Skip to comments.Velez story: What happens when sensitive story gets more sensitive
Posted on 08/04/2006 8:28:19 AM PDT by CedarDave
The story about Andrew Velez, the Army specialist from Lubbock who died in Afghanistan, was tragic.
Then it got worse this week ... leading to a number of long discussions in The A-J's newsroom on how to handle the story.
This column normally runs in Sunday's paper, but it's in today's paper because I wanted you to know why:
We're reporting Andrew's suicide.
Why we knew about it for a number of days and held the story.
How we decided to handle coverage of the idiotic protesters from that sad "church" in Kansas who came here Thursday to protest Andrew's memorial service.
Terry Greenberg I was on vacation the week we reported Andrew's death, the second of Roy Velez's sons to in die in the War on Terror. I speak for everyone at The A-J when I say our hearts go out to this family.
A few days after our initial stories on Andrew, we published a short story a week ago today saying officials were looking into Andrew's death, saying he died of a non-combat related gunshot wound.
On Monday, while I was trying to catch up, reporter Jason Womack walked into my office, saying we needed to talk.
Jason had written the stories about Andrew's death and also covered his brother Freddy's Iraq death in 2004.
He told me Roy told him Andrew committed suicide, but wasn't sure he was ready to go public with that news. He told Jason maybe he wanted to wait until after Friday's funeral services.
So we decided to give Roy some time and wait.
Of course, we wondered if someone would talk to other media. Would we see this news on local television or hear it on radio?
We want to be sensitive with families during tragic events. But if we're always passive, never push for information and you see news first on other media consistently, you'll wonder if we're not doing our jobs.
By Tuesday, other media were asking Roy if he would comment on the circumstances of Andrew's death because of the phrase "non-combat related gunshot wound."
By Wednesday, someone in the community told me she'd heard it was a suicide.
As I said, we'll try and give family time in these circumstances, but at some point, the story gets out ... through media or simply because people start talking. The story was out.
Thursday morning, Roy decided to talk further with Jason and told him he could write the story for Friday's editions.
We also moved the story on our Web site early Thursday evening.
There are times in these circumstances, when readers ask why we even have to do such a story. A member of Roy's family asked Jason that question last week.
Why we can't just leave it alone and not add to the family's grief?
One, we have a job to do. People expect us to give them information. They pay us and expect that service. But two, getting the story out also trumps rumors.
Remember the game "Telephone" ... where you take a line of people, give them a story and let it go down the line? What you end up with at the end of the line is usually very different than what you started with.
This is a story people will talk about and not just in West Texas. It's better for people to know what really happened. Truth trumps rumors.
The last piece of this tragedy was added when those twits at the tiny Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., decided to picket Andrew's services.
Westboro has picketed across the country since 1991, targeting anything or anyone they believe supports homosexuality.
Lately, they started picketing services of soldiers killed in the War on Terror, believing God is punishing the U.S. for being friendly to gays.
You read that right ... I can't even make up stuff that bizarre.
People have started to fight back. Our own state Sen. Robert Duncan got the Texas Legislature to pass a bill keeping protesters at military funerals at least 500 feet away. A group of bikers was scheduled to stand between the protesters and the mourners.
Is this news?
No ... and yes.
For years, some numbskull would protest something and media would react because it was news.
We've gotten a little smarter over the years. Many papers, for example, stopped covering animal rights protests at rodeos.
At first it was news because it was unique. But after a couple of dozen protests, it's no longer new ... or news.
When Westboro began its anti-gay protests years ago, it was unique. But media has backed off covering them. So they came up with this brilliant idea to protest military funerals. It was so distasteful it generated interest by the media, public officials, those bikers and more.
Thursday night's services were the first time all this happened here.
So is Westboro's protest big news? No. Is the new law and all the other things tied to it news? Yes, because it's unique.
But it did not deserve to be on our front page. And we also didn't make a big deal announcing the protest to give them even more publicity.
Just because the people from Westboro are stupid doesn't mean we have to be.
TERRY GREENBERG is editor of the Avalanche-Journal. Contact him at (806) 766-8700 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On this morning's radio, a local news director commented on his own break from "objective reporting" last night when during a live report, he said, "The Kansas protesters are loading into their minivan to the cheers of the crowd, now, and I suppose they will be heading back to Topeka or Hell, whichever comes first."
He basically said that reporters shouldn't break from objectivity when they are reporting, but in this case, he was making an exception and not apologizing for it. Period.
I'm so lucky to live here where common sense is common sense.
It is nice to live in a part of the country when the city's mayor is not ashamed to read from the bible in public.
I believe I was also guilty of using the word "bikers" in one of my posts earlier. I appreciate the correction.
"Westboro Baptist Church"
Phelps was and IS a Democrat. He may truly hate homosexuals. It would appear that he hates Christians and uses his family "church" to smear the religious right.
He was friends with Al Gore until that brought Gore too much heat. He continues to run for public office as a Democrat.
Whether Phelps really believes in his protest banners (I do not doubt that he opposes the war, he is a Rat) is besides the point. His protests aid the homosexual agenda by giving them sympathy. If Phelps barking moonbat politics were exposed, he wouldn't get any more ink. He's a tool.
Well, I'm glad that Roy knew first and was the one who controlled the information, in this case. And it was good that his requests were given consideration. His heart is broken enough. Thanks again.