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American Horror Story Is Uncomfortable to Watch

Unimaginable. Unspeakable. Unbelievable. Unbearable.

To all those descriptions of the horror in Newtown, Conn. Friday that led to the shooting deaths of so many young children 11 days before Christmas, add the word uncomfortable.

It was uncomfortable to watch the television coverage of what arguably could be the most horrific mass murder since the Oklahoma City bombing that took so many children’s lives.

It was hard to hold back tears even before President Obama wiped away his shortly after 3 p.m. when addressing the nation.  On the NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams said the President actually had to cut short his remarks because he was so emotional about the end of so many young lives.

I had to stop watching a few hours later before rejoining the coverage for the special one-hour newscasts.

I tried again this morning but had to turn off a special edition of NBC’s “Today” a few minutes after Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Lester Holt started recapping the horror that hit a Norman Rockwell small town in New England.

To try and keep my mind off the unimaginable pain experienced by the parents of the dead children and the children of the dead adults, I did what I always do when such horrors occur. I kept notes. This being 2012, I also put some comments about the coverage on Twitter. Here are some of my thoughts about the coverage.

I was impressed by Norah O’Donnell, who anchored CBS’ coverage in the daytime and had just the right tone as she interviewed some of the adults in Newtown whose children survived. She was somber and compassionate.

The words of veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer put things in perspective. (I may not have the quotes exactly right, but they are close enough) : “I’ve been around a long time,” the 75-year-old Schieffer told O’Donnell. “I have never heard or seen anything come up to what we’re seeing unfold today.” Then, apparently alluding to a gun control debate, Schieffer predicted: “This is as far as we’ll be willing to let this go.” Finally, Schieffer poignantly said: “This is the time for those who make their living on words that I can’t find the words.”

Bob Schieffer

There were plenty of mistakes during the daytime by all the networks, some of which were their fault and some of which weren’t. The gunman, who killed himself, was misidentified for hours as his older brother (You may notice I have intentionally chosen not to use his name.) The gunman’s mother was originally thought to have been killed at school rather than at her home. She was called a teacher on Friday, though authorities said today that was incorrect. One network reported that the gunman’s father was dead when he was alive. The inaccurate reporting was a journalistic embarrassment. However, somehow it doesn’t seem that important in the scheme of things. Even Hurricane Sandy seems less important.

The Still Pictures: This was one story in which still photographs of the reaction of the parents whose children were lost or survived were more powerful than any video.

Unjustified. That was my initial sentiment when I saw some of the children who survived being interviewed about what they had seen and heard. They were smart, cute and added some details, and I’m sure their parents allowed them to be interviewed. But I wish they had been left alone because no one knows how they are going to feel in the days, months or years ahead. Brian Williams noted during the NBC Nightly News that reporters stayed away from interviewing the grieving parents of some of the victims. They should have stayed away from the surviving children as well.  

I was surprised that Channel 2 was the first local affiliate to go to entertainment programming in the afternoon because the local NBC affiliate has built its news reputation by covering big events. But it turns out it had no choice around 4 p.m. because NBC News bailed out. I understand its reasoning – very few accurate details were coming out. But it was the wrong call by NBC, which made Channel 2 and its other affiliates look uncaring by running an episode of “Ellen” that featured Hugh Jackman promoting the “Les Miz” movie and Justin Bieber singing. NBC News did break back into local programming around the time Bieber sang.

Unnecessary. That was the word that came to mind when I watched the local network affiliates tell viewers how local schools are prepared if something like this occurs here. The attempts to localize a national story like this bring out the worst in local news. The worst moment may have been when Channel 2 anchor  Maryalice Demler read some statistics that compared the size of Newtown to Clarence by giving population and other school district similarities. That unneeded angle was a stretch that may have given an unwanted and unspoken impression to some that something similar could happen here. (It could happen anywhere.)This was a national story. It wasn’t about WNY.

Necessary. That was the overwhelming sentiment about the need for a gun control debate after a month that has seen a NFL player shoot and kill his girlfriend and commit suicide; a mall shooting in Oregon; and now this unbelievable horror. I would suspect the gun lobby will note the guns used were registered to the gunman’s mother and not the gunman. But they were in the house that he was living. It probably was a good thing that watching Friday made many people feel uncomfortable. It may have made many more comfortable to deal with gun control. Not dealing with the issue now is almost as unimaginable as what we witnessed Friday.


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7 responses to "American Horror Story Is Uncomfortable to Watch"

  1. I can only hope that the United States takes action like England did in the 80′s after a horrific school shooting left a mass of children dead and thats ban guns to anyone who isnt police or military personel.

  2. Ilpalazzo says:

    Bryan – the 2nd amendment of right of arms is to prevent a tyrannical gov’t. In case you haven’t noticed in the news for the past two years, police have become more and more aggressive here in the states, and many cases of abusing authority. You’d like them and criminals to be the only ones with guns? Don’t forget too that the US Federal Gov’t gave guns to Mexican cartels in that Fast and Furious debacle that seems to have slipped from the news.

  3. daniel says:

    The press should do the right thing and stay away–leave these people grieve..no reports on the funerals..no interview requests..just go away.. The next killer is watching and noticing all the attention he will get dead or alive.

  4. For those, like one of the people who posted above, questioning the reasonable call for gun control now, I question your humanity. Is your Second Amendment right more precious than the life of one of the children killed in this attack? I say a firm no! The shooter’s mother had no need for semi-automatic weapons! I support Second Amendment rights for hunters and for those who want a simple handgun for protection. But anything more than that needs to be banned. The Second Amendment was written at a time when the framers of our Constitution couldn’t envision the weaponry of today. I don’t know if we can reverse this at this point. But if assault weapons were banned a generation ago, criminals wouldn’t have them today. They’d have a rifle or a Saturday Night Special. Yeah, those can inflict harm. But they can’t result in the carnage we saw Friday. We can’t change society. Detecting mental illness is a crapshoot. What’s in a person’s mind is so hard to diagnose. But I do know this. If the shooter’s mother did not have these weapons, 20 children would likely be alive today. I’ll put my trust in the police and government more than the perceived need of gun-rights wackos who believe they need to be fully armed with military-style weapons. Another child’s life should never be lost again in this way! Enough said! And to bring this discussion back to the topic of this blog, kudos to Piers Morgan on CNN Friday night for his hard-nosed questioning of the gun rights activist whose position really does not hold water anymore now that 20 children are dead because of this nation’s inane gun policies. Good going, Piers! Your held their feet to the fire! Perhaps it takes an Englishman to expose the hollow arguments of the gun lobby. I just pray the President and Congress have the courage to put a stop to this carnage!

  5. Joe says:

    Thanks Alan for not running the killers name. That certainly seems to be a motivator for other unhinged individuals as they seek to out do others for the publicity and notoriety their meaningless lives lacked.

  6. Alan rubin says:

    With the television coverage I am reminded of an old Don Henley song, dirty laundry, just leave these families alone

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