Friday, July 22, 2011

The Media: Giving Hero Status to Killers

The days of Walter Cronkite delivering the nightly news during the dinner hour is but a distant memory. As a matter of fact, so is the family dinner hour; both replaced by "George Jetson" like technology . The cartoon, once a Saturday morning favorite in the early 1960's, featured everything from automatic buttons for prepared foods to hand held communication devices at a time when technology was in its infancy.

Although Walter Cronkite died in 2009, the integrity in which he delivered world news was important. For many Americans across the county during his television rein, he was the voice of integrity and trust. The world watched as he informed the country, removing his glasses, on live television as he tried to maintain his composure shortly after President John F. Kennedy was killed. In covering crimes like serial killer Richard Speck who killed 8 nurses in 1966, Cronkite delivered the tragic lives of Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo, and Valentina Pasion with respect and human compassion. The victims of Specks crimes received attention, because they were important; the killer took a back seat in the news reporting of the murders. It was a time when the country cared about their neighbors. It was a time when you actually knew your neighbor and everyone who lived in your community.

With technology, our country, in my opinion, has lost everything we once held sacred. The newspapers have been replaced by the Internet and various social media sites. Criminals are now given hero like status on the major news networks. Victims who have fallen prey to killers are lost someplace in the headlines of 5 second sound bites. Talking heads have replaced serious journalists and reporters. And family members looking for loved ones or seeking justice believe that a mention or an on camera interview via Skype or in a studio from another location will get them closer to justice.

We have allowed what news we receive to be spoon feed to us without any regard for accountability. The days of Walter Cronkite have been replaced by scripted sound bites.

Don't get me wrong, a segment or a mention on CNN, HLN, the morning shows, The Huffington Post and others is great, but we need to also be more accountable in allowing that brand of reporting not to dictate outcomes and make criminals into celebrities.

How in the world do we go from watching a mother stand trial for murder of an innocent child to debating how much they will receive for exclusive book deals and appearances? In my opinion, the media opens the door for those types of opportunities and we fuel them when we watch the same rodeo circus on television, click a page on an Internet site or leave a comment of outrage.

On my radio show "Time's Up" we spoke with network television reporter and producer Steph Watts. He discussed what goes on behind the camera and how cases receive news coverage. Watts also offers sound advice for families of missing persons to receive attention in their cases.

The world of ever changing media and technology can be a vital tool in every aspect of our lives. But with that comes responsibility to us as consumers, our families, neighbors and community.


Susan Murphy Milano is a staff member of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education. She is a specialist with intimate partner violence prevention strategies and high risk cases and available for personal consultations through the Institute.

Susan is the author of "Time's Up: A Guide on How to Leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships," Moving out, Moving on, and Defending Out Lives. Susan is the host of The Susan Murphy Milano Show, "Time's Up!" . She is a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated "The Roth Show" with Dr Laurie Roth and a co-host on Crime Wire.

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