Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican from Fairfax County, is one of the press corps’ favorite lawmakers in Richmond. He’s no great statesman, but he’s got a penchant for taking the outrages of daily life and concocting some way to write new laws about them.

Lately, Cuccinelli is bothered by “scuzzball reporters out there who don’t have a shred of human decency to give a flying rat’s tail about the condition or feelings or circumstances of families” who’ve suffered some tragedy. Cuccinelli is offended by the sight of press hacks descending on citizens who’ve lost a loved one in some crime, fire or accident, so he’s decided it should be illegal for reporters–or anyone else, for that matter– to visit such families.

His Senate Bill 1120 would deem criminal anyone who enters onto someone’s private property within a week after the owner’s family “suffered a substantial personal, physical, mental, or emotional loss, injury, or trauma.”

I did this kind of coverage. I hated it, every time. I’d rather stick my hand in the fire than do things like this, but there’s a reason you do them, and it’s that people deserve the chance to speak on their own behalf in stories about them.

Nothing in the extensive pantheon of TV-and-movie-glamorous-reporter clichés annoys me more than the sight of a person picking up a newspaper or turning on the TV to find a story that’s — gasp! — all about them. This almost never happens, not if the reporter’s any good. The subject of a story will always know that a story is forthcoming and will always be given the opportunity to speak.

Nine times out of ten, you knock on someone’s door after a shooting or a fire, and they’ll tell you to fuck off. And you do so. There’s assholes and insects who don’t, and they’re deserving of contempt. They’re also deserving of arrest for trespassing, and presumably Virginia already has laws which deal with this offense. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get called a vulture and told to go to hell, and you take it because you’re not the one who just lost her kid to a drunk driver or her brother to a drive-by, and you leave. But the tenth time?

I knocked. The reality was vastly worse than my expectation, because it turned out I was the first human being the new widow saw after getting the call about her husband’s death. To my amazement, she did not turn me away, but asked me to come in.

She wanted to tell me everything about her husband. She wanted to talk. She wanted the world to know what a wonderful man he’d been, what had driven him to become an FBI agent, what he intended for himself and for her.

I thought I might get a few telling details, borrow a family photo and get out of there in 10 minutes.

I stayed three hours.

We can debate all day long about whether tragedy stories are exploitative or emotional pornography, whether there’s any merit to the argument that such stories enrich our understanding of the world around us and the human experience and whatever stupid coffeehouse arguments we want to have. But in the end going over to somebody’s house after their spouse has been killed isn’t about that. It’s about giving people the chance to talk about things that concern them. I’m sorry Sen. Cuccinelli doesn’t understand that.

However, I would humbly submit that if the Senator is concerned about people who are getting screwed hard by life, he should attempt to make laws that will make it harder for life to screw them, and then use his considerable power to make sure those laws are enforced and enforced fairly and strenuously. That would go a lot farther in protecting the victims of tragedy than keeping a reporter off their lawn.

Schmuck via Romenesko.


3 thoughts on “Scuzzballs

  1. You say that reporters will walk away from a family that requests that the reporter leave, but I can say from personal experience that this is simply not the case. My wife died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (Sorry if I wont call it 9/11, but I personally hate that shorthand title.) As with everything surrounding the attack, every event became a media circus. On September 23rd, when NYC and NYS had agreed on a framework for issuing death certificates without any remains, the media set up film crews with telephoto lenses to film us entering the center on the pier. Perhaps it never passed through their minds that they were filming people who were going in to legally set to paper the fact that they had given up hope of finding their loved ones alive.
    Later we had a memorial service for my wife in the beginning of October. My family had concerns regarding my wifes 2 boys from her prior marrage. The biological father had threatened to kill one of them and kidnap the other some time before and had just a few months earlier been released from jail for killing his stepson from his second marrage. Even though we had explained this to the reporter and photographer from the New York Daily News, and requested that they take photos only of myself, we were shocked to discover next moring that there was a large photo of the boys holding a picture of my late wife in the paper. Reason had not worked, threats had not worked, bribes had not worked, pleading had not worked.
    Then you can watch the coverage the families recieved once we began to ask questions. Glenn Beck wasn’t the only one to dismiss us and in effect tell us to shut up. Go back to the record and see what was written in the editorials of the NY Post, Washington Post, and others. Basically the attitude was: If you’re not going to cry on cue, we dont want to hear you, so go the hell away.
    I may agree that this law is stupid and unconstitutional as hell, but please do not assume that all or even most reporters still think “journalistic ethics” is anything more than an oxymoron.
    Jonathan M. Ehrlich

  2. I think of the recents murders in NOLA and how important it was for people to talk about those, to bring it to light. Doing what this Virginia Schmuck wants to do will just sweep things under the rug.
    Oh and BTW violent crime is rising all over the nation according to new stats released and reported in USA Today…today IIRC. Wouldn’t be that we want to shove that out of sight and out of mind.
    This is ridiculous. Reporters have been doing these stories for years and 99% are small stories. But important.
    It’s interesting how Repubs hate big government and too much legislating but it is always them who introduce the most intrusive hair brained laws.

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