When most of us were children dreaming of entering a noble profession, i.e. journalism, we never dreamed we’d be mistrusted and hated by the time we actually were in it. I won’t bore you with the polls that keep saying we’re lower than used car salesman and (gasp) attorneys. This time it’s about the police and how we change from enemy to friend whenever it’s convenient.
Most of us over the years have respected the wishes of police who would ask on occasion to hold back from releasing information. But this recent sniper situation displayed for all the world to see why journalists are a ‘necessary evil’ in the process of keeping this country safe.
In an investigation that had more than its share of cheap shots taken at journalists by the police chief, it was ultimately journalists and the public who helped solve it. While police were missing notes pinned to trees and not sharing threats against our children, reporters were telling their viewers what they knew. Hurting the investigation? Hardly. Because while police were telling reporters about a white van, reporters were hearing about the old Chevy Caprice over police scanners. And while police had a spy plane, SWAT teams and helicopters searching the area, it took a brave motorist who heard news reports to call police when he spotted the blue Chevy. Baltimore police had even pulled over the former Army expert marksman, but let him go. He killed several more people after that mistake.
This isn’t an attack on police. In my years on the streets as a reporter, the police have usually been very forthright and fair with journalists. But maybe the time has come for some “positive PR” for journalists for a change. Maybe this incident should serve as a reminder that without the media the public would surely be missing out. Our history is filled with everyday heroes who have tipped-off police to catch the uncatchable criminal. In most cases, because they were armed with the crucial information relayed to them by the media. Information we provided, sometimes with the blessing of police, other times without it. When I was News Director at CBS in Albany, New York, we had the only video of the brother and mother of the “Unabomber”. They had told police they felt they knew who he was, after they recognized his “Manifesto”.
Where did they see it? In the newspaper, of course.
© Jim Parisi