The Serial Sniper has been terrorizing the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas since Oct. 2 and, through it all, the media, as the gatekeeper of society, has reported every second of the case: every development, every breaking news piece and every false statement.
While the media has a responsibility to report facts and events that are happening at the moment, it also has the more important responsibility to respect open investigations.
Over 1,000 investigators have converged on the crime scenes, combing the ground and surrounding areas for clues, no matter how small, in order to shed some light on a case that has spread fear throughout America.
However, the media has been on top of every development, and, while this can be a good thing, when it prohibits authorities from doing their jobs, the media must respect its role as an information agent.
One particular incident illustrates this point very well. Last week, an MSNBC reporter went on air and told the nation that he had reason to believe the sniper had been caught. Three or four hours after his report, the sniper struck again, disproving the reporter’s claim.
Reporting such an unsubstantiated development is an insult to not only the public, but journalistic ethics, as well. Plus, it serves to further instigate the man in custody. If this case has proved anything, it is that the sniper is thriving on the media and the media’s attention. As such, the media must walk a fine line between reporting and sensationalism.
This case has already entered the annals of infamy and has all the elements necessary for a sensationalist story. Media outlets must remember this when reporting any information.
It is their job to tell Americans what is happening. It is also their job to report accurately and truthfully any information they have. In this instance, breaking the story just to “scoop” other media outlets doesn’t give anyone an accurate picture, and it causes more damage than it’s worth.