- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

On Media

After some 528 hours of coverage, the press finally got a moment to deliver simple, helpful news yesterday, no strings or "experts" attached.
The media were lauded by law-enforcement officials for publicizing the photos, license plate number and names of the sniper suspects.
But memories of frenzy linger.
"Cable networks have reached a new low. Covering the sniper is akin to covering a war. The press has a responsibility not to reveal tactics and troop movements, or compromise public safety. News channel coverage essentially gave the killers a free education in police procedure, and it was shamefully irresponsible," said Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Some beg to differ.
Fox News' Rita Cosby, who was the first to broadcast information on the suspects' names and automobile at 10 p.m. Wednesday, says her works is governed by responsibility.
"I waited for two hours before going public with the information," she told The Washington Times yesterday. "It was an enormous break. But I waited until I had three law enforcement sources to corroborate the story. I wanted to be absolutely sure about it."
Miss Cosby was both criticized and applauded for her nervy communication this week with "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz, now in a New York prison. By letter, she asked him to comment on the Washington shootings, and followed up with a personal interview, due to air on Fox this weekend.
"It was interesting. He said the killer was probably angry at America and law enforcement, and was probably sleeping in his car," Miss Cosby said. "So there was helpful information there."
She calls her methods "old-fashioned reporting. It's classic crime work, putting the pieces together," she said. "What matters is I get it right, and I get it first."
Meanwhile, media analyst Mr. Rosenstiel said ABC, NBC and CBS did commendable work on their sniper stories "because they relied on reporting rather than embarrassing experts," he said.
Indeed, "experts" of every possible persuasion allowed the 24-hour news channels to tread water as they waited for definitive breaks in the case.
Criminologists, lawyers, suspect profilers, ballistics analysts, child psychologists, pastors, terrorism consultants and historians made up the armada of on-air pundits in recent days.
Mr. Rosenstiel praised Washington's local press, calling both print and broadcast coverage "responsible, restrained and without the pseudo-expert speculation which disgraced cable for the past three weeks."
The Washington Times published an "Extra" edition to chronicle the arrests, which happened overnight. The Washington Post did not.
"The last time we did that was for September 11," noted a spokesman for The Post yesterday.
While a USA Today/CNN revealed yesterday that 57 percent of the public thought the media "acted responsibly" with their sniper coverage, one Maryland official continues to be angry at the press.
"Each time they came out with [a theory of] someone they thought was the killer, someone else would be killed, so that the killer didn't think he wasn't getting credit," Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler told the Associated Press managing editors conference yesterday.
He accused both print and broadcast of fear mongering, and said editors just hoped to "sell newspapers" rather than preserve public safety.
"The way people responded to attacks created a sense of fear. I think the press contributed to that," Mr. Gansler said.

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