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Virginia Vs. "Scuzzball Reporters" (That's Me!)

Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican from Fairfax County, is one of the press corps' favorite lawmakers in Richmond. He's no great statesman, but he's got a penchant for taking the outrages of daily life and concocting some way to write new laws about them.

Lately, Cuccinelli is bothered by "scuzzball reporters out there who don't have a shred of human decency to give a flying rat's tail about the condition or feelings or circumstances of families" who've suffered some tragedy. Cuccinelli is offended by the sight of press hacks descending on citizens who've lost a loved one in some crime, fire or accident, so he's decided it should be illegal for reporters--or anyone else, for that matter-- to visit such families.

His Senate Bill 1120 would deem criminal anyone who enters onto someone's private property within a week after the owner's family "suffered a substantial personal, physical, mental, or emotional loss, injury, or trauma."

The senator says this is necessary to stop scuzzball reporters from "bugging people" for a "juicy quote."

I'm one of those scuzzball reporters.

The first time an editor sent me out to knock on the door of a woman whose husband, an FBI agent, had just been murdered by a drug thug, I could barely bring myself to do the job. I agreed with Cuccinelli wholeheartedly: How, I wondered, could anyone countenance the intrusion of a stranger at that time? How could I impose my business on someone in such a vulnerable position?

But I was 22 and the boss sent me out and I couldn't think of a good reason to refuse the job. I accepted my editor's assurance that this was an important and good thing to do, that the benefit of telling the agent's story far outweighed any emotional trauma that might result from my visit.

I knocked. The reality was vastly worse than my expectation, because it turned out I was the first human being the new widow saw after getting the call about her husband's death. To my amazement, she did not turn me away, but asked me to come in.

She wanted to tell me everything about her husband. She wanted to talk. She wanted the world to know what a wonderful man he'd been, what had driven him to become an FBI agent, what he intended for himself and for her.

I thought I might get a few telling details, borrow a family photo and get out of there in 10 minutes.

I stayed three hours. Sure, I had an ulterior motive, a business purpose. But I also served the function of listener, fellow human being, witness. Several times, I offered to leave. Each time, the woman begged me to stay.

The story I wrote surely did not do sufficient justice to the man who was killed in the line of duty. But the widow called me repeatedly over the following year to thank me for having listened to her and for spreading the word about who her husband was.

I tell this story not because it is an anomaly, but because it is the unexpected and counterintuitive truth of most of the close encounters that reporters have with people in grief. Sure, there are jerks and abusers who take advantage of families in such situations; no one should have to deal with pompous TV reporters barging into their houses, lights shining and hairspray hanging in the air. But most reporters get to be pretty good at finding a balance between families' needs for privacy and our professional quest for the story that will communicate to a broader audience the wrongs that have been committed.

Cuccinelli is wildly wrong on this one.

An editorial in yesterday's Staunton News Leader declares Cuccinelli's measure to be the Stupidest Bill of the Session:

Just imagine the ramifications of this proposed law: You're a church pastor and one of your flock has just lost a family member. You stop by to offer your condolences and offer some prayers. Even if you're invited inside for a cup of coffee, once you hit the threshold, bang! You're a criminal!

Or say you're a neighbor of someone who's been hurt in an automobile accident. Being a good neighbor, you stop by with a casserole so your injured friend won't have to negotiate cooking. After trading pleasantries and get-well wishes at the front door, your neighbor accepts the proffered food and shuts the door. Bang! You're a criminal!

What Cuccinelli is trying to legislate is something that should be left right where it rests at present: On private individuals' doorsteps. If someone wishes to admit a visitor - no matter who, no matter what circumstances - that is a personal choice. If a person feels harassed, that is a personal choice, too, and there are legal ways to deal with that situation.

Save us from idiotic legislation. Stay out of our bedrooms, our churches and off our front porches.


Like most reporters, I've been told often enough to get the heck off the property of people in pain, and that's the absolute right of those folks, without Cuccinelli's highhanded attempt to change the law.

What the senator seems not to understand is that if you have to resort to writing a law in an effort to command human decency, you've already lost the battle.

UPDATE:

The Virginia Senate's Courts of Justice committee has killed Cuccinell's bill. The senator was unable to get even one member of the committee to go along with his proposal, which was denounced by Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Richmond) as a "gratuitous, wholesale attack on the press."

The committee's counsel declared the bill "unconstitutional," the AP's Larry O'Dell reported. When Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) asked whether the proposal would allow trespassing charges to be filed against a florist delivering flowers to a bereaved family, Cuccinelli said: "They would need to call ahead, that's all."


