-11. It is like that with every school shooting and public killing to which we bear witness.

We should be talking about the people who are mourning. We should be praying (or meditating or sending good energy and love, whatever your traditions say) for the families and the town and the country. We should talk about gun control in a constructive way and debate whether it would have made a difference. And we definitely should talk about what we can do as a country to take away the stigma of mental health care and talk about how we can help those who desperately need it.

There is one thing we absolutely cannot do. We cannot stand silent and watch a tragedy unfold. We cannot bear witness and not allow it to affect us. We cannot stand idly by while others have lost their precious children or mothers or fathers. Hug your kids tighter. Fight for better solutions. Ask the questions that need to be asked. Do something. 

Marilyn Donovan December 18, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Dawn: You reported this beautifully, and should be very proud of it. You didn't delve into the personal lives of the victims, but you touched on remembering those that were lost (Noah). A good reporter knows or should know when to question people or how to question. Good article, Dawn. Marilyn Donovan
Mouse December 18, 2012 at 03:28 PM
The media talks about it because it makes a lot of money talking about it. In fact, the media lives for these kinds of disasters. You can bet that some producer at CNNFOXMSNBC practically wet themselves in glee when this happened, and some bean counter went to bed with a big smile on his face. Turn off the TV.
John Walliser December 18, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Hello Dawn, My name is John Walliser. I have a history of champioing environmental and transportation issues as well as corruption here in Will County. I've had more than my share of media exposure in the past and also recieved media training with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. I know that the media caters to certain news stories designed to generate public interest and a media share. However, over time this methodology creates a world view that is nothing less than myopic. Just as with 9/11, the public becomes focused upon an event to the exclusion of the suffering that occurs each and every day. Joseph Campbell said that one must joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world. This is the essence of a Buddhist or spiritual philosophy. Every day children die from starvation, over 600 murders in the City of Chicago per year, thousands of traffic fatalities, more people have been sentenced to death wrongfully in Illinois than have died in this present catastrophy. Each and every life carries the same importance and focussing on a sensational event to the exclusion of daily events only serves to minimize the tragedies that occur each and everyday that we have learned to ignore. . The victims of this latest tragedy are no more significant than any other life that the world continues to suffer on a daily, if not minute by minute time scale.
Jeanne December 18, 2012 at 07:36 PM
The media should not sensationalize these stories. Why did the killer target a public place? children? So he could be remembered as a "horrible monster". If he quietly took his life in own home, he would receive no attention in his death.

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