Tampa police officers and even many journalists are furious at a Florida radio station for telephoning a hostage-holding gunman and airing a live, seven-minute interview.
WFLA-AM has refused to apologize for the interview, which ended after Tampa’s chief of police, who was listening on the radio, angrily called the station and told them to hang up the phone.
About four hours later, the gunman, Hank Earl Carr, released his hostage and killed himself.
To call the gunman at the height of the crisis “is totally unjustified and unethical,” said Bob Steele, director of media ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. Appearing later on CNN, Steele said the radio station’s actions were “very wrong” and likely motivated by an over- aggressive, “go-for-the-big-story” attitude. Although other Tampa area media joined in the criticism, all the local television stations re-broadcast the interview, and both local papers published verbatim transcripts.
The tape interview is riveting. You can hear it over the Internet by downloading Real Audio at http://www.real.com. and then going to http://events.broadcast.com/events/digitalchainsaw/news.ram.
Carr describes how, that morning, he had accidentally shot his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son while taking a gun away from the boy. Distraught, Carr put the child in his car and raced to the hospital, only to be pulled over by Tampa police. By then, the child was dead. The cops apparently arrested Carr and told him he might go to prison.
Carr next describes how he wrenched his hands out of his handcuffs, reached over the front seat, and grabbed one officer’s pistol. In the fight, Carr shot both officers and fled to a nearby gas station, which was quickly surrounded by police.
From listening to the tape, it’s clear that Carr wanted to tell his side of the story. It’s also clear that he knew all along how his story would end.
It’s easy to argue that the radio station shouldn’t have interfered. There’s always the risk that the media attention itself might have provoked Carr or prolonged the crisis. But after hearing Carr’s story, told by a man who knew he was about to die, and listening to the reporter’s repeated efforts to persuade Carr to give himself up, there’s another side to this issue.
It’s Carr’s side, the story of a waking nightmare that wouldn’t end. If the reporter had never picked up the telephone, Carr would now be just another dead cop-killer. We would never have heard, or begun to understand, why those killings occurred. Neither would we have thought about the troubling questions that Carr’s story leaves unanswered.
The "P" word
Every reporter and editor fears the “P” word, plagiarism. It can get you fired quicker than talking to a media critic. But outside the newsroom, one man’s plagiarism may be another man’s researchor, in this case, another woman’s.
“Well, the information is factual,” explained CarolAnn White, a Murfreesboro Parks employee, whose column, “Walking works out to be better,” ran April 12 in The Tennessean’s “Rutherford Today,” a special section of the Sunday paper distributed in Rutherford County. The column began:
Figuring out how to slim down has become a source of endless conjecture. Book upon book shouts one answer or another from the bookstore shelves: elaborate low-fat or high-protein diets; body-sculpting plans practically requiring a master’s in physiology; regimens of drugs from fen-phenwannabes to Prozac.
White’s words were copied verbatim from an article by freelance writer Nancy Bilyeau that appeared in the April issue of Health magazine. The rest of White’s column was also plagiarized, in small parts and large ones, from Bilyeau’s story but never credited Bilyeau or the magazine.
White herself seemed stunned that anyone would raise the issue. After a couple of hours, though, she called back to read a prepared statement. “The object of this article was to benefit those who wish to improve their physical fitness regimen. Numerous sources were utilized to compile this information.... However, due to an inadvertent error on my part, some of the information in this article was not credited to Health magazine. Please forgive this unintentional transgression.” She said she hoped the plagiarism issue wouldn’t undermine her message that walking is healthy exercise.
Whenever a newspaper solicits stories from readers, there’s going to be a plagiarism problem sooner or later. White’s column appeared under “Rutherford Voices” which, according to a blurb at the bottom of the page, “welcomes your columns on topics of interest about Rutherford County.”
“It happens every now and then, even in letters to the editor,” said Tennessean staffer Frank Ritter, who edits the paper’s “Nashville Eye” column. “Some people just don’t understand what plagiarism is or that it’s wrong.” When it happens, the paper runs an immediate correction, he said.
Look for one in Thursday’s Tennessean.
Flash in the can
The local media seem both fascinated and bewildered by the story of a local woman who was burned on her back, shoulder, and neck following a mysterious explosion in the women’s bathroom at the Nashville Arena. Police said only that they found “a container” in the bathroom and that the victim “wasn’t the target of the fire.” The feds are looking into it.
Here’s a clue: Think what might happen if you held a cigarette in one hand and a can of hair spray in the other. Now, what would happen if you put both hands behind your head and pushed the little white button? (Do notwe repeat, do nottry this at home.)
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