"Just the facts, ma'am."
These words were immortalized by Sgt. Joe Friday on the 1950's crime drama Dragnet.
Basically, the straight-laced, hard-nosed Los Angeles detective was all about the facts. Don't sugar coat it or dance around it - get down to the facts.
The media could take a lesson from that.
I heard an interesting story this week. After completing a very, very, very early morning workout at the Spencer Y this week, I was waiting for my wife when I was approached by a Daily Reporter reader who introduced himself. After an exchange of pleasantries, he shared an interesting story with me - referencing Paul Harvey's famous radio broadcast, "The Rest of the Story."
On Monday night, Nov. 15, Michael Richard Swanson, 17 of St. Louis Park, Minn. allegedly committed double homicide at two convenience stores, killing a clerk in Algona and another in Humboldt.
Swanson fled both crime scenes but was later found and apprehended, then transported to jail. Upon his arrival at the detention facility, Swanson was escorted by law enforcement into the jail to be processed. On his way in, the alleged murderer was seen smiling and laughing.
This brief snapshot of the moment, captured on film and rebroadcast, added to the outrage associated with this already heinous act. How could he be laughing and smiling about such behavior? Two women were murdered in cold blood and the alleged killer is smirking and mugging it up for the cameras.
Now here comes the "other side of the story" moment.
My new friend shared with me that his brother, a state trooper, was at the jail while Swanson was being escorted. With all the cameras rolling, Swanson was caught smiling and laughing - but he wasn't laughing at his crime or his situation. He was laughing at a Des Moines cameraman who had been walking backward and took a spill while trying to capture the moment. The trooper revealed to his brother that they were fighting back the laughter, but the 17-year-old kid couldn't.
I didn't take the time to verify this story, I wouldn't even know where to begin trying to track down the trooper. I'm taking my new friend's word for it. For the purpose of this column, let us assume it was true.
Guess what turned up on every broadcast? The kid smirking, smiling and laughing. There was probably plenty of footage of him walking, but that was the footage which was aired. Why? Because it added sensationalism to the story.
What about the recent occurrence in Tucson, Ariz.? A wild man begins shooting at a congresswoman's public appearance. Six die, among them a judge, a member of the congresswoman's team and a nine-year-old girl. The congresswoman is shot through the brain, and a dozen others sustained injuries before the attacker is subdued and captured.
When word got out that the elected official was a Democrat, talk radio and conservative politicians fell under attack. Not just by commentators, but by reputable journalists and public figures. It was inflammatory language that caused this tragedy.
Fortunately, President Obama addressed the matter at the memorial event held in Arizona this week, stressing that this was not the act of a partisan man, but rather the act of a deranged man.
The attack was no more party motivated than it would have been had it happened to Sen. John McCain. Would it have been a Democrats' or a liberals' fault? Absolutely not.
While the President's words were right on, unfortunately the damage had been done. Reputable news sources jumped on the bandwagon and ran with the "juicy" blame story.
Another example of media sensationalism.
When it comes to news - those charged with bringing it to us should follow Sgt. Friday's motto: "Just the facts, ma'am."