A Lack of Media Compassion

Staff Writer
Dallas County News

A recent tragedy set me to thinking about the conduct of media when reporting a story. By conduct I don’t mean our roles and responsibility. As media, our role and responsibility in a story is to present both sides factually, without bias, in a responsible manner. This should be quite clear to anyone who has ever attended journalism school.

It’s this “responsible manner” part, however, that some in my profession have a problem with.

Shortly after midnight on Feb. 9, a Nocona police officer responded to a disturbance call at a residence. Sometime during that response the homeowner, 41-year-old Larry Bryan Hostetter was shot and within the hour pronounced dead at a local hospital. The Texas Rangers have taken over the investigation and there has been no official word on whether or not it was the Nocona officer who shot Hostetter nor any details released.

Hostetter was a husband and father and had been a law enforcement officer since 2000. He was an active-duty deputy with the Montague County Sheriff’s Office at the time of his death. Understandably, the law enforcement community is sensitive to the family’s plight, especially as it was one of their own. So when Fox 4 News’ Saul Garza set up too close to the family’s home the next morning you just knew it was going to be tense.

As Garza prepared to do a live broadcast, a sheriff’s deputy approached him and asked him to move beyond further down the street. Garza told her it was a live broadcast and proceeded to prattle on to the camera when the deputy, after a warning, put her hand over the camera lens. Garza admonishes her, then tries to move her hand when things begin to get testy.

You can see the whole thing yourself by searching Saul Garza & the Deputy on Facebook.

I’ve been a working journalist for 14 years, much of that time spent working around law enforcement in emotionally-charged environments. I’ve covered murder scenes— my first, in fact, was the shooting death of an 18-year-old— and capital murder trials where the family is crying for justice while the killer sits stone-faced behind a defense table. Where death is involved compassion generally comes into play. Those responding show compassion for the victim as well as his family and prosecutors and judges generally try to do the same. That sometimes means protecting others’ rights while making it harder for media to do its job.

I’ve understood this my entire professional life. That first murder I worked, I chose not to call the father the day of the murder for a comment. Some of my fellow media members did make that call, however, and got no response. One actually went and knocked on the man’s front door to get a quote for his paper. He got that quote, but I will never stoop to this even if it means I don’t have the emotional pull-quote to feature in a story. I believe in showing compassion on the job. Period.

We all have our set of beliefs and principles that we carry with us throughout life and these are mine. I have noticed in my time on the job that most television personalities do not share the same beliefs as I. Most attempt to be professional bullies. I can think of one instance where a tv reporter was worried about getting her promo in for the 6 o’clock broadcast and tried to rush the McKinney Police Department’s spokesperson into hurrying up a statement. This was outside the residence of a homeowner who had just been assaulted by her ex-husband. That ex-husband was then shot and killed by the police. The first officer on scene had actually been physically assaulted by the ex-husband before another officer had shot the ex-husband.

You can imagine what the emotions were for this police spokesperson as he’s having to listen to this tv reporter trying to rush him. So, when I see how rude Garza was and his general disdain for complying with officials on the scene I am not surprised in the least. There’s just something about being on camera that seems to bring out the worst in some people.

Ultimately, Garza should be admonished by his superiors for his poor conduct and for making the station look bad. I suspect he will probably get a pat on the back for the extra publicity.

Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune, Van Alstyne Leader and Prosper Press. He can be contacted at news@amtrib.com, rwilliams@vanalstyneleader.com or rwilliams@prosperpressnews.com.