Opinion

Reflections on Newtown | Editorial

I assume most of you have read about what happened in Newtown, Conn., by now, due in no small part to the 24-hour news cycle that has swarmed over it like vultures, so I won’t revisit it in detail here.

I do want to address a few things, however.

Like most of you, I’m sure, what most affected me, aside from the age of the victims, was a description I read of Newtown by one of its natives in a column.

More or less, it was Maple Valley by another name. Same town. Same community. Same schools and teachers.

As I watched the coverage online, witnessing in despair at how the national media has quite literally repeated the same patterns as they did during the Colorado theater shooting, I tried to envision what that sort of situation would look like here. It’s not something a normal person wishes to imagine, but it was one which I thought of in order to understand and empathize with those in Newtown.

While attending several events that same day, one of them at Cedar River Middle School, it was impossible for me to avoid contrasting the peaceful environment I found against the sheer chaos occurring 3,000 miles away in a similar location.

Ultimately, I came away with two thoughts. One, I pray as a reporter I never, ever, ever have to cover this kind of event — the death of children — in any manner whatsoever, whether by accident or not. Of all the stories a reporter might have to write, those are on my verboten list. If I never have to, it will be one of the many blessings of my career.

Second, as a reporter, I can’t begin to describe what it would be like for Newtown’s local newspaper. Not only did they have to contend with covering a scene of appalling evil committed against their own neighbors and friends, but they had to do so while out-of-town reporters descended in with their reckless, sensationalist behavior, devoid of any sense of ethical or moral standards.

It’s important to be first to report a story of this magnitude. But getting it right, and writing about it tactfully, is most important. It is never acceptable to exploit a victim of a heinous crime for a story, especially the youngest and most vulnerable among us.  The idea that a reporter would interview a child in that context, as if a 6-year-old has even the slightest capacity to convey the trauma and emotions that will haunt him for the rest of his life, begs questions I don’t feel comfortable enough to discuss yet.

There will be plenty of debate in the coming weeks about how we as a society should respond and prevent such acts of murder in the future. I do have to say, three hours afterward and when the dead are still not yet buried is not the time to make a misinformed, political statement on Twitter with the same moral insensitivity as the murderer.

The issue is extremely complicated, and there are innumerable theories, possibilities, causes and solutions.

But I think it would be better for us to give our two cents, or more if you have the money, to the families who lost their little ones a week before Christmas.

For example, you can donate to My Sandy Hook Family Fund at www.everribbon.com/ribbon/view/10076.

Frankly, our society would be better off if people spent less time arguing with each other on Facebook and Twitter and used that time instead, as I intend, to write a letter to one of the victims’ families. It would certainly encourage more healing than contributing to ongoing debates since Columbine which are, for all intents and purposes intellectually, politically and spiritually dead.

Unless we start from the premise that this was an act of murder by a man who of his own free will chose to do evil and is solely responsible for his actions, all possible solutions are futile.

If these murders have demonstrated anything, it’s that we as a society have not progressed or learned from the past in terms of how we should behave in response to them. Ironically, our cultural reaction to crimes like these actually reveals the fragility and ambiguity of our own moral values.

If we are to preserve them, we need to decide what they are, why we have them, and then actually act on them.  Perhaps the whole discussion can start with the ways in which we, both as individuals and as a culture, can react with a higher moral standard when evil inevitably appears in our midst.

Because in Newtown we recognize our own hometowns, our own friends, our own families, our own schools and it’s hard to look at that reflected in our collective mirror.

 

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