By Marc Fisher |  January 25, 2007; 7:51 AM ET
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Comments

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Bravo, Marc, Bravo.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 25, 2007 8:20 AM

Wow, brilliant legislation. Let us start meddling in people's private affairs. I know I would want people to check on me, and if I had a story to tell I would tell it. If I asked people to leave me alone, I hope they would respect that and leave my property. The government does not need to go there. You would think they could come up with something more important to do, like spend time working on the environment, or get better equipment for troops!

Posted by: Chris | January 25, 2007 8:26 AM

And silly me.. I thought Republicans were all for getting government out of our faces.

One of the kindest people we met when my father died last year was the reporter from the Post who called to write Dad's obituary. He spent an hour each with my sister and me. It was better than therapy.

Posted by: TBG | January 25, 2007 8:35 AM

And the GOP wonders why it keeps losing elections in VA. When they have idiots like Cuccinelli and Marshall as flagbearers of the party it sint that hard to understand. This moron is my VA senator. I am independent conservative and this idiot needs to go. His problem is despite his heritage he is in bed with the far right and their nut case religious allies. Ultra conservative far right wing just doesnt work in most of VA. Home schooling who cares. I am probably more pro life then this fool and support the right to bear arms but I couldnt care less if a gay couple wants to marry and make lawyers richer. And you cant be against abortion and for the death penalty, sorry. Butt out of folks lifes is my message to GOP. Gay marriage will not destroy the American family.

Posted by: vaherder | January 25, 2007 8:41 AM

I remember hearing a story in a journalism class - can't remember if it was from a reading or the professor's career or, more likely, apocryphal - about a reporter who had to write about a kid who'd been hit by a train. He decided against interviewing the mother, not wanting to make her feel even worse on the worst day of her life.

The story came out to say something like: kid, playing on the train tracks, hit by a train. But the mother was angry when that story came out - she said the real story was that the school district didn't provide proper transportation and her kid had to cross the train tracks to get to school.

So, whether this particular story of bad journalism is true or not, it's a reminder that a grieving family has a unique perspective on the story. Maybe they'd rather be left alone. Who knows. But if you don't even try to get their part of the story, and all you write is what the cops tell you, you're failing everyone - the community, the readers, the family, and the person who died.

Posted by: h3 | January 25, 2007 8:49 AM

I'm taking the contrary position here. Sorry, I can't think of a reason why reporters need to have unfettered access to the newly-devastated.

If they want to reach out to the reporter on their own, fine. Otherwise, it's too much like ambulance-chasing 'journalism'.

Posted by: JD | January 25, 2007 9:00 AM

JD;

Try this on for size. The fetter already exists, it's called a front door and a polite question from a reporter. Sometimes it does take a question from "outside" for a person to realize they'd like to talk.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 25, 2007 9:18 AM

Marc,

You're selling yourself short. I don't think you're accurate when you characterize yourself as a "scuzzball reporter." Biased, yes. Gifted, for sure. Hypocritical, sometimes. Ugly? Well, based on that picture... But, no way "scuzzball."

You need to work on your self-perception. Hope you'll discuss this with your therapist this week.

Posted by: KK | January 25, 2007 9:31 AM

When I was in journalism school we were taught call just twice and if they hang up on you both times, let it go.

But generally, in my experience as a community reporter, people find it cathartic to share the story of their loved one. And if they prefer not to, they can always say no.

Posted by: Kelly P | January 25, 2007 9:32 AM

Valuable response to legislative stupidity.

But, your own biased and generic straw man of the hairsprayed TV reporter with lights blazing is also way out of line.

Posted by: joe c | January 25, 2007 10:10 AM

um . . . isn't the obvious response to this proposed legislation that it is unconstitutional?

Posted by: OD | January 25, 2007 10:30 AM

Like vaherder, I'm also unfortunately represented by Cuccinelli. He isn't for anything, only against. I urge all who live in the Centreville area to get this guy out of here come November. He's against schools, roads and most importantly, rational thought.

Posted by: John Lease | January 25, 2007 10:33 AM

In a previous career as a reporter, I had to write about a train-car crash one day that killed three people. I called the father of one of the victims and interviewed him. He was very distraught and said a few things in response to my questions, then the call was over.

About an hour later, he called me back and talked for another hour about what a great kid his son was, what the son liked and wanted to do with his life, and how the accident had torn apart three families.

It turned out the guy had been on tranquilizers and was a bit woozy when I called him. When he sobered up, he told me the things he wanted the world to know about his son.

I've also been in the position of knocking on doors and trying to interview people. If they didn't want to talk, or told me I was trespassing, I got in the wind and that was that.

All of that to say: Cuccinelli, don't you have some Fairfax County transportation problems to fix? Or something more important than this?

You laid an egg, man.

Posted by: dirrtysw | January 25, 2007 10:50 AM

Is this bill going to be as obtuse and far-reaching as the same-sex marriage bill? Will mailmen be arrested for doing their jobs?

