As acting editor of the Red Dirt Chronicles, I try to fly relatively under the radar when it comes to taking some sort of stance about issues in my community or in in our state through a written post. That’s because this venue isn’t about waving the issues flag. It’s about serving as an incubator for contributors who have a connection to the State of Oklahoma in order to highlight the regional culture. The “Red Dirt” nuances that run through our veins, if you will. In fact, I recently had a conversation with one of our contributors where he talked about a discussion in which he was involved; a discussion over the notions of that which is Good, True and Beautiful. Those concepts, I believe, are like guidance beacons for what it is we do. And while I’m certain that not all Red Dirt Culture is positive, shiny and includes a happy ending tagged on the end like a pretty bow, I assure you: our work will never intentionally be deployed to play up shock value or to harm those already hurting.
This was not the case last night, however, in a report filed during the 10:00 p.m. news hour by KFOR (Channel 4 in Oklahoma City). The reporter was covering a story about the arrest of a man charged with possession of child pornography. I watched as some of the usual sensationalizing tactics were deployed and considered changing the channel when the reporter proved to the audience that the alleged perpetrator’s neighbor’s didn’t want to make a statement on camera. “Get the hell out of here!” was the caption while they rolled video documenting this attempt for a comment.
But I didn’t change the channel. I kept watching. And then, a frown came over my face and my brow became deeply furrowed. I finished watching what I can only describe as a tabloid story, designed to turn a tragic situation into cheap supermarket headlines. “This is our state,” I thought. “And that news team just crossed the line. That isn’t news. That’s just…wrong.” THEN, I turned off the television.
A feeling overcame me that I can only compare to the time when I was in grade school once when one of our neighbors ran up to me. It was summer around this time of year. He had been shooting fireworks and wanted to show me something. I raced to keep up with him while he took me to an area close to our picnic tables by the creek. “Look!” he said, watching my face eagerly for a reaction. I looked to the ground and discovered a gruesome scene. The kid had stuffed a turtle’s shell and mouth with Black Cats, then set them off. I turned and ran, fighting nausea on my way back to safety in our house. Two scenes played over and over in my mind: 1) the damage done to the poor turtle without regard for its welfare; and, 2) the look of anticipation on the kid’s face. He couldn’t wait to observe my reaction, to see how I responded to the scene. I don’t hate that kid for what he did to me…and certainly to the turtle, but I worry about why he did it. And, I’m a different person for having experienced that situation.
However, I’m not a kid anymore. And I’m assuming KFOR isn’t run by elementary children. So instead of running away, I advanced. I wrote a letter to the station expressing my outrage. I re-read the letter this morning and can tell I was feeling emotional. I reverted to a conversational style of text. Normally, if I want to write an advocacy letter or a letter expressing my concern about something, I try to use professional language. Not this time. I just wrote.
I’m sharing a copy of that letter for you which will explain my concerns. I would also like to encourage you to write the station if you feel similarly once you’ve read the letter. Here it is:
Dear Channel 4:
I’m writing to let you know that I believe you made a serious mistake on your story tonight in announcing the detail and different types of child pornography photos that were found.
It doesn’t matter that there was a “young Asian male laying on a bed in a Power Rangers t-shirt with an adult hand displaying the child’s genitals.” Then you announced, “some were too graphic to tell about.”
Really? So, it’s okay to bolster the shock value of your report by detailing the one with a hand and genitals, but maybe others showing children in various acts were too graphic?
I am a marriage and family therapist, have worked at the Care Centers where they investigate child abuse cases, been through the Interdisciplinary Training Program for Child Abuse and Neglect at the OUHSC, and have studied family policy for many years.
It is my firm belief that simply the fact that there were over 10,000 photos was enough to report.
I do NOT appreciate the extremely poor decisions put into the report tonight. I don’t know who those editors were, but those children have parents, and firing up more public outrage by detailing even one photo is not necessary. It was a terrible tragedy, the guy is going to pay severely. But the children and their families are going to pay much, much more and having this documented for them to repeat over and over subjects them to even more pain.
In my opinion, tonight, YOU were the perpetrator as well.