Hard Candy – The Mirror

*Originally published in the December 20 print edition of the Gabber*

Well, it didn’t take long for the rants to start. Gun control, of course, topped the list, but not soon after that I started seeing Facebook posts and outcries that “the media” sensationalized last Friday’s brutal murder of schoolchildren and teachers in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. One of my acquaintances posited that if “the media” didn’t make such a big deal out of things like this, they wouldn’t happen. He seemed to believe that the media coverage of these tragedies encourage these horrid acts of violence.
Had I not recently been chastised for my use of harsh language in this column, I would call that statement a steaming pile of male cow excrement. Honestly, if a news program changes you  from “responsible, moral person” to “black-hearted serial killer”, you probably had a few issues before you switched on the telly.

I find it particularly insulting when people refer to “the media” as if we are all one giant group that meets in some sort of journalistic Batcave to plot how to control the public. There is no “them.” The media is people, from the local weekly opinion columnist to the national news anchorman. We make mistakes on occasion (just as you do in your job, I’m certain), but we’re not a group of horrible people who delight in tragedies because it gives us more stuff to do. We hate reporting on kids getting killed, or someone drowning a puppy. But we have a job to do, and choosing that graphic or writing that headline? It’s our job. What’s more, we’re paid to show you an accurate reflection. Not a picture: a reflection.

Think about that – please. “The media” only writes about things that happen and how people react to those things. We don’t make it up, guys. Humans have the ability and, in some cases, the propensity, to be hideous to one another. You want us to stop glorifying mass murderers? Stop committing them. A healthy step towards that might be, oh, I don’t know, talking about mental healthcare for everybody rather than pointing fingers at the people who report on the hideous things that the mentally ill do.

Look, I’m not suggesting that it’s responsible or ethical to contact the parents of a murdered child and ask them how they feel simply because “people will read it.” I also have little tolerance for the dozens of non-authentic news sites that capitalize on the tragedy du jour. And I’m certainly not using the tired tabloid excuse of “we only print it because people buy it.”

No, I’m reminding you that we only print it because it happens. The media doesn’t need to sensationalize something like last Friday’s shooting, because it was shocking enough on its own. But we do need to cover things like that, because that’s part of who we are as a society, like it or not. When bad things happen, people want to understand how and why they could, so they ask questions. The media, in turn, seeks answers.

And here’s something you may not know: we don’t enjoy it. We don’t lick our lips with anticipation when something horrible happens. We do our job, and we try to do it with some modicum of objectivity, which, to an outsider, may sound dispassionate or cold and calculating. A journalist has to function like that, at times like those, to function at all.

Every reporter I know would rather wish you a Merry Christmas and publish the top ten best fruitcake recipes, but that’s not how it works. Why? Because some people have unabiding darkness in their souls. Unlike everyone else, members of the media cannot ignore things they find unpleasant, because those horrible people are reflections of our world, too.

Even at a community paper, where it’s supposed to be mostly cake and ice cream as opposed to greed and corruption, we don’t get to choose our reality. The Newtown Bee, a weekly paper not unlike the Gabber, covered Friday’s tragedy from the start. I’m certain that as they interview people and write the stories, those reporters cry. I’m fairly certain most of the men and women who have covered this story for national and international media cried last Friday. But they have a job to do, and they do it.

Believe me, I love to write about all the cool art stuff in Gulfport and the families vacationing on St. Pete Beach and all the other stories that make you feel warm down to your pinky toenails, but even here, unpleasantness exists. I have to write about the idiot setting fires to palm trees, or the guy who molested a little girl. More than once I’ve cried writing articles about animals or kids who are mistreated, but I write them. Why?

Because we’re a mirror, not a painting. If you don’t like what you see, don’t break the mirror.

Change what you see. And hug the people you love.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.