Posted by: SJF | January 25, 2007 10:52 AM

Can't decide if this legislation is sad or funny.

It certainly reeks of more legislation that plays down to the least common denominator and definitely could lead down a slippery first amendment slope.

Why doesn't Cuccinelli try and take issue with a specific reporter that he feels acted innapropriately? It's like any profession in that some do it well and some do it poorly.

In the realm of senators, Cuccinelli himself is acting like the sensationalistic journalist that he seeks to curb.

Posted by: Ryan | January 25, 2007 10:53 AM

Marc, you are not a scuzzball. That title is reserved for used cars salesmen.

Posted by: WB | January 25, 2007 10:54 AM

Obviously, you need to allow people who -want- to talk to scuzzball reporters to do so, while giving the other 99% percent of the population a way of getting rid of them.

Very simple,really: allow deadly force. You want to talk to the sleazebag reporter who has no respect for human decency? Fine, invite him in for coffee. Otherwise, BLAM! One less sleazebag on the planet.

Posted by: burke | January 25, 2007 10:54 AM

RE: Burke's comment = least common denominator to which I was referring.

Posted by: Ryan | January 25, 2007 10:56 AM

What is unconstitutional about it? Private property rights come first! You should already be able to press charges for trespassing. The only change this law makes is making a certain type of trespassing a criminal rather than a civil offense. I reckon it will still be up to the victim, for lack of a better term, to press charges. I personally don't mind that criminal charges could be filed when a reporter oversteps the line. There is really no need to be so melodramatic about it.

I can see how one could initially think the law is stupid and that this legislator is foolish, but just think about it for a minute. I know I can't count on actual newpaper writers to do this, so thankfully readers can post.

Posted by: bkp | January 25, 2007 10:57 AM

The wording of the law, as portrayed in this article does not seem to limit it to reporters, but ANY concerned individual who visits the property of the victim or bereaved. Not cool... so the rule of civilized society should prevail. If you are not welcomed, leave and do not harass. Again, focus legislative efforts on things that will actually do something good for the people, the nation, and the world and quit wasting time and money on fluff.

Posted by: Chris | January 25, 2007 11:08 AM

Not only is the legislation stupid, but there are already legal steps an individual can take if a "scuzzball" does continue bothering and individual on his or her doorstep: calling the cops regarding harassment/trespassing (if the reporter is on the individual's property), petitioning for restraining orders, etc.

Posted by: akmitc | January 25, 2007 11:08 AM

Unfortunately, as is typical, a few bad individuals have made it difficult for everybody. It's the reporters that refuse to take no for an answer and continue to press, even when it's clear they aren;t wanted. My family was involved in a tramitic incident and a reporter asked to interview my son. I agreed, but when the questions became inappropriate (in my opinion), and asked her to end the interview. She did, thanked me, and left. If all reporters acted the way she did, we wouldn't need these laws.

Posted by: Arlington | January 25, 2007 11:12 AM

Did anyone else happen to notice that this bush-league, hack pol is a lawyer?

Maybe he doesn't want "scuzzball" reporters clogging the doorway for the stampede of ambulance-chasing, blood-sucking, reptilian plantiffs lawyers.

Posted by: Joe | January 25, 2007 11:20 AM

How about an amendment to the bill that prohibits political candidates/sitting politicians from taking pictures with minorities on the campaign trail, holding/hugging/kissing babies on the campaign trail, or posing with any group of sycophants in front of some banner emblazoned with some catchy phrase such as "Job Done"?

Posted by: Tony | January 25, 2007 11:20 AM

I've never interviewed anyone that didn't want to be interviewed. Never quoted anyone who didn't say something for me to quote. If someone doesn't want to talk, they either don't call me back or just say as much to my face. I tried to talk to a mother of an Iraq War casualty, but simply could not get through at a time that worked. Ended up talking to the kid's ROTC teacher from high school, and at the end the teacher even thanked me, saying it felt good to be able to talk highly about someone he respected. He also admitted he didn't really want to talk about it at first. Expecting this dingleberry to know whats best for everyone is ludicrous.

Posted by: John | January 25, 2007 11:27 AM

I'm a lawyer, and the rules of my profession prevent me from knocking on the door of an accident victim or recently bereaved spouse. Certainly, lawyers break this rule sometimes, but the rule is there to prevent exploitation of the emotionally vulnerable. It sounds like Marc handled his situation with sensitivity, but note that even he can't resist saying that it's bad when TV reporters do it.

Posted by: Tom T. | January 25, 2007 11:29 AM

I live in the district between this nimrod's and his fellow nimrod Marshall. Last year we rejected that other freak -- children of the corn preacher Chris Craddock -- in favor of moderate Democrat Chuck Caputo.

