To The Media, Regarding Newtown

Dear Members of the Media,

By now you’ve probably heard the small wave of outrage that is condemning you for interviewing the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  You already know that furious parents across the country feel that it’s inappropriate to shove a microphone in the face of a traumatized 8 year old.

But have you ever wondered why?

It’s because WE WILL REMEMBER.

I remember.

I was 14 when my friend Mike was murdered, at my school.  Violence rushed through our campus like a lightening bolt, bringing children to the ground in an unexpected, startling shock.  This was a few short years before Columbine.  This was before cell phones.  Before Twitter.  Before we could check on each other through FaceBook or pull up CNN on an iPad.

I remember running out of the gymnasium, swooped up in a current of other children, only to be met by another wave of familiar faces, running back towards us.  “Mike!” they cried.  Faces frozen, cheeks inflamed, out of breath.  We could see the ambulances down the street, back doors thrown open, half-hidden by fences and bushes.  The children ran.  We stumbled, we wandered, we ended up in the hallway by our lockers.  Our cheerleading coach, who was never incredibly warm and fuzzy, came barreling towards us.  “What are you doing?” she asked.  “We’re getting our things, we’re going to call our parents, we need to go to the hospital to be with Mike” we said.  We were fueled by teenage innocence, and we had no idea it would be the last drop of naivete that we were allowed.  “You’re not.” she whispered, as she put her hand on my shoulder.  “You need to go back to the gym.  The school is in lockdown.  You can’t go to the hospital.”

I can’t remember if she told us then that Mike had died.  I can’t remember how I found my best friend Tori, but I know that I did.  I can’t remember how I ended up on the front lawn of the school, surrounded by friends who were crying into their hands, their backpacks strewn across the sidewalk, the swirl of police lights shining down on us like sunshine.

But you know what I do remember?

YOU were there.  YOU, with your enormous video cameras.  YOU, with your microphones poking into the bubble of grief that grew bigger as we waited for our parents to find us.  YOU, with your horrible questions about what had happened, had we known Mike, had we seen anything?  No parents there yet, just children.  No teachers, just children.  And you.

Some of us screamed at you to leave us alone.  Some of us answered your sick questions, because you were the grown-ups, and we were the kids.  I don’t even know how you got there so fast, before our parents, before anyone else could swoop us back inside and ask you to leave.  But there you were, with your vans and your lights, asking us how it felt to know that another child had been killed.  How it felt to be scared.  How it felt to wonder about the names of everyone else, to be desperately hoping for more information, while feeling terrified about what the truth would really be.

I remember you.  I remember your names.  I remember what channel you were from.  I remember that you filled the parking lot at Mike’s funeral.  You stood in a line outside of the door, devouring the footage of crying football players running away from the service, like rabid hungry wolves.  You replayed the video of Mike being loaded into the ambulance, over and over and over again, even when people wrote to you and asked you to stop.

And you were there today, in Newtown.  Asking children who can barely spell their names what it felt like to have the trajectory of their life changed in a single morning.

How the fuck do you think it feels?

They will remember you.  They will remember feeling violated by you.  Their parents will regret that the veil of shock blurred their vision enough to allow you to interview their children.

Our country is struggling with finding the answers we need to keep our babies safe.  We are struggling with how we feel about guns, and how we feel about mental health care.  Report on that.

But the 14 year old child in me begs you, begs you, to not ask children to report on what it felt like.  What it sounded like.  How scary it was.

I can tell you for sure, that they will live that trauma every single day.  They will be 34, sitting in the car with their husband outside their little boy’s preschool, crying silently at the news reports.  They will be transported immediately back to 14 years old, and how cold the grass felt under their feet.  They will feel the breath of their friends on their neck as they followed each other blindly back into the gymnasium.  And they will see your face, foreign and imploring, your voice pleading and fake.

This is a story for only the grown-ups to tell, while the children focus on healing.  The path out of that school takes years, and it is a private journey that should only be walked with friends.

Thinking of Newtown tonight, and sending prayers for their healing and strength.  May their tendrils of grief be woven together with fibers of love and community, compassion and understanding.  The little girl in me, is with the terrified child in you.

