Quick Hits – “Jarrod wants to be your friend”

Quick Hits – “Jarrod wants to be your friend”

Before we start, I want to be crystal clear that no one deserves to die in a workplace shooting. Short of self-defense, no act is heinous enough to provoke and excuse this kind of absurd violent outburst.

I also refuse to blame the victims. Most of them had nothing to do with the column that precipitated this tragedy, and even if they had, a bad journalistic decision shouldn’t cost you your life.

But as the story of five shooting deaths at the Annapolis Capital Gazette unfolds, I firmly believe their editors and that columnist share some culpability. Having read the 2011 column that set this sad scenario in motion, I can’t stop cringing.

Capital Gazette

The suspect in this mass shooting, whose last name will be withheld here, is clearly mentally ill. The Gazette column describes a man who relentlessly and horrifically stalked a former high school classmate, online and through email, for a year before she finally resorted to the courts to put a stop to it.

It was the kind of nightmare that no one who offers kindness to an acquaintance should ever have to endure.

The cautionary tale of Internet peril is a good one, and that story would have had the same impact without publishing the offender’s name. What baffles me is, what on God’s green Earth made those Gazette editors decide to out a mentally ill man who wasn’t a public figure on his best day.

Go ahead and put a line in a police blotter, but not this!

Thinking back to my phenomenal former editors like Greg Rivara, Rick Nagel, Mike Cetera, Paul Harth, and Dave Parro, none of them would’ve let that column get past the first draft. A story on Web stalking? Sure! Telling the story without the names? You bet! But calling out a private citizen, who clearly has major issues – by name and in detail – would’ve meant a stern lecture and starting from scratch.

And the editor who came up with that sarcastic, smarmy and needlessly nasty headline – “Jarrod wants to be your friend?” Aside from selling newspapers, what the hell was he or she thinking? What could they possibly hope to accomplish by taunting a mentally ill man?

Why do I suspect a Gazette editor and that columnist reached out to the subject only to be angered by his response, and they let that anger cloud their judgement?

The late, great Mike Royko always said his biggest regret was “peeling a grape with an axe.” As he wound down to three columns a week, Royko anguished over the times he excoriated a low-level city worker or bureaucrat who was simply following orders.

But as local newspapers slowly die, using a hatchet to go after grapes has become the norm.

When was the last time the Daily Herald, a Shaw newspaper, or the suburban Tribune papers broke a big news story? They haven’t for over a decade. When you add up very young reporters, a general lack of talent, editors desperate to save their jobs, and publishers awash in red ink, journalistic standards go right out the window.

Since they can no longer break the big stories, they’re going after easier and smaller targets.

When the Daily Herald blew their Gliniewicz coverage, they disproportionally took it out on a lowly Elgin animal control officer who, while certainly in the wrong, did not deserve nearly that amount of newsprint.

And the Shaw newspapers have become nothing more than one big police blotter.

I’m very fond of Shaw Media’s DeKalb Office General Manager, Eric Olson, but we are currently engaged in a long-running debate over papers running police reports. Eric says it’s an important part of informing the community and the most popular part of the paper, while I insist it’s nothing more than a conviction in the press.

And what paper ever prints that any of those folks were exonerated?

Shaw Media will run an update reflecting an acquittal if the subject calls and proves the charges were dropped. But that just reminds readers – who’ve already made up their minds – of the original story.

When your journalistic focus boils down to going after non-public people who aren’t used to that level of scrutiny – and especially mentally ill people who aren’t used to that level of scrutiny – bad things are bound to happen.

How many innocent defendants have lost their job just so Shaw Media and Paddock Publications can pander to readers’ prurient interest and get a few more Internet hits?

There’s a similar situation brewing in Kane County right now. A mentally ill individual is sending rambling, semi-threatening emails to myself, and a number of public and elected officials. Though those missives are troubling, and I would caution my involved friends to be more careful in the short term, outing this individual would make it so much worse.

And despite my liberal friends’ dire proclamations, this tragedy had nothing to do with Donald Trump, or Milos Yiannopoulos’ call to assassinate journalists (a desperate cry for attention), and everything to do with a truly terrifying editorial decision that spun completely out of control.

I’ll say it again. I can’t imagine what those editors were thinking. These are utterly pointless and unnecessary deaths.

Local newspapers and journalists must get back to, as former Kane County Chronicle Managing Editor Greg Rivara always insisted, “comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.” Nobody deserves to die for it, but afflicting the afflicted is just plain wrong.


16 thoughts on “Quick Hits – “Jarrod wants to be your friend”

  1. Thank you for “getting it”! I am talking about your recognition of journalists going for the first blood and printing arrest reports without bothering to follow up on exonerations. This happened to me. The press vilified/crucified me with erroneous reports I was powerless to correct. Thank goodness I live in a community where the people know me and didn’t believe the press reports. It still cost me my job even though I was found innocent of the charges. The situation changed my life and could have prompted as mentally unstable person to adverse action. I guess stories of exoneration just don’t have the juiciness of the original accusation stories!

  2. Jeff, I really don’t see where your indignation is coming from.

    Why should this SOB have a right to privacy? He harassed a woman and probably got her fired from her job. As far as I’m concerned, public embarrassment was something he richly deserved. And naming him served a practical purpose, too: warning other female acquaintances, i.e. potential victims, not to respond to him on social media or anywhere else.

    Had I been the editor, I would have approved that column ten times over and never thought twice about it.

    Blame the bastard who pulled the trigger. Blame the ridiculously lenient laws in this country that let lunatics acquire all the firepower their twisted minds desire. But do not blame fellow journalists who were only doing their jobs.

    1. I have been the victim of the journalistic blood rush to get a story without the requisite fact checking. Yes, this guy is an animal but that doesn’t give anyone the right to vilify him in a public forum without the chance of due process.

      1. William, he had the right to due process. He was found guilty in court. I’m sorry about your experience, but please don’t empathize with this maniac.

  3. Pan,

    Indignation? no! Total shock? Yes! There is a vast difference.

    And journalistic standards demand, beyond that police blotter, you don’t go after non-public individuals – especially those that, due of a mental disease, can’t help themselves.

    I worked with the mentally ill from 1985 to 1990 and it was a terrifying thing to watch someone’s brain utterly betray them. And as you know, we aren’t very good about caring for these least of our brothers and sisters.

    As far as the gun laws go, even Joe Biden said if you want to scare an intruder grab a shotgun. So, more restrictive gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy.

    On the news yesterday, the owner of the Gazette said, when he learned of the shooting, he knew exactly who did it. Their battle with this individual has raged since 2011. But instead of taking a step back and trying to get this guy the help he so desperately needs, they continued the war to it’s illogical conclusion.


      1. Other Jeff,

        Having discussed this with an editor and a number of other journalists, I am newly shocked about their utter lack of self reflection. To them, newspapers are never wrong.

        And that will be the death of newspapers.


    1. Jeff, a newspaper is not a mental health facility. (Although I’ve worked at papers that strongly resembled one.) If someone is walking around free and uses that freedom to make other people miserable, his motivations are secondary at best as far as I’m concerned.

      “Their battle with this individual”? As far as I can tell, that “battle” consisted of truthfully reporting what he did and defending themselves when he brought a baseless lawsuit against them.

      Your comment about Biden is a non-sequitur. If we had laws in place that restricted the ability of mentally unstable convicted criminals to obtain firearms, this “tragedy”–or as I prefer to call it, crime–might very well not have occurred.

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