To my neighbors to the east and west: Please dump these two clowns!

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | January 25, 2007 11:37 AM

"Excuse me, I'm a citizen journalist for Wicked Local, not a scuzzball reporter from the WaPo, may I talk to you?"

"Sure come on in."

Posted by: Mark | January 25, 2007 11:42 AM

I agree it's sad that we would even need this law. However, when in doubt, safeguarding the privacy and recovery time of the devastated doesn't seem to me beyond the purview of legislatures.

And I'd guess that we can't take seriously any comments from the self-described journalists, as they are hopelessly tainted by conflict of interest.

Posted by: JD | January 25, 2007 12:27 PM

Is it any wonder why the legislator's nickname is Kook-a-Nelly??

Posted by: Mister Methane | January 25, 2007 12:32 PM

I'd prefer to see a law that requires any politician to tell a lie to receive a public spanking, but there isn't enough wood in the forests for the paddles that would be needed.

Posted by: Ray Barrington | January 25, 2007 12:43 PM

I wonder how many people formed their opinion of "scuzzball" journalists based on their actual personal interactions with them or just what they've seen on TV or movies or hearsay. As my grandpa used to say to my grandma, "Some of the stuff on TV isn't true, Norma." -- a scuzzball journalist

Posted by: Nate Legue | January 25, 2007 12:45 PM

Marc is absolutely right on this. I was a newspaper reporter for almost 10 years, and I don't know of a single colleague who relished this kind of assignment. Most print reporters approach family members of the deceased respectfully and professionally, and if the family doesn't want to talk, they leave. Cuccinelli is woefully misguided.

Posted by: EP | January 25, 2007 12:58 PM

I'm sure of one person who's labelled reporters as scuzzballs based on personal experience: Sen. Cuccinelli. And, he was so persuasive that he got Raw Fish, himself, to step into the confessional and own up to past transgressions.

Posted by: KK | January 25, 2007 12:58 PM

As a young right-out-of-college reporter, I too, did my share of stories involving deaths ranging from car crashes to suicides. The first couple were very difficult, professionally and personally, but I found that there was, to a certain degree, some comfort for the family and friends in talking. I never intruded, only gave them a chance to talk. The one I still remember most vividly is a series of articles I did with a family whose young daughter had cancer. I chronicled her battle up through her unfortunate death. After she died, they thanked me for what I had done, which was nothing compared to what they had done or experienced. I was not yet a parent, but I empathized with them and hoped that I would never have to face the same tragedy with one of my children. When I was later a city editor and managing editor I sent my young reporters on similar stories, knowing that while they weren't going to like the assignment, it was important for those involved to have the chance. No law is needed to keep reporters away in such circumstances. What is needed is common sense, compassion and an understanding that sometimes all people need is someone to listen.

Posted by: Pete | January 25, 2007 1:01 PM

Cuccinelli is, well, a moron. It's really that simple. If he wants to write legislation like this, I certainly hope he'd back a law prohibiting religious loiterers from coming up to my door and asking me about my belief in god.

Actually, come to think of it, aren't these republicans supposed to be all about limited government, and keeping it out of your face? I guess that went out the window.

Posted by: corbett | January 25, 2007 1:25 PM

This one-sided, slanted anecdotal article is a poor measure of this bill (which I had not heard of until now). Let me tell you the other side.

My family was involved in the July 1998 shooting at the U.S. Capitol. My uncle was talking to Officer Chestnut when it all started. He, my cousin and sister-in-law witnessed the gunman walk up behind Officer Chestnut and fire at point blank range.

During the subsequent incident my sister-in-law (she has since divorced) received several wounds.

I was one of the first relatives at the hospital - the others were being questioned as witnesses. A person stopped me and started asking questions - and for names. I started to answer and then asked who he was with - the man said, "FBI." (which got the attention of the law enforcement down the hall). When he realized the officers were watching he left - and the officers told me he was a reporter. No they did not pursue him.

Later my sister-in-law's medical records went missing at the hospital - repeatedly. Most likely the press took them as facts from them appeared in news stories later.

The press was at her house before she got out of the hospital - and they refused to leave. They turned their bright lights on a recuperating person's house ALL hours of the day (and night) and would not leave. They did this constantly and watched every entrance and exit. The house was lit up with multiple lights.

Finally they negotiated a settlement where she would appear at her attorney's office - answer some questions and allow a drawing of her to be made. In exchange they would stop their First Amendment right to harrass her at her home 24x7.

I saw and learned a lot during that ordeal. One of the lessons is that reporters have sold their soul and find solace in the belief that it is for a greater good (First Amendment, informing the community, etc...). They harrass people who have been victims within moments of disasters and do whatever they can to get the story - whether the victims are willing participants or not. Polite reporters will not cut it - especially in television reporting (print media is slightly more patient).

