SHOULD JOURNALISTS REPORT “LOOTERS?”

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston, ABC News chief national correspondent Tom Llamas suffered massive backlash after notifying police of “looting” taking place. On Twitter, Llamas tweeted “We informed police of the looting and Coast Guard is flying overhead. Multiple officers now on the scene.”

Llamas had reportedly already been in contact with police and mentioned that he saw people with faces covered going into a nearby supermarket. The backlash on Twitter was swift. One user said “What did you imagine the hungry people were taking from the grocery store? Big-screen TVs?” Another said “Your NYC reporter whose family is safe thought cops should protect property instead of rescuing human beings.”

When covering a news event, what are a reporter’s obligations? Should he or she simply stick to reporting? Or do they have some obligation to report what they believe may be a crime taking place? Of course, as Brian Flood pointed out on The Wrap, there may be “a difference between ‘looting’ and grabbing food and supplies to survive a devastating emergency.” What do you think?

Sources: The Wrap via Yahoo.com

Covering a Shooter’s Wife

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This morning NBC News, on its website, featured a quote from the wife of yesterday’s “alleged Fort Hood shooter” as a breaking news headline (see above). Though it may be accurate, it calls to mind other instances in which the media—desperate to get their hands on any bit of information they can—seem to insensitively attack other victims of terrible crimes. For example, in last year’s Boston Marathon bombing case, the media scrutinized Katherine Russell, widow of Tamerian Tsarnaev. At that point, Russell herself—although she was interviewed by authorities—had not been named as a “person of interest,” so the fact that the media followed her so closely seemed uncalled for.

In today’s example, it would seem logical that the wife of the alleged gunman in yesterday’s shooting would not be feeling well and would have been talking to police all night. Was it necessary to report this, let alone as breaking news? Should the wife of the suspect, identified as Ivan Lopez, be entitled to any amount of privacy? How should she be covered by journalists, if at all?

Editor’s Note: The graphic above is a re-creation of the breaking news banner on NBC News’ website. By the time I got around to publishing this post, the original banner had vanished and I was left with a very low resolution screen shot. This re-creation is accurate except for its largely rectangular orientation.