One of the most important things we teach in crisis management is how to handle the press following a critical emergency. The exercises that are associated with this training anticipate that after any significant tragedy, the press will show up with questions. Lots of questions.
Among the most important things is to immediately provide a buffer between the press and the victims and survivors. This wall of protection should be an essential part of any preparedness plan. Why is this so important? If it is just the local press, they may be willing to demonstrate some compassion. But the national press will show no mercy. It is therefore, in the aftermath of a newsworthy crisis, incumbent on the organization, local law enforcement, and the community to protect the surviving victims of a tragedy from the onslaught of the press.
The trauma of a school shooting is a classic example of such a crisis and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida is an example of how much can go wrong. We saw it at Virginia Tech in 2007, where students were already being interviewed by the national press while the hunt for the shooter was still going on, when they were afraid, and they had no idea what was happening. “What happened? What do you know? How do you feel?” Such were the stupid questions the students faced, when the press had access to the students long before the school attempted to intercede.
It was similar in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, where the press descended like vultures on the students, while they were still reeling from the shock of the tragedy. Sadly, neither the school administration nor local law enforcement, who were supposed to protect the students, stepped in or did anything to shield them from the press. The difference here was that the students were younger than those at Virginia Tech and far more vulnerable. Yet no one stood up to protect them. Once the press had seized the opportunity, reaching out to both students and their families, it was too late to stop the chaos and cynical opportunism that followed.
What could be more cynical than ripping traumatized teens out of their environment and thrusting them into the national spotlight? Under the best of circumstances, most people need time to adjust when tragedy strikes so close to home and tears the fabric of their lives to shreds. Even the strongest adults need time to absorb the shock, to grieve, and to recover. These kids never had the chance to do any of that. The normal process of adjustment was destroyed the minute members of the press put them on national television – descending upon them like locusts and shoving cameras and microphones in their faces, asking them loaded questions that they had little hope of answering thoughtfully.
The press had an agenda – gun control – and a captive audience. The students were their pawns and most of those who were given national coverage spouted the party line.
Shock quickly turned to anger and a call to action. The anger was rapidly exploited, not only by the press, but by uber-wealthy liberals, who bought into the emotions of angry teenagers and their parents, and raced in with millions to fund the travel and the logistics of the “March for Our Lives”. These marches, held in cities around the country on Saturday, March 20, were hardly just grass roots efforts.
They were massively funded by celebrities like George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey, among others, who each donated half a million dollars to support the march. The organization “Everytown for Gun Safety”, to which former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $50 million, used its substantial resources to help plan and promote the march nationwide. The liberal-leaning Washington Post described Everytown like this: “Everytown is seeking to disrupt the debate [on gun control] with a richly funded, rapid-action, and unconventional lobbying campaign that is starting to reap some results.
The marches were televised live on all the networks, and the voices of the survivors, calling out for serious restrictions on 2nd amendment rights, resonated with liberals across the country. One little girl – maybe eleven or twelve – said, “We need to get rid of the guns. Nobody needs a gun”. Even assuming that she had the life experience to know what she was talking about, her words were silly, but they caught the attention of the press and she had the right message to fit their narrative, so she was broadcast on national television.
The airwaves still vibrate in the aftermath of the march, and victims are still speaking out through their new and empowering national voice. But when all is said and done, when the dust settles and the liberals go home, the victims of Parkland will be left to spend the rest of their lives recovering from the damage done by a cynical press and the wealthy men and women who refused to let them recover.