The most sickening moment in recent mainstream media news – and that’s saying something

Lionel
Lionel (né Michael Wm. Lebron) is an Emmy® Award winning trial lawyer, published author, proud husband, legal analyst and news decoder, essayist, bluegrass guitarist, (out)spoken word performer and raconteur, vegan, talk radio veteran, pioneer podcaster, political atheist with a black belt in realpolitik and “[a]n intellectual known for his irreverent political and social humor” (Newsweek), “[who] wears the mantle of Lenny Bruce, with Lenny’s own tropisms: The Oblique, The Irreverent, The Tangential, The Concupiscent, The Polymorphous Perverse, The Arcane, The Numinous” (Jerry Wexler).
News media mingle outside the home of suspects Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in Redlands, California December 4, 2015, following Wednesday's attacks. © Mario Anzuoni
It was Network meets Hunger Games. One of the most unseemly media events in recent history. And no one seemed to mind. Or notice.

READ MORE: FBI investigates San Bernardino shooting as 'act of terrorism'

On Friday, December 4, 2015, to be exact, the world and I witnessed something on mainstream media that took the proverbial cake. It reduced me to an incomprehensible mass of confused and maundering mumbling. More so than usual. For I saw something that even the great Paddy Chayefsky could not have envisaged. A scene so surreal, so incomprehensibly savage in its rawness that I turned to my wife and announced, “It’s official. The end is indeed nigh.” What we witnessed was the culmination and conflation of every sci-fi dystopian version of a society off the rails coming to reality. The ravenous monster and runaway train of real-time live news was in its full glory. And there it was. Live and in living horror.

It seems the landlord of the dead San Bernardino shooters allowed teams of salivating reporters into their apartment to sift and rummage through and even hold up for display and inspection their possessions and personal effects to the unfiltered, indiscriminate and unedited camera lens in a scene that reminded me of looters sifting through a recently torched liquor store. To say it was disturbing might be the understatement of understatements. It was live national television. The ravenous rampagers stampeded each other and held up children’s toys, family photos and even displayed driver licenses and social security cards of individuals who were very much alive and in no way suspected of complicity as of yet. I thought this was the country that was obsessed with identity theft based on the number of commercials that bombard us regularly. You could hear the click of screenshots all over the world as “journalists” picked through the possessions of the now dead couple and held them up for inspection.

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, clearly disturbed and understandably uncomfortable with this drive-by coverage, asked a reporter and cameraman to please refrain from airing these photos. “They want wide shots, no photos,” an NBC reporter said in off-camera audio picked up on live coverage. Too late, the riot was in full swing. The media orgy had commenced.

But, wait, wasn’t this an actual active crime scene? At least, theoretically. Doesn’t it take weeks and perhaps months to completely comb through everything that might be of relevance in the investigation and perhaps in the follow-up of newly acquired and discovered accomplices, coconspirators and witnesses? The New York Times reported the rather cryptic response from one rather befuddled national law enforcement official of note.

FBI Director James B. Comey said at a news conference in Washington that he had seen the video of the reporters in the townhouse. “I think I’m neither unhappy nor happy,” he said. “When we are done with a location, we return it to their rightful owners and we have to leave an inventory under the law about what was taken. So, people got to see our great criminal justice system in action.”

And were there no possessory interests here breached by the landlord’s consent to enter and film? From a legal point of view this is less problematic because the lessees are now dead, their estate has no ostensible right to intercede (if that were even possible) but other issues arise, viz. the privacy rights of those whose data were made available to the prying eyes of the world and suspects who might be developed in the case who might later challenge in court the contamination and validity of property or evidence that might be seized. It’s unfathomable to anyone who’s worked in law enforcement to understand how any agency could have given the all clear to rifle through what is still in effect an active crime scene.

Crime Scene investigators examine the scene of the investigation around an SUV where two suspects were shot by police following a mass shooting in Wednesday's attack in San Bernardino, California December 4, 2015. © Alex Gallardo

But aside from the aforementioned, what amazed me most was the de minimis reaction in general from the media proper as well as the public. Sure, there were the gratuitous references to how horrid the event was but nowhere was the reaction comparable to our hand-wringing and collective harrumphing over Brian Williams’ moments of mendacity as to his imaginary wartime derring-do. Or Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian TV camerawoman ostensibly tripping a refugee carrying a child as he fled from police. Granted, these are different from the rampaging reporter rummagers, but they both deal with journalists injecting themselves into the story. To such an extent that they become the story.

The freneticness and frissons that reporters experience are understandable. Even the errant paparazzo who traverses the line is at least put into the context that the job itself inspires such behavior. Fine, we get it.

But this singular event was different. And the silence from network and cable officials was deafening. Aside from the possible contamination of a crime scene (granted, with the permission of landlord and law enforcement) and the almost Pamplona-style stampede of crazed media jackals, clawing and scratching to be the first to hold up terrorist miscellany, was an inexplicable sense that this was just wrong. Beyond unseemly. Beyond voyeuristic. It was even beyond ghoulish. It was Black Friday bargain rioter meets Ron Galella-esque journalistic trespass. It breached etiquette, it violated sensibilities, it was vile, venal and disproportionately mercenary.  

Cue CRICKETS. Nary a peep. Or word. Not a public apology, no corporate contrition. Nada. We’ve seen worse and undoubtedly will. And, after all, these were terrorists and who cares about their rights or property, right? But that’s just it. It had nothing to with their postmortem trespass violations of personal space. It was all about what we’ve become, where latter day journalism has sunk.

I admit and plead guilty to still having a Cronkite reverence and expecting that his standards will somehow reemerge. I know, I’m delusional. And I should be grateful that my position of media analyst and news decoder enjoys an abundance of dreck and excess, but not when the standards have plummeted to such an incomprehensible depth.

It really, truly was that bad. And will invariably happen again.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.