I am glad the reporter in this story could be there for that widow. But would you have left if she had asked? Do reporters just leave the scene if you ask?

Not when the tragedy is big enough. Not when the ratings are there.

I learned a lot through the process - how Congress exposes the Capitol Hill Police to unnecessary risks, how some politicans with medical backgrounds exploit tragic events on Capitol Hill for photo ops, how Capitol Hill staffers don't care if officers are dead they have appointments to keep (and tried to bully their way through a security checkpoint), how the police selectively release facts, about turf battles in D.C. over law enforcement, how medical personnel are just as willing to exploit an event as anyone else (how many G.W. doctors brought their classes to see the star patient for no apparent reason while she was still in triage), how truly random violence can be, how raw emotions can be...

But the second biggest lesson was how callous some can be. And the lowest of the low were the press.

At least the shooter can blame his actions on mental illness - the news media have no excuse.

-------------------------------------------
This is not relevant to this article - but the biggest lesson I learned that day was to better understand a police officer's sacrifice. Just wearing that uniform drew the attacker's fire and protected my family. My thanks to all officers - whatever their reasons for doing the job - they all take that risk for us everyday. I think often of Officer Chestnut and his family - I hope they have found some peace (my uncle, aunt and 2 cousins who were there still talk about that day and his sacrifice when I see them).

The area was full of people and one man stood tall in his uniform. One man stood between a madman and his targets - tourists, staffers and members of Congress. The shot that killed him served to warn others - it gave some of my family a chance to find cover - it summoned help from other officers. It saved other lives. Thank you.

Posted by: David D. | January 25, 2007 1:41 PM

The base assumption here is that this was a serious bill in the first place. Quite often bills will be introduced that even the sponsor knows will not be passed but he does so to make a public statement and get more coverage than just calling a press conference will.

Posted by: STick | January 25, 2007 2:01 PM

This bill would seem to be a knee-jerk reaction from the Congressman because a "hot" constituent got to him or he still has a bee under his bonnet from a past personal experience. Who knows?

While there are a few personalities in radio and TV who could learn some manners, anybody who is highly successful and survives in the business today learns some civility and finesse along the way. There are times when a reporter's humanity must be allowed rise above company's needs and Mark's anecdote summarized this brilliantly.

While there are times I must grit my teeth at our free press, it is what separates us from a world of brainwashed drones. Reporters are people too, and while I'll fuss at the few bad apples, let's remember that it behooves us all to praise on the good journalists who serve as role models for the up and comers.

Marc,

I don't always agree with you, but you got this one right on target.

Posted by: Ed Harris | January 25, 2007 2:18 PM

To David D: May I please apologize for the behavior your family faced during your difficult time. I'm sorry to say that I doubt the media involved suffered any consequences.

I can tell you that in a small town, the situation is different. Often, these are our neighbors we're interviewing. Or friends of friends of friends. If any reporter in my newsroom engaged in the practices you endured, we'd be having serious discussions and possible reprimands.

I have found that, most often, people do find catharsis talking about their loved one. After losing my mother to cancer, I realized more and more that people are uncomfortable talking about the deceased because they don't want to increase others' pain. But we WANT to remember our loved ones.

One time, I interviewed the wife of a man who died in a farm accident, leaving behind three young children. I tried to ask her for pleasant memories -- her favorite memory of their wedding, a special family vacation they took, anything that would get her talking about him as a person. Had she refused to talk to me, that would have been the end.

But I believe that many people appreciate their loved ones having a final opportunity for 15 minutes of remembrance.

Posted by: Kansas journalist | January 25, 2007 2:31 PM

I totally agree it is a stupid idea for a such a law. As a newspaper reporter, I had did those stories all the time and 95% of the time people would want to talk. They wanted to tell you about their loved one. If they didn't, they told you so or had someone else talk for them - another relative or a friend or a victim advocate who could be a liason between the family and press. Many many times, though, the people would have over photos and even cry on your shoulder. I wish people would understand that the vast majority of journalists are normal human beings and not scuzballs.

