Brutality and the media

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2011

Sometimes turning the page is the most compassionate and sensible act.

There are many reasons to rage over the heinous crime that was committed against Kimberly Proctor last year, and, honestly, I hardly know where to begin. As a parent, I weep for her family and the endless, unimaginable burden of their loss and sorrow. I feel a white-hot anger against the cruel young men who took her life, but I’m just as furious with the families and systems—or lack thereof—that allowed them to evolve, seemingly unchecked, into sly and insidious barbarians.

But that’s only part of it. I must admit to having a particular disdain for the media and the predictable way in which they/we handled this story. Everyone knows that real-life horror, of the kind that would make Stephen King curl his toes, is a hot commodity that never fails to lure the masses. Add that the diabolism happened locally and involved a pretty young girl, and watch the papers fly off the news-stand.

No, say the media, that’s not why we chose to publish the nightmarish details, complete with videos of the police interrogation available online. And there’s this disclaimer, see, that warned people of the horrific nature of the crime, and the explanation that “we have not included some of the most graphic details out of respect for Proctor and her family.” (Times Colonist, April 6/11). Well, considering that the TC on that day and the next revealed enough to make the skin crawl, the restraint they professed to be exercising was notably less than obvious.

Perhaps they sensed this lapse themselves because an editorial on April 8 attempted to justify these actions as well as explain why they—presumably in tandem with other media—had actively gone looking for this material, having “applied successfully for the release of the exhibits and evidence presented in court.” They did this because, “as a society, we need to pay attention,” and, “as a community, develop a response.”

Well, here’s my difficulty with all of that: To what are we supposed to be paying attention? The sordid details that draw drooling pinheads from all over to the trough of depravation? The interrogation videos that, by virtue of their release, will compromise some crucial questioning in the future? And how are we to develop a “response,” considering that all we really got was an overdose of detailed evil and horror? The April 8 editorial went on to raise some good questions but made no attempt to explore possible answers. Instead, it fizzled out with a vague directive about answers and solutions being the reader’s duty.

Indeed, the public has duties. It’s the duty of anyone having children to make them a priority and to commit a good two decades to their upbringing. It’s the duty of society to support families and all of the structures and interconnections that contribute to a community’s health and well-being. In this era where everything imaginable is just a mouse-click away, it’s our duty to exercise some restraint over what we will allow ourselves and those in our charge to be fed, and for what reason. If rubbernecking is the primary motive—as it so often is—we need to get a grip, show some respect and move on.

But the media has duties as well: To refrain from simply adding to the cultural and technological repository that deadens the emotions and undermines our will and ability to look out for each other. To report objectively and inform by exploring the hard questions that arise. Various local media quoted a snippet or two by UBC’s Robert Hare, one of the world’s foremost researchers on the nature and character of the psychopath, but no one interviewed him in any depth about his work. “Everyone missed warning signs…” read a Vancouver Sun and Global News headline (April 6) for an article that, ironically, then missed the opportunity to share what these signs might be.

Reporting the news is like dancing on the fence posts, the balance constantly challenged by the public’s right and need to know with the dignity and discretion that are inherently owed to the victims and their families. Consuming the news calls for balance as well. By all means, read everything if that gives you the means to better society in some way, and if you’d be comfortable with the same story written about your own loved one. If not, consider the decency of turning off the media and turning away.

Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Master Gardener and writer. A revised edition of one of her earlier books, Pier 21: The Gateway that Changed Canada, will be released by Nimbus Publishing later this year.