When News Gatherers Become News Makers

Baltimore riots get reporters up close and personal

It’s been quite a while since Baghdad Bob stood on a rooftop offering commentary and visuals of an assault on a city. He became an instant sensation among news watchers. Now, many years later, reporters are becoming even more involved in the events they are supposed to be covering.

You saw the riot coverage this week. Reporters in Baltimore were so close to the action they become part of the action. Here’s a headline and lead from a Poynter Institute online post: “At least nine journalists have been beaten or injured in the Baltimore riots this week – including several Monday night.” Casey Harper, a reporter with the Daily Caller, says he took a liquor bottle to the head amid a “mob of attackers.”

The Huffington Post charged that CNN sensationalized its coverage with dramatic interviews and once again chose to play mostly negative images. Slate’s Justin Peters called the network’s reporting “shallow, sensationalistic, reductive and statist.”

Even the president got in on the commentary. “One burning building will be looped on television over and over again,” Obama said. He went on to say the peaceful protests were largely ignored by the media.

I listened to several hours of riot coverage by radio. I heard many news reporters talking about moving away from the action because they were too close. A reporter on Fox News showed examples of rocks used against his car. Upon arriving home, I watched newsmen and women getting told by law enforcement to “get behind the line or you’ll get hurt.” Then, there were “man in the street” interviews of rioters espousing rage while pictures showed a burning CVS and liquor store looting.

At what point do reporters actually make news instead of report it? I think we’re getting really close to a time when it’s hard to tell the difference.

Let’s leave hostage situations alone. In those cases, journalists are doing their jobs, but sometimes they get kidnapped and turned into propaganda vehicles. They do not intentionally become the news.

It appears some news organizations believe it’s worthwhile to report on journalists’ close brush with disaster in the midst of bedlam. Many times while viewing riot coverage I heard the terms “take cover,” “watch out,” “incoming” and “let’s move out” erupting from the mouths of journalists. I was confused for a moment that I had accidentally tuned into a rerun of “Platoon.”

Let’s be candid. News organizations get better ratings when the action is realistic and filled with drama. I wonder, however, how valuable is it to get so directly involved in the action? One thing I can say for Baghdad Bob … at least he ducked.

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