Posted by: Susan | January 25, 2007 2:33 PM

My family and I have been on the receiving end of reporters' knocks and calls. My father was killed in a hit-and-run 13 years ago in our small town, and I still remember how used and inappropriately bothered we felt by reporters' intrusions. In this case, it added to the pain we were going through. I always feel sorry for the people on broadcasts that are going through a traumatic event and give statements to the press-- because I'm willing to bet that many would have preferred not to but were not in the right frame of mind to decline. I agree that this legislation was written poorly, but I appreciate the idea behind it.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2007 2:55 PM

Hasn't anyone seen Die Hard 2? That reporter was totally a jerk when he threatened to have the nanny deported so he could talk to the McLane kids. If there had been a law like this, those kids would have been spared the trauma of that experience.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2007 3:06 PM

To David D: One lesson you apparently did not learn is that there is more than one side to every story. You trotted out your story to highlight how reporters can act unprofessionally in trying to get the facts on events that you find personally tragic. But then for every one of those "lessons" you learned, you impugned every single category of persons -- politicians, staffers, doctors -- based just on your broadbrush interpretation of what happened. Ever think that perhaps staffers had jobs to do, and that's why they were in a rush? That doctors brought their students so as to instruct them on your sister's medical condition (how else do you expect doctors to learn)?

Just because it was a bad experience for you and your family doesn't mean that every single person surrounding those events was also a bad actor.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2007 3:11 PM

The bill is dead! Yeah! Thanks for the update, Marc.

Posted by: boo | January 25, 2007 3:28 PM

Gee, if I didn't know better, I'd say Cuccinelli is a Jersey politician who's gone into the Bad Politician Protection Program. Or maybe he's just the twin of the guy in our state who introduced the bill to ban smoking in cars when children are present.

We as a nation need to stop trying to legislate behavior, whether it's reporters, lawyers, or parents who smoke. We waste far too much energy on stupidity when there are real issues that need our attention, such as the insane cost of health care (a doctor filed a claim for more than $700 to put a measly aluminum splint and padding on my daughter's finger and tape it in place, and it was billed as "SURGERY." For a hairline fracture.).

David D, I am deeply sorry that you and your family had to deal with a reporter who had no ethics or humanity. But I have one question: Did you ever call the paper's editors/publisher to complain? That should have been your first step. Beyond that -- and something for everyone to keep in mind -- if you're dealing with someone who's pulling stunts like that, hit them where it REALLY hurts: Give the story to the competition, and make sure you make it clear to the other side how badly you were treated by the reporter in question.

I too have had those assignments. I had to go to a murder scene late one night and had the misfortune of seeing the dead body of a young man who'd been beaten up then hit by a car and dragged two miles. It was horrifying to me because the young man was the same age as my brother, so it hit very close to home. The day after the initial story appeared, I called the young man's family. His sister called me back and thanked me profusely for calling. But if she hadn't called back, I would've left it alone. And this was high profile; the story was followed daily in our paper for almost two weeks.

We're not all scuzzballs. Most of us are human beings with class and compassion.

Posted by: Jersey Girl | January 25, 2007 3:45 PM

My best friend in college (30+ years ago) called these offensive reporters "leeches of the press". That description is still appropriate today.

Posted by: shelly | January 25, 2007 3:51 PM

First of all I am giddy that these moron VA Republicans continue to help my party. I think what is lost here is the hypocrisy of a politician introducing a bill about privacy!!!

Come election time, I am sure our concerned and respectful legislator would never stoop so low as to attempt to humiliate his opponent if they were engaged in some embarrassing incident. He would delight in any public bashing of his adversary whether it was about his adulterer wife or drug-addicted child. NOONE stoops to the scum of the earth level about invasion of privacy more than politicians.

Posted by: nova dem | January 25, 2007 3:51 PM

I've been a reporter for more than six years. I have covered more than my share of fatal accidents. I've seen the aftermath and how these events change people's lives. Even after six years of cover so many tragedies, I never get comfortable with approaching victim's families. It never gets easier. Ever. When I talk to them, I try my utmost to be respectful. If they don't want to talk, I do not press them. I know they are having a hard time. But there have been times where family members see me struggling to ask questions. They make it easy for me and talk about their loved one. I am not a scuzball reporter, and neither are the reporters I work with.
It's easier when interviews are done one-on-one.
I understand Marc's point with TV reporter's however. I've seen TV crews chase family members across plazas. The experience left me ill with disgust.
No reporter I know enjoys these kinds of stories. But people tell me these are the stories I am best at writing because of my approach.
I don't doubt there are callous reporters out there. I've seen a few. But the vast majority are compassionate people. People need to know that.

Posted by: DW | January 25, 2007 3:56 PM

In reply - I never said everyone else was a bad actor. But everything I mentioned I experienced firsthand or my family discussed in depth with me. Mostly the former (politican photo op comment and comparing events to the whitewashed version is the only one I did not see firsthand but is based on extensive conversations with the primary witnesses). I carefully chose my words and could debate with you...do you want a lengthy description of what some politicians, doctors, staffers did/said?

It was mostly TV reporters. Multiple ones who camped on the street in front of the house. I don't know if they called the TV station (the publisher's equivalent). Her father repeatedly went out and asked them to leave. The Fairfax police said they could not force them to go. It was everyone - remember this was national not a neighborhood shooting. The attention was intense.

