“Show up and shut up.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner was my guest for a PBS series on God in America, and this was his condensed version of advice for those who would comfort the grieving.
It ought to circulate around the halls of American broadcast media for once again there were no boundaries the collective media would respect in the aftermath of the murders in Newtown, Conn.
The rush to assemble a media mob is now expected and the ratings consequences to the networks of ignoring such a horror are no doubt enormous, but the intrusion into the awful grief of the families of the victims is itself sickening.
Each of the little ones had parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins and friends, all of them reacting with the worst sort of grief anyone can feel: the loss of a child. The sudden, unexpected loss of adults to violence is awful enough, but there is simply nothing worse than the massacre of children.
So the American and indeed international media went into overdrive and Friday through today there is hardly nothing but the wrenching backdrop of a small Connecticut town on any of the channels that carry “news.”
But it isn’t news. News is the collapse of Egyptian freedom, the slaughter in Syria and the stalemate in Washington. The “coverage” of Newton’s sorrow is voyeurism, and so much of it has been just plain wrong. The killer’s mother wasn’t a teacher. He forced his way in, he wasn’t buzzed in to the school. He didn’t leave his rifle in the truck.
We have to hope he didn’t mail NBC a copycat-inspiring video as did the Virginia Tech killer, a video which NBC quickly and unrepentantly aired. Ratings requires all and forgives all.
We don’t, however, have to overlook the moral preening of Betsy Fischer Martin, the executive producer of NBC’s Meet the Press, who thought it appropriate on Sunday morning — 36 hours after the slaughter — to tweet out “BTW we reached out to ALL 31 pro-gun rights Sens in the new Congress to invite them to share their views on @meetthepress — NO takers.”
Do you get the moral superiority conveyed there, standing atop the horrible ruins and “Shouting look at us!” I am waiting for @MeetThePress to run a roundtable on whether the network ought to have aired that Virginia Tech tape and whether the attention lavished on the killers spawns more killers. I am hereby reaching out to all NBC execs to come on my show this week and discuss whether their editorial “choices” lead to more massacres.
Other broadcast giants quickly fell into their familiar routines. The debate over this plan or that proposal erupted within an hour or two and hasn’t stopped since. An odious congressman or two thought it a good time to get their names known. Incredible.
What a ghoulish trade, and no wonder Americans loathe the media. Few go near real danger — Jake Tapper and Rajiv Chandrasekaran are exceptions — but many think nothing of descending on carnage once the yellow tape is up and the hotels booked.
They will move on in three or four days time, just as they did after Sandy, leaving even their neighbors in the dark and the cold. That is how they roll.
And when they leave, the real friends and the real comfort as much as is possible will still be there. “Show up and shut up.”
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.