The only part of this Fort Hood business I feel remotely qualified to begin to talk about is the coverage, of which it is impossible to judge the accuracy right now. But on TV people are calling up anyone they can think of, to say anything that pops into their heads, without vetting, without background checking, without any of the vaunted gatekeeping traditional media like to deride bloggers for lacking.
My first daily paper job out of college was in a small city getting ripped apart by gang violence. I'd never covered cops before, and the police reporter was this terrifying news god who knew everything and had sources that made Deep Throat look like Ari Fleischer. I was scared to death I'd get called out to some scene where nobody would talk to me, and I'd end up screwing something up.
So one night I'm confessing this to the copy editor working my meeting story into something recognizable as English, and he tells me something I've never forgotten in 12 years. "If you can't get anyone to talk to just look around and write down everything you see. Everything that's happening, write it down. That's the story too." I've gotten a very few great journalism lessons in my life and that was one of them, that this is the job: Write down what you see.
It's not a lot. It's not anything I'd ever put above anyone who can swing a hammer. I don't have a lot of useful skills but I felt for a long time and still feel that we know each other because we are told about each other and that if all you can do is bear witness then you do that. Write down what you see. And tell as many people, as many many people, as you possibly can. It's a simple job. It's an impossibly simple job.
But you have to shut the fuck up and get out of your own way to do it, and that's where most of us slip up at least once. We make it all about us, or about who we know, or what we really think, and not about the experiences of the people involved. We get lost in our own shit and start thinking we need to feel everybody's pain and be fellow humans and all that self-help crapola that gets heaped on us by the morning shows about how to talk to our kids about whatever's going on.
Cable news all afternoon and even now is analyzing, commenting, doing everything but the job. They have Titanic budgets and staffs I would kill for and they have bajillions of dollars of technology at their disposal, and yet every time something like this happens we wind up relying on some jackass with a cell phone video, an expert in something we're not even sure is germane yet, and members of Congress shooting off their mouths. And by a week from now, we will be on to something else, and this will be a theme song.
I keep reading the latest from the AP and thinking about Columbine, about how everything that was reported the first couple of days turned out to be completely wrong. About the Trench Coat Mafia and the kids who were shot for believing in God. About bullying and alienation and goth music. And I wonder how much of what's going on now will be walked back years later, when nobody's paying attention.
The first day, the first hours: Cut out all the analysis, all the nonsense, and just tell us what you see. What you can prove. What you know is real. That's what we need. That's the best thing that can be done in this scenario. That's the only useful thing. That's what people need the most.
Karrie Fath of Harker Heights, whose husband is stationed at Fort Hood, did not know that anything had happened until he called her at the hairdresser today.
“I’m fine, can’t talk about it, turn on CNN,” Lt. Col. Matt Fath told his wife.
There was no television at the hair salon, so Karrie Fath called a friend who was babysitting the Faths’ infant son. The babysitter relayed everything that was being reported on television, which Fath relayed to the other women at the salon, and they quickly reached loved ones on post by phone.
“One of the girls at the hair salon lives on post and she can’t get back home because post is on lockdown,” Fath said.
Fath said she had talked informally to a number of other Army spouses. While the Army has elaborate plans for communicating with families when a soldier is wounded or killed during a deployment, “you wouldn’t even think that you’d need something here,” Fath said.
She added, “It’s just sad. They get shot at in Iraq and then they have to come back— it’s crazy.”