Opinion: The San Bernardino tragedy becomes a ghoulish circus for creepy voyeurs
There is a scene from 2014's darkly twisted Nightcrawler in which Louis Bloom, played by a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, is the first to an LA crime scene. He is an 'ambulance chaser' who uses his radio scanner and camcorder to beat the emergency services to bloody incidents and film the action.
He finds a dead body lying on the road and starts filming. Except something's not quite right. The composition of the shot aren't to his liking. So he simply drags the body to a different patch of asphalt and reshoots. He then sells the footage to a grateful local news station.
On Wednesday, a terrible thing happened in real life. 14 people were killed and 21 injured in a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. It was America's deadliest gun attack since Sandy Hook in 2012.
It was of course in the public interest for news outlets to cover developments. But as is so often the case in this age of 24-hour live updates, fact was the victim of haste.
Police identified married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik as the perpetrators of the horrific attack, and they were both killed during an exchange of gunfire.
However, various media outlets including The Daily Beast incorrectly identified the male suspect's brother, Syed Raheel Farook, as one of two killers. The innocent man they have made a target for vigilante attacks is a US Navy veteran with a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Although such mistakes are irresponsible and incredibly harmful, they do not come as a surprise. Errors are always writ large and repeated, whilst apologies are whispered and easily missed. What jarred even for this age of exceptional b*llocks was what happened a few days later.
On Friday morning, a throng of reporters - and what looked like members of the public - were shown swarming into the apartment of the deceased suspects. Armed with mics, cameras and lighting equipment, they stormed in like impatient shoppers on Black Friday.
This happened mid-investigation, and it was televised live. Professional journalists, with scant regard for ethics or morality, rummaged around the personal effects of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik with alarming insouciance. It could have been a school jumble sale.
We were told that the landlord opened the doors of the macabre museum to the fourth estate, as apparently was his prerogative as property owner. Not so, according to both the landlord, who claims the press simply barged in, and the law, which does not permit what happened.
Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia said landlord didn't have right to open up residence leased by SB shooters. Said site has been secured.
— David Montero (@DaveMontero) December 4, 2015
But what does that matter when there's ratings to consider and hits to be had? The situation may differ somewhat from what is depicted in Nightcrawler, but it is creeping very close to that territory and in some ways it is worse. Louis Bloom was a lone ghoul; these are major networks.
— maksym.eristavi 🇺🇦🏳️🌈 (@maksymeristavi) December 4, 2015
The biggest news channels actually aired their reporters prowling around a cot and rearranging an infant's toys for a more 'poignant' shot. MSNBC were forced to apologise after they showed images of photographs and ID cards of the innocent relatives of the dead suspects.
It may all seem a little irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Why worry about the privacy and rights of those identified as murderers. People actually died - there families in mourning right now. Who gives a sh*t about Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik?
It's not them we should worry about - it's us. The salacious coverage was for our benefit. It was seen as fulfilling a want that was ours. Even if at no point during the initial reports did anyone think, 'I'd really like have a snoop around that dead couple's bathroom.'
MSNBC saying “Inside Edition” producers paid $1,000 for first entrance to the San Bernardino suspects’ apartment
— Katherine Krueger (@kath_krueger) December 4, 2015
What's next? Someone dragged a body to more convenient spot? A Sky journalist rifling through an air crash victim's suitcase? A psychopath tipping off their favourite news channel about a bloody act they're about to perform? It's f*cked up. It's already seriously f*cked up.
None of this creepy voyeurism is normal, and none of it should be excused in the name of 'news'.