Thursday, February 16, 2012

Local DC area reporter temporarily intimidated out of "fronting" her stories on underage drinking; does reporter intimidation happen often in the U.S.?

Although the reach of shield laws for journalists (and bloggers) has been a policy controversy, reporters in the US rarely face personal reprisals for their stories.  But Wednesday Paul Fahri reported (link) in the Washington Post, Style, p. C1, that WUSA (CBS affiliate, channel 9) local reporter (Andrea McCarren) was temporarily relieved from reporting (or "fronting") on-air her investigation of underage drinking, and police activities in Washington to close it down, after taunts and bullying, especially at her kids’ schools.  Taunts included Facebook postings.

Station WUSA reported this morning that she is back on the air “fronting” her stories on “Wasted, Young and Using”, with link (and videos) here.

The story is remarkable in a number of contexts.  A school system should have been able to deal with any bullying, which apparently is not limited to “anti-gay” problems.  It’s a sign that the bullying problems is out of control in many schools. 

Furthermore, for the past few years, media have been reporting that employers often disqualify applicants when they find evidence of underage drinking and drug use from social media sites.  Parents, kids, and school systems don’t seem to be connecting the dots. 

Even so, I think employers themselves are out of control in the way they gather inaccurate or misleading “evidence” of applicant behavior from social media, about incidental behavior that may be less important than generally thought.

When I worked as a substitute teacher (and could see birthdates on attendance records), I once (in 2007) saw a student whom I knew as only 16 in a bar.  He recognized me.  The only action I took was to mention it to the bar management privately on my next visit.  But fake-id’s seem to be common (as has also been reported in the media, with police busts of fake-id rings).   But because of recent events reaching the national media, teachers are likely to come under more pressure to report such incidents officially, even if they see them in their own lives, away from the classroom.

It's worthy of note that sometimes reporters have been removed from coverage over perceived "conflicts" that would affect objectivity.  An open lesbian was relieved of duties in a Tacoma, WA paper in 1996 in a case that a court allowed.

Some people have criticized the media for covering Whitney Houston and other celebrities (when alive) with serious drug problems and then not intervening to help them. CNN aired a quarrel between Nancy Grace and Lew Abrams over this point.

This incident led to a "news story about a news story" that indeed leads bloggers like me into a lot of correlated areas.

Update: March 27

Check the Washington Post March 26, story by Paul Fahri, about Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School's pulling copies of its student newspaper over this incident, here

Picture: Blue Blazer Still, in Catoctin Mts Maryland, site of a famous raid during Prohibition.

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