Whenever a journalist is accused of an ethical violation, I am there for him. Or her.
Perhaps it’s because I have been accused of so many such violations myself, or maybe I just have an old-school view of this business, but the bottom line is I am unashamedly sympathetic to any journalist accused of an ethical lapse. If you are such a journalist and you lose me, you’ve lost the room.
Bad news for KSDK. They’ve lost me.
According to a story this newspaper published Friday, KSDK was preparing a story on school safety. A reporter went to Kirkwood High School on Thursday. He walked in unimpeded.
He asked directions to the office. He asked to speak with somebody from security. The secretary said the school resource officer was not in the office. She took the name and phone number of the visitor, who did not identify himself as a reporter. Administrators became alarmed when the visitor asked for the location of a restroom but headed in another direction.
Administrators called the number he had left with the secretary. He did not answer the phone, but the message identified him as a reporter with KSDK. Administrators then called KSDK, but the station refused to confirm or deny the person worked for the station. Even when the administrators said they would have to put the school on lockdown if the visitor’s identity remained unknown, the station wouldn’t budge.
So the school went on lockdown. That means police were called. Students and teachers huddled fearfully in classrooms.
What was the purpose of letting the school think a gunman might be hiding somewhere in the school? Let’s even take it one step further back. Why didn’t the reporter just check in with the office, identify himself as a reporter and announce he was doing a story on school security? The station isn’t saying. Whatever the reason, the lockdown made a big splash, which, come to think of it, might have been the reason.
If so, it worked. Even I watched KSDK at 10 p.m. Thursday.
Nobody explained the reason for forcing the school to go on lockdown. Instead, we got this sanctimonious statement: “NewsChannel 5 will continue to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of our schools and your children therein.”
I wanted to shout at the screen. “We don’t want you sneaking around our schools. Just give us news, weather and sports. If you want to scare the bejesus out of kids, scare your own.”
Besides, exactly what was the report going to prove? That Kirkwood High School isn’t being operated like some kind of prison?
Let me tell you what school had really good security — Sandy Hook Elementary. Doors were locked at 9:30 a.m. Visitors were admitted only after a visual review via a video monitor. Identification was required. KSDK would have approved. But guess what? Adam Lanza shot his way through a glass panel next to the door.
Columbine had a deputy sheriff assigned to the school as a full-time armed school resource officer. That didn’t stop Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. They were students.
The notion that we can make schools — or any place — completely safe is false. Even having armed people around doesn’t guarantee anything. One of our worst mass shootings was at an Army base. And, locally, of course, we had the horrific shooting at Kirkwood City Hall. The first two victims were armed police officers.
Kirkwood. That makes this stunt from KSDK even more appalling. Did anybody at that station think about that? Or do they just not care?
These are perilous times. Bad things happen. I suppose a television station can play on our fears. It’s probably good for ratings. They can send reporters sneaking around and then point out security lapses. Next week, they’ll probably take a gun into the zoo. That could really gin up some fright. “Your children aren’t even safe at the zoo!”
That seems to be where society is headed. Certainly, the government does what it can to send us the message: “Be very afraid.” After all, if we’re afraid, we’re more willing to give the government increased authority. We must surrender a little freedom for security. Only a powerful government can protect us. Maybe there is even some truth to that.
But we need a television station to protect us? Really?
“NewsChannel 5 will continue to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of our schools and your children therein.”
I think the people at KSDK ought to be very grateful that it is not against the law to be sanctimonious. If it were, they’d be looking at some heavy time.