Once upon a time people waited impatiently at a newsstand when a big story was breaking. Occasionally a really big story would result in a newspaper’s printing an “EXTRA” edition. And we had radio to keep us informed, then television and now, of course, the internet. The speed with which we are able to access news has gone from hours to minutes to microseconds.
But what are we getting?
There is an ad that I’ve seen several times that features a man and woman speaking. (It’s obviously not a very effective ad because I couldn’t tell you what product or service it promotes). But the dialogue has the woman saying, “I heard that on the internet – and they couldn’t put it on the internet if it wasn’t true.”
The man asks, “Where did you hear that?”
She replies, “On the internet.”
For at least the last five years I have had my pool serviced by the same company and the same individual. I have been so pleased with the quality of the job and the reliability of my “pool guy” that I have recommended him and his company to two other neighbors who are as pleased as I am.
For reasons of anonymity, I’m going to call him Carl.
Well, Carl usually comes to maintain the pool on Tuesdays, although occasionally he will arrive a day earlier. Only rarely does he come later in the week – and it is usually because of an unusual situation. Two weeks ago, Carl came on Wednesday. As it happened, I was having my morning coffee and giving Gracie her doggie treats when I heard the gate open.
Without looking up, I heard Carl coming to the back and I said, “Well, I thought you were MIA.” Then I saw the reason. He had two bruises over both his eyes and had stitches in both his eyebrows.
Carl, who was moving very slowly because he had some fractured ribs told me the story – how he was the victim of a house break in the previous weekend and how he and the home invader had gotten into a fight. He obviously was in pain – which anyone who has ever had a fractured rib knows only too well – so I told him to skip doing the pool and take it easy – but he insisted he wanted to do his job.
Naturally, I inquired about what had happened. So he told me that the man had broken a window and climbed through it to gain entrance. Then he had completely destroyed all the pictures and anything else that was breakable. Carl slept through all of this. But he got up to use the bathroom and that was when he saw the man.
The home invader was not aware that anyone was in the house, but when he saw Carl he made a rush at him. In self-defense, Carl picked up the lid from the toilet bowl tank and used it to fend the guy off. After a very physical scuffle, Carl made it out to the front door with his assailant trying to keep him inside the house. A neighbor came to his assistance and he escaped the house and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Apparently, the assailant, one Ronald Hetzel had begun his spree inside his sister’s house which is directly behind the wall to Carl’s. A neighbor reported hearing a lot of noise two hours earlier and called 911 to report it. The police were dispatched and came out to investigate. Another neighbor reported that they saw someone go over the back wall and into the yard at Carl’s house.
With five or six patrol cars in the neighborhood you would have thought that they would follow up on that and at least have checked Carl’s house to see if the man had gained entry. That apparently didn’t happen. But I am not trying to point fingers at the police and say they could have done a better job. That might be the subject of another post.
The week after telling me about this assault, Carl showed up on his regular Tuesday and we talked about what had happened at length. That was when I learned the assailant’s name and looked him up on Google. I found three different stories covering this home invasion and assault. One was from UPI; one from the Huffington Post’; and the third from The New York Daily News. Here are the links to these three news sources:
If you read these three stories, the first one from ibtimes (courtesy of UPI.com) makes no sense at all.
The most descriptive of them is the second one from the Huffington Post – and the third from the NY Daily News looks like it simply extracted information from that article, copied and pasted it to create their own story.
But there is a common link between all three – that is who was wielding the porcelain toilet bowl cover in this skirmish – and they all got it wrong. (But it’s wrong according to my friend Carl in the police report – which is probably the source for their misinformation).
Does this matter? Well, with our focus on maintaining the rights of those who are accused of crimes, it does matter – because little slipups like this can cause a good defense attorney (pardon the oxymoron) to find a reason to get a case thrown out on the basis of a technicality. Consider the following two headlines:
“American troops kill ten Taliban leaders in secret ops;”
“Taliban kill ten American political leaders in secret ops.”
The first story gets our “Ho-Hum” attention but the second means that we’re probably going to red alert.
A free and informed and investigative press is essential for a democracy to exist. Reporters like Woodward and Bernstein spent months assembling and verifying their information which ultimately brought down the Nixon administration. But today, perhaps because we the news reader are constantly looking for new information to keep us entertained, I believe it is fair to say that we have relaxed those standards to the point where what we see and what we get may only bear a minor resemblance to what actually happened.
It is not only up to capable journalists to probe, to question, to ask why and to get to the truth of the matter in the issues they cover. It is up to each of us who rely on their reporting to make sure that we do so as well and that we do not simply accept what they present us as being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
If we buy into the statement that, “If it’s on the internet it must be true,” who knows what else they will be able to sell us?