Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Newsworthy Accidents

People in the media continue to assert their "right to know," that is, someone else's obligation to inform them, every time a story that they deem newsworthy comes out. As entertaining as the jokes about Vice President Cheney's hunting accident may have been, the story simply wasn't worth harping on for days. Cheney's mishap has no broader implications.

However, other accidents do have broader implications. We don't always hear about them, and they rarely make front page news.

How many of you knew, for example, that only weeks ago a Fairfax County, VA police officer "accidentally shot and killed an optometrist outside the unarmed man's townhouse ... as an undercover detective was about to arrest him on suspicion of gambling on sports."

Of course the media did not assert it's "right to know" when the officer's name was not divulged. According to the Washington Post, "The officer, a 17-year veteran assigned to the police tactical unit, was not identified. He was placed on leave with pay while police conduct both an internal administrative investigation and a criminal investigation."

Yet this officer's mistake cost 37-year old Salvatore Culosi his life.

Perhaps the media is more forgiving of police officers, whose job is to know how to handle weapons responsibly to protect people. While I can choose the people with whom I go hunting, I have no say in whether a police officer in my county is careful when arresting unarmed individuals. While most Americans will probably never encounter Vice President Cheney, let alone go hunting with him, many of them will encounter police officers. If news sources wanted an accident to be truly outraged about, this is it. If news sources really wanted to assert their "right to know," here's where they could do it. Instead, they are happy to drop the story without publishing the outcome of the investigation and without knowing even the officer's name.

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