- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose sheds a tear on national television after announcing that a 13-year-old boy became the latest victim in the sniper shootings. Then, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan encourages residents to reach out and comfort one another.
Not so long ago, such words and behavior would have been seen as a lack of professionalism or even a sign of weakness.
But times have changed, especially in the Washington metropolitan area. Residents and public officials still unnerved by the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and anthrax-laced letters sent shortly afterward are once again under attack, this time by a sniper who shoots people going about daily routines.
Tears have gained a certain level of public acceptance, whether they be in the eyes of public officials, ordinary citizens or journalists, academics and others who track the media say.
"Anyone who thinks the world functions on intellect is sadly mistaken," said Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. "The world functions on emotions. If a public official doesn't get emotional, especially at times such as these, then they're hiding the truth, as far as I'm concerned."
Matthew Felling, with the District-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, said such public emotional breakdowns and pleas send the wrong message to residents who need reassurance that everything will be all right.
"It's nice to see a public face be a human being, but in this type of situation the public needs to see a public figure," said Mr. Felling, the center's media director. "We're not asking for John Wayne. We're not asking for Dr. Phil. Chief Moose is the face of the forces who are going to fix this.
"The mood is communicated from the top down, and it's damaging when that message is delivered by a weeping, strained man," he said.
Chief Moose and other county officials on Monday became emotional after they learned that the boy was shot outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, the eighth victim of the sniper shootings. During a news conference, the chief urged parents to show their children that "they still love them."
Then, with his voice faltering and tears streaming down his face, Chief Moose said: "All of our victims have been innocent and defenseless, but now we're stepping over the line. Shooting a kid it's getting to be really, really personal now. Our children don't deserve this."
Mr. Duncan took the same tone when addressing reporters. "We need to reach out and comfort each other. Fear has ratcheted up quite a bit. It's a real struggle to come to grips with what is happening here."
Chief Moose later apologized for not keeping his emotions in check. "I shouldn't have done any of that because we're supposed to be dealing with the evidence and the facts."
Showing emotion and encouraging others to reach out and comfort one another is the "sensible reaction" during a crisis, Mr. Jones said.
"We live in denial a lot," said Mr. Jones, who also is a lecturer in public policy. "When a tragedy strikes our community, we then realize how fleeting and fragile life is."
Most of the time a show of emotion makes public officials more popular with constituents.
New York City residents liked former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani more when he publicly succumbed to grief after September 11. President Reagan and President Clinton were other public officials who weren't shy about showing their emotions.
"This is a difficult situation," said Lewis Wolfson, director of the Dialogue with the Press project at American University.
"It's good that they do show emotion. It's what people need. When a public official shows his or her compassionate side, it gives people a feeling of kinship."
Mr. Felling said police should not show any emotion, especially when the sniper who killed six persons and injured two others in less than a week is still on the loose.
"Chief Moose's behavior absolutely gives the upper hand to the perpetrators in this case," he said. "You need an anchor amid a storm and right now we're sailing away. You expect a militaristic or dispassionate type of behavior from a police force. Without that, people can start to panic."


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