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Comments:

  1. You’re right. When I was sixteen someone tried to kill my father. My mother tried to protect my brothers and my sister and I from the seriousness of what happened, but I clearly remember the story leading the news in Detroit that night. The next day a reporter came up on our front porch and asked me how my dad was. I actually told him “No comment” and went back inside. I had no idea how to deal with it. For awhile we were barraged with questions by people who had seen the coverage. I didn’t realize until reading your post how much I remembered about dealing with the publicity. I am sorry for your experience and your loss.

  2. Betsy Murphy says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am so sorry that you have to carry these terrible memories with you. The news media traumatizes again those that have been traumatized, and in doing so only compounds the horror for the victims and witnesses. I, as well, personally know what it is like to have the media intrude upon your life following a terrible emotional trauma. I hope that news reporters around the country will read your words. I, and my friends, are sharing this link on our Facebook walls. People need to understand how wrong it is and how it affects lives, permanently. Thank you again for your words, for they express a somber truth that needs to be told.

  3. Margi Laurin says:

    Very well written, and i can add to it. I lived through a school shooting in Brampton, Ontario Canada in 1975….the memories do not fade with time.

  4. I’m so sorry for what you went through. I’m so sorry for what the children and a families and Newtown are experiencing right now. We need to make sure that this stops- all of it. It’s just all so senseless. Thank you for sharing this, I know it must not have been easy.

  5. Nicely stated! Thankyou

  6. Dear Kim,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Part of my life has been devoted to teaching about children’s rights, like the right to grow up with dignity and privacy.

    Today, in lieu of my own blog, I plan to provide a link to yours.

    There is no doubt in my mind that mainstream media is fuelling this sickness in America about ‘Fame at any cost’.
    As a former high school teacher, I’m outraged at the pressure we are putting on children.

    Anyone, media or gawker, who is not connected to those families, AND has a heart should GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE and let that community, those families, those other children, grieve together.

    My last blog included my 3 favourite quotes when I was teaching and one was about each child being a flame.
    I love that quote and wish that we could provide a world where each beautiful flame could be loved and protected.

    Again, thanks for sharing your story & I’m sorry that you went through that.
    You have a beautiful son. Keep cherishing him as I see you do.

    Warmly,
    Dina Desveaux
    Canada

  7. Laura Rolands says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have shared on Facebook and Twitter – let us know what else we should do to help put pressure on the media. They should never make a tragedy worse, but they did and clearly continue to do so.

  8. Thank you, brave soul.

    That needed to be said.

  9. Melba Hager says:

    This is a very powerful post and I will be sharing it on both twitter where I found it and on facebook, thank you for words that needed to be spoken.

  10. You didn’t really explain how/why you felt violated by being asked and answering these questions.
    Most professionals feel that being allowed to share your opinion gives you an outlet for your thoughts. Some who are impacted by a disaster like this and not afforded an outlet, suffer for the rest of their lives. Not that I think anyone who is a witness would ever stop suffering, but being able to share their thoughts allow people to fulfill their need to be heard and hopefully allow them to cope better.
    I have never been in this position (Thankfully)
    I share your opinion about kids being interviewed, but I’m wondering if actual damage was done by the interview or the event itself. (A murder, televised or not, is very traumatic for anyone close to the event)
    I would think that the public outpouring of support and the ability to convey your own feelings would be helpful.
    Am I wrong?

    • “Most professionals feel that being allowed to share your opinion gives you an outlet for your thoughts. Some who are impacted by a disaster like this and not afforded an outlet, suffer for the rest of their lives. ” Lucy, there are plenty of outlets for expression that don’t involve being exploited by a stranger shoving a microphone in your face and shining a lighting rig on you while you’re still in a high adreline mode. It’s deliberately exploitative.

      I’ve never been anywhere near that traumatic, but I was once interviewed for TV while my rented home was still burning. Everyone was physically unscathed, but that vampire really wanted to interview the home owner, who was breaking down, as she had lived there her whole life and her mother had lived there for most of theirs.

      They put an attractive lady in your face and start asking leading questions designed to sensationalize. I held my ground, and the only useable sound bite they got out of me was that a cat was unaccounted for.

      If we had a media that was actually a force for good, they’d focus on the strength of the community and their coming together, instead of cynically exploiting their pain for ratings. There are plenty of other ways for victims to express themselves.

