Sometimes the mainstream media surprises me. Now is one of those times.
For the media, military tragedy tends to go one of two ways. The first – the easy button – is fraught with hastily reported and often inaccurate information, followed closely by the (again) too hasty release of the identities of those involved and, finally, capped with purely tear jerking stories.
The second way takes more thought. It starts with comparatively slow to emerge details, all tempered by the true gravity of the situation. The names and unit information trickle out as families report to local media that their loved one was involved. The tears over the tragedy of it all are mixed with smiles as lives and heroism are celebrated.
Sometimes reporters do get it right. And as far as I can tell, the heart wrenching events of August 6 have, for the most part, resulted in media option number two. Sure, there are some examples of inappropriate coverage. But for the most part I stand amazed. Who knew it was possible?
This time, rather than savaging the tragedy for the sake of ratings and readership, most agencies have absorbed the gravity of the situation and are doing the right thing: honoring the fallen while respecting the families.
Here are some examples:
This NPR story was broadcast this evening. The reporter could’ve easily found friends and family of the servicemember willing to sob on tape. Instead, his story reflected the joy SEAL Kevin Houston found in life. I did cry listening to it -- but only because Kevin is so beautifully remembered. Sometimes beauty is also tragic.
This ABC story on wives rallying around each other borders on easy-button-dome, but redeems itself in the end. Give it a read.
This AP round-up of information and names released by the families is a working, honorable obituary to several of the fallen. While it mentions those left behind, it also focuses on the little, beautiful things.
I am particularly sensitive to bad media coverage. As a mainstream, traditional reporter I know the rules and work that goes into any given story. I also understand the rush for information and the need to beat the competition.
But as an Army spouse whose unit experienced 22 KIAs in four months, with seven of those at once, I also know the hurt reporting stories too quickly can cause a unit and, more importantly, the families of those lost. Thanks to a few bad reporters I spent a lot of time during our deployment fruitlessly trying to explain the motives of my fellow media members to angry unit spouses. I learned that some things aren’t worth defending. There is a right way to honor the fallen through media coverage – and it’s not by setting out to make me or anyone else cry.
One of the most memorable memorials I attended during our time at Joint Base Lewis McChord – and there were more than I can remember or care to count – was for Staff Sgt. David Gutierrez. The way he was honored there is a lesson to reporters everywhere.
Stateside memorials for those from a still deployed unit can be pretty sparse when it comes to the attendance of people who actually knew the servicemember, especially if the family is from a community far away. This service, however, was different.
Staff Sgt. Gutierrez and his family were very involved in the local community. He was also a larger than life member of a local amateur football league. His team came to the military memorial to honor him, as did a variety of other non-military community members. The stories shared at that service for a man I had never met left a vivid memory in my mind of the beautiful life he must’ve lived and the people who truly loved him. To those who spoke of about him there, Staff Sgt. Gutierrez was first a friend and then a Soldier. The tragedy of the situation was clear – but so were the details of a life well lived. I shed tears at that service for the loss of someone well loved, not purely because of the tragedy.
Every death, military or otherwise, has tragic details -- widows and children left behind, proposals not made and opportunities never to be realized. But the media can more thoroughly honor the 30 lost August 6 by focusing on the beauty of their lives than on the heartwrenching details of their loss.
And so far they are. I hope they keep it up.