I never told it all - but it was stressful for them. I picked what looked like brain matter off my young cousin hours after the incident.

Why should a victim's family have to negotiate for privacy, peace and quiet, or play power politics and go to the competition to punish the offender?

Posted by: David D. | January 25, 2007 4:09 PM

I'm glad they shot down that bill. Thanks for the update

Posted by: ListenToLeon | January 25, 2007 5:07 PM

I am not a reporter but I have tremendous respect for the work that they do. Many murders would have gone unpunished were it not for a "nosey" journalist. The case in FLA recently with the child in the youth boot camp who was strangled by the staff. They claimed the kid just collapsed from the exercise. The videotape and persistence of the press and attorney now have those folks facing murder charges. I hope one of the "rude" reporters looks into the shooting of the two Marlo furniture employees in PG County by a Homeland Security Officer. PG cops are quick to say that he acted in self defense but something smells fishy to me.

Don't knock reporters. They provide a valuable service and should be given long leashes. We, as a civilized society need them to keep people honest.

Posted by: your only friend | January 25, 2007 6:23 PM

Cuccinelli is a narrow minded, self serving jerk. People who vote for him really should be ashamed to vote for such an unprincipled grandstander.

Posted by: onlooker | January 25, 2007 6:42 PM

I doubt that Cuccinelli ever had flowers delivered to him.

Posted by: What's flower delivery? | January 25, 2007 7:14 PM

as a sports reporter, i don't delve into this area too often, but recently i had to as a local sports icon passed away. i got the news and called a few people. these are stories i dread, but know the importance of. this one time, i 'broke' the news of the death to two of the folks i spoke to. one broke down and cried while i was speaking to him. but by the end of the conversation, he was thanking me for calling him. it's a tough job, and i give all my praise to those who do this often, or even for a living. this senator was a baffoon. yes, some do it poorly, but most of us are just trying to do it well and do it right.

Posted by: randy | January 26, 2007 12:00 AM

David D: "Multiple ones who camped on the street in front of the house."

Even this bill wouldn't have stopped them. Public streets are practically unpolicable.

The most clever approach I've heard of to dealing with this problem - I forget the case - was the local fire department installing a fire hydrant in front of a grieving family's house.

Victims shouldn't have to beg for peace and quiet, but this bill wasn't going to provide it. Not much legislation could, and the kind that could work would be powerful enough for others to abuse.

There's no easy solution - it takes a lot of people thinking very quickly in a terrible time to alleviate nutjob damage like reporters who won't leave, groups like the Patriot Riders going against the Phelps soldier funeral protests.

And yes, all you journalists, I know 99 percent of you do leave when asked. 99 percent of people don't commit murder, either - but it only takes one irresponsible, heartless, gutless worm to turn a tragedy into a bonafide psychological crisis.

It's TV journalists now, but I can guarantee in less than five years, it'll be bloggers. It's cheaper to just send one guy, a webcam and a laptop anywhere than it is to send a satellite truck, reporter, cameraman and producer.

Posted by: obo | January 26, 2007 2:11 AM

Finally someone got it right "SCUZZBALL" I think I would have found a more appropriate adjective, maybe something like "#$#%(%*) ER"

Posted by: RH | January 26, 2007 6:47 AM

"Scuzzball Reporters"? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Posted by: R2 | January 26, 2007 10:05 AM

As a TV journalist, I want to apologize for the few jerks in our field. They make me ashamed of my job. That being said, they are most certainly the minority. I take umbrage at the generalization of all of us in television news. I have had many similar experiences like Marc. Knocking on a door, expecting a curt word and a quickly closed door. Instead, I see a smiling face and a heart ready to share thought on their loved and lost.

Yes, there are many of us still with hearts in TV news. I believe it is just that for every 10 of us good people you meet, it only takes 1 heartless fool to forget us. Bottom line Marc: we are just like you. We don't want to knock on the door, but we have to knock on the door.

Posted by: Andy Pederson | January 26, 2007 10:48 AM

> "Maybe he doesn't want "scuzzball" reporters clogging the doorway for the stampede of ambulance-chasing, blood-sucking, reptilian plantiffs lawyers."

Hey Joe, I have a news flash for you. It is a violation of ethics rules for any attorney to solicit business in this way. A lawyer who does so will be sanctioned by the bar.

Bottom line -- it's not OK for a lawyer to visit an injured or grieving person for business reasons, but it's ok for a reporter.

Oh how I love American double-standards.

