‘Urgent questions’ about Uvalde massacre unanswered, Texas editor says

Government statements do not add up. Gaps and discrepancies sound the alarm. The elected officials do not answer questions from the public.

This is a time when journalists are needed. And a time when journalists have to do it right.

Unfortunately, the topic is quite heartbreaking: the deaths of 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary. How could the shooter kill so many people? Why wasn’t he arrested sooner? Who was responsible for the police intervention? Why were so many initial accounts incorrect, according to the most recent statements? What are we to believe?
Questions about the police response took center stage on Thursday, thanks in large part to parents speaking out, backed up by amateur video clips of Tuesday’s chaotic crime scene. Most of their questions remained unanswered. The frustrations boiled over. “We were given a lot of bad information,” CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz said. mentioned at the Thursday afternoon press conference. “These parents deserve to know exactly what happened, minute by minute, to their children,” Anderson Cooper said. mentioned in Prokupecz later in the day.
The questions, of course, triggered unease and defensiveness. When I turned on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, I heard Ainsley Earhardt say “it’s easy for the media in New York or California to pass judgment on what’s going on.” But his comment missed the point – members of the media on the ground in Texas are the relevant questioners. I contacted Marc Duvoisin, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, the daily closest to Uvalde. He agreed with my perception that Thursday was a turning point in shooting coverage.

“Urgent questions about the police response to the massacre have not been answered clearly or coherently, and frustration among residents has begun to spill over onto social media,” Duvoisin said in an email Thursday evening. “The lack of information became a partisan talking point, and elected officials began demanding answers and an investigation.”

Let us quote Duvoisin in full:

“This afternoon’s briefing by a Texas Department of Public Safety official answered some questions about the police response, but left considerable confusion. Why did the school gate open? been unlocked that morning? Unknown.”

“The day before, DPS officials said a school policeman confronted the shooter before he entered the school. At today’s briefing, a DPS official said the contrary: the shooter entered the school without meeting any resistance. The police arrived a few minutes later. Why it took an hour for a SWAT team to assemble and fight their way inside: “This is a difficult question.””

“Information about the incident has been tightly controlled from the very beginning. Throughout Tuesday, Uvalde police have been tight-lipped about the number of casualties. Local hospitals as well. It’s only Tuesday late afternoon that the extent of the carnage was made public. – by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. In my experience, this is unusual. In a mass casualty event, I ‘m used to seeing the head of the main response agency brief the media, often several times a day.

Duvoisin helped provide direct coverage of the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, and at the time reporters were briefed by the city’s police chief. “They didn’t have to wait for the Governor of California to find out the facts,” he said. “I think the lack of information created frustration, and that frustration was compounded on Wednesday when Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and others traveled to Uvalde to hold a press conference. Abbott said praised first responders, expressed sympathy for the victims, and spoke in general terms about the importance of mental health care, but revealed very few details about what really happened inside. this school.

Where is Abbott now?

On Wednesday, the governor of Texas talked tough on Beto O’Rourke. On Thursday, Abbott was nowhere to be found. Questions suspended in the air at 90 degrees from Uvalde. All possible explanations only made the pain worse. The words of CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem stuck with me: She insisted that Texas authorities had originally spoken about how “worse” the attack could have been. “We hear that things could have been worse, which is always true,” Kayyem wrote. “The question is whether things could have been less bad. And I’m afraid the answer is yes.”

This is what journalists are discovering, hour by hour, in Uvalde and beyond. I highly recommend This thread by Stephen Gutowski, founder and editor of gun policy/politics site The Reload, who said: “The more we learn about how the police handled this shooting, the more outrageous it becomes. I trained as an active shooter with several groups. The principle is always to act as quickly as possible. How could they wait so long?” When will the governor respond?

Maybe Friday. Abbott — who was scheduled to speak Friday at the first day of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting — is canceling his in-person appearance to attend a Friday afternoon press conference in Uvalde. He will speak at the convention virtually instead.

“The governor will address the NRA via pre-recorded video,” spokesman Mark Miner told the Dallas Morning News on Thursday.

Erase any chance of finding common ground

As WaPo media critic Erik Wemple tweeted, “Newscasters still warn that preliminary reports of mass shootings may be wrong, in part due to incorrect information from authorities. But that’s on a whole different scale.” Yes it is. Officials “offered varying timelines and explanations for the massacre and the law enforcement response,” WaPo’s Mark Berman wrote. “They also made sometimes inconsistent or contradictory announcements about key details, such as how the shooter entered the school or how long he was inside. They even withdrew some allegations altogether. .”

I caught some criticism on Twitter for saying that the immense confusion over the timeline of the attack will make it even more difficult to find common ground, as some people will stick to the original “facts”; others will believe the new information; others will ignore it; and others will not believe all this.

I agree that common ground is anything but impossible. But what about a relatively shared understanding of the most basic facts? This week’s confusion leaves a gaping void. Conspiracy theories about the attack are already spreading among people who are inclined to believe the mass shootings are plots to seize guns. Claims of a massive cover-up are already spreading among those inclined to believe it. Journalists will get to the bottom of this, but by the time all the facts are put together, the disinfo sphere may have won…

Further reading

— NBC’s Mike Hixenbaugh: “What happened in that classroom for an *hour*? It’s getting more and more awful…” (Twitter)
“Police Lie” is a primary reaction of progressives right now. “We all hope…we see how wrong it can be to think the police are telling us the truth,” writes Dan Froomkin… (Press Watch)
— “These cops failed” is a reaction from some (but not all) conservatives. One of the Daily Caller’s top headlines now is “TX Police Lt. basically said cops too scared of getting shot to storm classroom…” (Daily Caller)
— One of the main stories from Express-News: “After Uvalde massacre, Texas GOP leaders are doubling down on the same fixes they tried after Santa Fe…” (Express-News)

My interview with the Texas Tribune EIC

My guest on this week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast is Sewell Chan, editor of the Texas Tribune, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit newsrooms. He recounted how his staff fanned out across the state to cover Tuesday’s primary when they had to turn their attention to mass murder in Uvalde. He tried to ensure that staffers take mental health breaks amid marathon reporting days. “All editors and news managers need to think about the well-being and safety of our employees,” he said. “Not only getting the story, but also making sure that… we’re able to talk about what we’re dealing with.”
Chan also discussed several other reasons Texas is making headlines, from primary election results to abortion restrictions to heat waves. “It never stops in Texas,” he said. Connect via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your favorite app…

Show instead of tell?

VF’s Charlotte Klein recapped the media world’s conversation about whether viewers should see the gory reality that modern weapons destroy bodies. “The type of graphic imagery that some are advocating is, at this time, theoretical, as it is unclear what photos even exist of the crime scene at Uvalde that would be accessible to the media,” she notes. “And there are a number of reasons why such photos are not made public, including family privacy and journalistic traditions.” But stay…

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