Newtown the Latest Example of Media Overkill
I have been a resident of Newtown for over 30 years, save for a few years in the 1990s. I attended high school here. My oldest went through the school system here and my youngest is still at the high school. It's a quiet town that, although it's grown in population since my first arrival in 1981, still manages to retain that small New England town feel.
Newtown is a town where teenagers always say, "It's so boring here!" and some resort to hanging out in the shopping center parking lot for lack of anything "better" to do on a Friday night. People buy the weekly newspaper to see if their children or their neighbor's children have been featured in the Schools or Sports sections. We have a $2 movie house in what was, until recently, our town hall. We have a 100-foot flagpole in the middle of Main Street. The Rotary Club holds pancake breakfasts and the Methodist Church hosts regular spaghetti suppers. We have a community theater, a literary magazine, and a skateboard park. We have an annual Christmas Tree lighting and an annual Labor Day Parade. Newtown is also a place where people will drop produce off on their neighbors' doorstep because their own gardens are so abundant.
In short, we were a relatively unremarkable town with unremakable people -- at least, to the outside world. Even our most notorious moment, the murder of Helle Crafts by her husband Richard -- the "woodchipper murder" -- back in 1984 had fallen into the dustbins of our memories.
The shooting at Sandy Hook School last week that resulted in the deaths of so many children, school staff members and -- lest we forget -- the shooter's mother, has shaken our community to its very core and made Sandy Hook and Newtown household words around the world. My children are older and attended a different elementary school, so I don't know any of the families directly involved. But like any small town, even if you don't know someone personally, you know someone who does. And so it is with me. A friend of mine is a Sandy Hook Elementary secretary. People I know have friends and neighbors affected. Also, my own mother works at the before and after school program there and, with the grace of God, left the school just minutes before all hell broke loose.
I cannot tell you how surreal it was to be working from home last Friday afternoon and receive a robocall from the school superintendent about a lockdown because of a shooting at "one of our schools." How surreal it is to have friends from around the country emailing and Facebooking you to ask if your children are involved and frantically looking for information. Fielding phonecalls from your ex-husband who lives in another state and your daughter who is in college to find out if their daughter/sister is safe. Hearing the rumors about what happened -- and then learning an even worse truth.
What is even more surreal is the aftermath and the media hordes that have, to put it bluntly, invaded us. Seeing Diane Sawyer, with her perpetual "concerned" look and tone, reporting "live," along with Matt Lauer, Anderson Cooper and others. Seeing the local landmarks you know and love splashed all over the television not for their own sakes, but because Newtown and Sandy Hook are the "words du jour."
Wednesday was the first day I cried since Friday -- I tend to avoid TV news at the best of times, so I have missed much of the hooplah and media frenzy to get the latest "scoop." Also, because I live on the other side of town, I have missed many (but not all) of the traffic snarls. But today, my daughter missed the bus and I had to bring her to the high school. Just seeing a "lot full" sign at the end of the driveway -- presumably to keep nosy reporters out -- and policemen volunteering their services from as far away as Norwalk made me lose it for just a moment.
Our quiet little town was not only rocked by an event past our wildest imaginations, but then descended upon by media who, when all the dust has settled, will move on to the next tragic event to exploit. I will be glad when they are gone - I actually flipped off a news truck today. Tacky, I know, but I couldn't help it. (I don't think they saw me anyway). When you feel you must warn your child on how to avoid reporters if she's approached, you know you're not in Kansas anymore.
On behalf of all us, I beg the media: Please go away. Please stop cold calling my friends who live in Sandy Hook for potential news nuggets. Please stop harassing people like my mother as they leave funerals. Please stop parking on people's lawns without permission. Please just...stop. For those of us who even have the heart to celebrate Christmas, it will be a lot easier when you are gone. Yes, it was a legitimate news event. But now it's become a twisted form of vouyerism. A friend told me that reporters were even trying to bribe parents to let them into their cars so they could get closer to the schools to talk to students and staff.
Will reporters spare a thought for us in six months? Because we'll still be here. This is our home, and at this point they are just interlopers looking to fill air time and column space. When the public's "right to know" trumps common decency (like snapping pictures of people in their homes using a telephoto lens, like I saw in the New York Daily News), things have gone too far.
Newtown is a close-knit community and we will continue to love and support one another through this difficult time and beyond. I have my opinions on gun control, but have chosen not to voice them in this piece because that's not my focus here. What upsets me at the moment is the feeding frenzy being engaged in by the media. At this point, I feel they are doing more harm than good. The healing will begin, but not until the news trucks and reporters shoving microphones in our faces go away.
I not only pray for my community, but I pray that something this terrible will never happen anywhere else. Sadly, human nature being what it is, it probably will. If - and when - it does, I will pray for those communities to not only get through the trauma of the event, but the trauma of the media aftermath. I wouldn't wish any of it it on anyone.