Posted by: Todd | January 26, 2007 11:15 AM

I consider reporters, lawyers, and politicians the lowest forms of life on this, or any other, planet and as much as I would like to make their lives as miserable as possible I consider this effort to be an affront to common sense and the constitution. If the grieving parties want to talk so be it. If not the "Scuzzball" should repectfully go away. These..... politicians.... need to get on with the business to which they were elected or get out. Preferably the latter.

Posted by: Randy | January 26, 2007 6:06 PM

Pity poor Virginia, pity more poor America.

Posted by: gman | January 26, 2007 6:21 PM

I used to be a cops reporter, and had to call and visit many families who had just suffered terrible losses. I hated it. Editors and reporters are quick to say "we're giving them a chance to tell the story of their loved one," but in my opinion it's a very tastless practice. I'd never felt as low in my life as when I had to do that. Thankfully I'm out of the business.

Posted by: Jack | January 26, 2007 6:31 PM

Hell, it should be legal for someone to choke the crap out of any reporter who shows up at their door within a week of a tragedy. I'm totally with Cuccinelli on this, I have read on more than 1 occassion where the report on an accident wasn't even right in the first place.

And really, for decades no one is allowed their privacy in times of tragedy. It's so great to get into a car accident and then read your name in the paper the next day, right? How about no.

Posted by: LD | January 26, 2007 6:34 PM

Cuccinelli is one of those legislators who is always trying to impose his personal religious beliefs on the rest of us citizens. He is a rather ridiculous sort. Fortunately, the person running against him this year is reputable.

Even if one was in sympathy with the legislation, it is so poorly drafted that one wonders what his educational background is. And, it is patently unconstitutional.

Note: I just went to his website and he says he's a lawyer. No waaaaay!

Posted by: PM | January 26, 2007 7:49 PM

I must have missed the part where someone thought this was a good idea. I mean, restricting the press? Sorry, if you don't want to be further emotionally wrecked, then don't answer the door or the phone. Period. And it's interesting that a republican would propose this: how is this not big government dictating our lives?

Posted by: Aaron | January 26, 2007 8:05 PM

Good to know that I'm going into a profession where doing my job makes me deserving of misery. Yeah, us reporters just make life difficult for people. People like child molesters, crooks in the White House, and crooked cops. Sometimes, we make it more difficult for people who don't deserve it. I guess that's something that should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Actually badgering a bereaved loved one is beyond the pale. But the bottom line is that I have the right to try to get in touch with you for any reason whatsoever. If you tell me to stop, and it's a matter of your emotional distress (i.e. a loved one's death), I will. I promise. Otherwise, there's a reason we have freedom of the press. And I wish someone would look at the astonishing good we've done and are doing before you decide it should be okay to kill us for sport.
Seriously. Grow up.

Posted by: Jesse | January 26, 2007 9:20 PM

Gee. You are such a humanitarian.
So are your peers.
I trust all of your kind now..

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Posted by: Viagra | January 27, 2007 8:11 AM

Gee. You are such a humanitarian.
So are your peers.
I trust all of your kind now..

Posted by: Private Citizen

And I can smell "all of your kind" a mile away.

Very interesting story Marc. And it was equally good to read that the bill had already died.

Posted by: Reich Wingers NightMare | January 27, 2007 9:52 AM

I am encouraged that this bill was shot down so completely by the straight-thinking members of Virginia's legislative body.

I am discouraged that it could even make it onto the floor, because it's a harbinger of acts to follow.

"It's the reporters that refuse to take no for an answer and continue to press, even when it's clear they aren;t wanted."

"Gee. You are such a humanitarian.
So are your peers.
I trust all of your kind now.."

THESE are the people we must watch out for, the people who paint entire professions with one broad stroke of the brush. The next assault on the journalistic profession will come from their kind.

It amazes me that it never occurs to these people to turn the situation around and consider how ludicrous it would be if everyone in THEIR profession was looked upon as a lower life form.

Posted by: JR | January 27, 2007 11:26 AM

Why is this man a Senator?

Posted by: JN | January 27, 2007 4:25 PM

Jesse, the way that you phrased your words are not too convincing.

Posted by: Go back to school | January 27, 2007 9:16 PM

JD,

Reporters do not have unfettered access to grieving families. A reporter who knocks on a door can be told that no one wants to talk to the reporter, and that's that - the reporter leaves.

This is just this nut-job politician's waste of time bill-creation antics, again. It would create more unnecessary work for the police, the courts and for flower deliverymen.

I would love to see this guy and the other ultra-right-wing nut-job, Bob Marshall, voted out of office this November - replaced by politicians that will focus on the things that state politicians SHOULD focus on: transportation funding issues, education funding issues, state budget issues.

Not time-wasters like this bill.

I thought the GOP was for keeping out of people's private affairs. This bill does not support that kind of position.

Posted by: Manassas Mauler | January 29, 2007 3:44 PM

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