Rod St. Aubyn: Rushing To Judgment In The 24/7 News Cycle


In today’s world it is impossible to be sheltered from the news. It is everywhere – radio, television, newspapers, internet, Facebook, and many people have it as part of their home page as they start up their computer. In general, I think that this mass disclosure of the news is a good thing. I am a bit of a “news junkie” myself. However the advent of 24 hours/7 days a week exposure to the news has created some negative issues as well in my humble opinion.

There is obvious bias in the different news sources. Why are some news items covered in one media outlet, but ignored by other media sources? And who determines what is portrayed as news? But one of my main concerns about this 24/7 news reporting is what I feel contributes to the public’s rush to judgement. There is such competition in the news world to get that news scoop immaterial if this scoop later proves to be false.

To illustrate my point, I want to refresh your memory about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I personally think that the press coverage actually contributed to the violence that occurred in that community. I don’t dispute that there existed some real serious issues that affected race relations in that community. However with the press covering every possible theory, who can ever forget the statements of witnesses that have since been proven false, that Michael had his hands up and was surrendering to the police officer.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Many in the public do not want to wait for the investigations to be completed. They want instant decisions.[/mks_pullquote]

Forensic evidence, eyewitnesses’ stories, and other evidence eventually exonerated the police officer who had to go into hiding for his own safety. The local grand jury and a separate federal criminal investigation finally came to the same conclusion – that there was no evidence to charge the officer. The investigation took many months to conclude. Yet the public was not satisfied to let the investigation run its course. Many in the community had already made their minds up on what they had heard in the news and other sources – that Michael Brown was executed by the policy officer.

Now let’s use another closer-to-home situation to also illustrate the same point – the public is prone to “Rush to Judgement.” An individual was allegedly shot 6 times after leading several police agencies on a high speed pursuit in Grand Forks. I do think that the police agencies could have done a better job of communicating some of the details earlier, but they were reluctant until an independent and thorough investigation was completed. With minimal details released, the public formed opinions on some sketchy information provided by others. Rather than wait for the complete investigation, people began to speculate what actually happened. Upon completion of the independent investigation and review by the State’s Attorney it was determined that the officer would not be criminally charged.

Now we have the tragic Germanwings jet crash.

Of course a full investigation was immediately commenced. However, the media started publishing every bit of news about the pilot and the co-pilot, who is believed to be the only one in the cockpit at the time of the crash. Rather than wait for the investigation to be completed, the public is exposed to details that we don’t know are relevant or not. There was of course the initial concern if this was a “terrorist attack”. So far news has reported that there does not seem to be any political or religious motivation. Somehow someone allegedly leaked information obtained from the “black box” to a newspaper. At this stage, we have no idea if this leaked information is accurate or not. However this information and new information that will sure to follow will contribute to the public’s rush to judgement.

The public is exposed to so much information in this day and age of 24/7 news coverage. It has created an environment that is unacceptable to many. Many in the public do not want to wait for the investigations to be completed. They want instant decisions. I worry that this pressure may result in faulty investigations in the future. The public has to understand that thoughtful and complete investigations will serve us best in the end rather than hasty decisions. There is no legitimate need for this “rush to judgement.”