      I was also enraged by the mother on the scene with her child that was being interviewed by Piers Morgan. I couldn’t hear the audio, but I saw her smile as if to say ‘I can’t believe I’m on CNN’. Do you think CNN said they’d only let the kid on TV if the mother was there, or that they’d only let the mother on if they could talk to the kid at the same time? Vultures.

    • JH in Texas says:

      Lucy, I’ve been there – my wife was killed in a car accident on her birthday, along with seven young girls riding in a van that ran a stop sign at 65 miles per hour and hit us. This was a huge story in the local paper and TV news. I’d had some experience with the news media and knew fairly well what to expect. All wanted a private interview and I wasn’t up to it. We asked for and got a small press availability with the local stations so we could get it all over with at once. The questions were about what you’d expect. But one station showed up late, and it wasn’t accidental. This reporter’s questions were extremely personal and invasive of the relationship I’d had with my wife. And this reporter got escorted off the property by a friend who was taking care of business. It’s been 17 years and I remember the microphones and the camera like it was yesterday – and I was 42 years old with some experience with the national media. I simply cannot imagine the horror of having to relive that moment every day of my life starting at 6 years old. I am truly glad you’ve never been in this position. And yes – you are wrong. Actual damage has been done to these children, and it will never ever go away.

  11. God Bless you for writing this blog. I can tell you as a mother of a 7 year old little boy that if something like this nightmare were to happen at my child’s school, I WOULD NOT let the media any closer than I had to. Our children should be protected at ALL cost. Not thrust out into the social media to answer questions when they probably have TONS of them for themselves. I have a nephew that is 7 as well who kissed a little girl on the cheek in school. KISSED…ok, well the parents of this girl got angry about it and brought it to the school’s attention. They threw words around like violated, and even went so far as to say rape! Now, being a victim of that awful crime myself, I was horrified. But not so much as when the parents also contacted FOX news because the authorities deemed nothing happened, and they did a story on it and basically called my 7 year old, sweet as pie, nephew a rapist! They edited my sisters comments so awfully that it was atrocious! I have very little faith in the media these days and feel that if children are not off their list than who the heck would be? My sister and her family have been harassed over this, my nephew thrown out of school, boyscouts, and any event that is school related even though there were no charges or anything that said he had done wrong. They don’t have the money at the time for a lawyer, and seems that the school can do as they wish. Even put sexual deviant on my nephews school record! SEVEN YEARS OLD, and in special needs at that. Our local paper was so appalled by the FOX news report that they did a front page report to try to help my sister and our family, to shed light on what really happened. It was just a play ground kiss…but you would have thought he was a grown man rapist. It is terrible. OUR CHILDREN SHOULD BE PROTECTED NO MATTER THE COST! THEY ARE INNOCENT UNTIL SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS AND TAKES THAT INNOCENCE AWAY. SHAME ON THE MEDIA! Thank you Kim for your blog. It was very touching, and informative. Thank you for sharing your feelings on a day that must have been an awful in your life. And on a topic that hits close to home for you. God Bless you! And all parents from Newtown are in my thoughts and prayers tonight.

    • Holy crap. I just had to reply to this. When I was in first grade, six years old, there was a boy in my class who was sweet on me. I don’t remember much of it, but apparently he liked to give me kisses on the cheek, or on the hand, and sit next to me at lunch. Apparently it got to the point that his attention was a little disruptive to class and my teacher felt he needed to take action. I think he met with my mom about it, just to make her aware of what was going on, then met with the little boy and his parents. I don’t know what happened in that meeting, but I do remember that little boy never so much as looked at me again.

      I think maybe that was at least a better way of handling things, instead of leveling accusations of violation and rape (??!). I mean, he’s SEVEN! He’s a KID! He doesn’t (shouldn’t) even know what all of that is!

      Granted, my story happened back in 1989 and I feel our society has gotten a lot more litigation-happy since then. I’m so sorry for your sister’s family and all the harassment they’ve suffered. It’s completely unfounded.

  12. Can’t you forgive them? You are still stuck in blame, outrage and negativity. This will only breed more. Let it go and forgive, if you actually want to be happy, and to bring happiness to others. Negativity and blame can’t do this.

    • JH in Texas says:

      I understand your feelings but some things are beyond forgiveness. It is not up to me to forgive; it is not up to a parent to forgive the murderer of their child; and I will not forgive the damaging intervention of news cameras into a suffering child’s life.

  13. Justthinkin says:

    God bless and keep you.I am 54,and today brought horrible memories for me at 15,when my friend was killed by a lunatic.The funny thing was,back then in’73,the press was there,but they sheltered us!They took us aside and kept us from the horror as best they could.How things have changed!
    Suffer the little children to come unto me.
    Kyrie Elison.

  14. Oceanspray says:

    We need to start calling these disreputable steaming piles of excrement out by name. These days reporters and news producers all have Facebook and twitter accounts and they’re not hard to find. If you’ve been through something like this and then had the media pile on and abuse you, go right after the vultures who are abusing the Sandy Hook kids and families and tell them directly what you think of them. It’s way past time that decent, normal people pushed back against these leeches who would use a tragedy like this to advance their pathetic careers or get ratings. And, believe me, it’s not about anything else.

  15. Teri Pittman says:

    Several years ago, our neighbor’s daughter was murdered. The press set up their van in the driveway of her home, next to our house. My husband went out and started yelling obscenities at them. They had to leave to film their report.

    At the time, I felt embarassed by his behavior. But now, I believe it is the way to deal with them. Get in their faces, tell them that they need to leave, make it so that they can’t get their report. They no longer understand what common decency means.

  16. Well said.

  17. Newsies are jackals, they have no decency or restraint. If you want them to stop, there -is- a way.

    Shut off your TV.
    Turn off your radio.
    Cancel your cable subscription.

    I did this years ago. No TV, no radio. I listen to music on my ipod (shuffle is your friend) I read Drudge, and if I really need to see a video its all over YouTube. I know who’s grabbed on to this latest atrocity to get maximum face time, what their schpiel is…

    …but I don’t get PTSD flashbacks because I don’t hear about this stuff 24/7 in living colour, and it doesn’t get shoved in my face when I’m not ready. I decide if I want to know, not some jackal.

    Best of all, I’m part of the wave that’s drowning the old media. Pretty soon, nobody is going to be getting paid for shoving microphones in little kid’s faces, because no one is listening.

    Shut off your TV. Turn off your radio. Starve the jackals.

  18. In the Army I was a PAO for while and have personally given many thousands of interviews to media reps (I stopped counting at 2,500). I can tell you this: the quickest way to get that microphone out of your face is to make sure the “interview” you don’t want to do is utterly unusable. So just start cursing the reporters on camera and yelling at the reporter about what an inhuman jerk s/he is will get that camera turned off in one darn hurry. Even better if it’s live!

    Being an official representative of the Army, I never did this, and it was my actual job to talk to reporters anyway. I did have occasion, though, to keep responding to question like this: “I have nothing to tell you about that subject.” And keep repeating it verbatim to every question. The reporter pretty quickly gives up.

    A reporter absolutely will not stand for being embarrassed on camera. Do that and you’ll be let alone. Make it personal to the reporter and you’ll be radioactive to them. Which is what you want. And no, you do not have to use swear words to do that.

  19. Milton Potash says:

    What do you expect?

    The most popular show on TV is The Walking Dead.

    The show features not-stop atrocities on live and dead people.

    The Hollywood criminals have made this type of stuff NORMAL viewing.

    In addition the body count at the end of a typical night of TV viewing counts in the hundreds in total.

    Of course, this goes unremarked upon by the media.

  20. I’m so sorry for what you and your friends had to go through. I can only imagine how hard this has been. I appreciate the words you’ve written and ill be sharing this post. This is something everyone should read.

  21. Thank you very much for this blog. As the mother of a little boy in kindergarten (whose 6th birthday was on Friday) this has affected me very deeply. I look at him, and I think of those children, how they were the same age and size as him, and cry. I was outraged and sickened by all the photos posted of grieving and scared children at Sandy Hook, and the interviewers being done. I was very vocal about the fact that, had that been my child and a camera had been shoved in his face, me and the media would have–as Steve Harvey put it–a ‘misunderstanding’.

    I’m active on both Twitter and Tumblr and the outcry against the media’s handling of this situation was loud and massive. The cynical part of me doesn’t think it will make a difference, but the hopeful part of me does.

    God bless you and I am so sorry for your past losses. You and I are roughly the same age (I’m 29) and I remember Columbine as if it were yesterday.

  22. I completely agree with you. I´m a Spanish journalist and I can´t understand this kind of interview. We have to be human before journalist.

  23. Kim,
    I had no idea, my friend! You have an amazing spirit and are such a gifted writer.
    Cathie

  24. Most media outlets have police scanners, or a person inside who will alert them to goings on. I remember reading about your experience when Mike was killed, Kim, and you’re right: interviewing children who have experienced a traumatic event THE SAME DAMN DAY needs to stop. It is invasive. It is damaging. It is wrong. Yes, they may eventually talk about it with the media, but until then, the only people to whom they should be speaking is their parents and perhaps law enforcement. If a parent gives permission, that’s different. But how could that have occurred last week when parents had yet to arrive?

    Separately, I’ve never understood the “how did that make you feel” question. I’ve always planned to answer that, if ever asked, “Your college must be so proud.”

  25. Thank you for writing this. It articulates very well how I felt when I saw all the reporters shoving their microphones in the faces of these children. I couldn’t believe that reporters could be so heartless as to force these children to confront their trauma in such a callous fashion so soon after they faced their own deaths as such a young age. I lost a close friend when I was seven years old and had a breakdown two years later when a teacher asked me to write a journal entry about how I would feel if a friend died. I had never been filled with rage in my life. Two years later and it was like an open wound. My mind went back to that place when I saw the reporters. I wanted to jump through the television and push them away. These children deserve the time and space to heal. It will take decades. I know from experience.

  26. Andrew MacGowan says:

    Thank you for this. It’s a beautiful, perfect piece that says exactly what needs to be said. I hope this post gets a wide view. (Thanks, re my source, Andrew Sullivan, for getting this out.) I’m 59 and coming up on the 16th anniversary of the murder of my dear friend and my son’s godfather. So I was older and can only sort of get what how horrific this was for you. Thanks also for providing a thoughtful forum here. I am sorry for your loss.

  27. When I was about 14 years old, a group of my friends and I were playing around a lake. After a while, we noticed that one of our friends was missing. We started looking for him and eventually found him at the bottom of the lake. He had drowned. We pulled him to shore and I started giving him mouth-to-mouth despite that he had been missing for over an hour. While I continued to do the only thing I could think of, some of the others ran for help. Eventually the police, our parents, and a doctor arrived. The doctor made a quick examination and pronounced our friend dead. As we were walking over to our parents, a cop who I had noticed standing by while the doctor made his exam quietly asked me where I had learned mouth-to-mouth. I solemnly answered “scouts”. He put his arm around my shoulder and said: “You did a good job. I’m sorry it was too late for your friend.” That small act of kindness from an adult authority figure was a major contributor to my dealing with the loss. I remember the press being there, but they didn’t seem to make any effort to talk to any of us until they had gotten permission from our parents. I remember the police coming over and asking our parents if they wanted to talk to the reports. A few of the parents consented, but they wouldn’t allow them to talk to any of us until much later. The police did question us, but they made sure our parents were present during the interviews. I don’t remember any harsh or accusing questions from the police. They simply wanted to know what had happened. As far as the press went, they seemed to be willing to hold back until the police had done their job and our parents agreed to let them talk to us. I don’t remember everything, but they just basically asked the same type of questions the police had. The thing I do remember was how polite and supportive the police were. That was almost 50 years ago and my interaction with cops has been minimal since then. But I do hope they still conduct themselves today the same way they did back them.

  28. You go, Mama! Perfectly stated. When is the press going to put respect for the victims and survivors over the need to get “the scoop”? I object to them interviewing obviously distraught and overwhelmed adults in this situation too. Give people some space and humanity within their overwhelming grief.

  29. Wow! This is a really tragic story, so full of pain and rawness and honesty. You are a really great writer. I’m sorry for your loss, and it reminds me of how angry I felt when I saw them interviewing a small kid on television. They are a bunch of sensationalist vultures.

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