By C.L. Harmon
I rarely make comments on social media sites that I belong to as most are just people giving opinions and opinions are not easily changed. So it’s usually pointless to throw my two cents in. However, in a moment of passion, I recently made a post pertaining to a Fox correspondent who was covering a scene where a law enforcement officer had been involved. The reporter and an officer had a spat about the proximity in which the reporter was to the scene. The reporter was on private property and had permission to be there by the owners of the property, but the officer wanted him further back. A disagreement ensued and the camera was rolling. The video did not show any yellow tape and so it was impossible to tell if the reporter was behind it or not. Both the officer and the reporter acted in ways in which I disagree, but the question remained as to who was right and who wasn’t. There were comments on both sides in support of both people. My comment was not inflammatory, but made the point that as reporters, we hold a responsibility to inform the public and keep the country a free system that encourages the free flow of information to the people. This often requires the presence of reporters. This incident reminded me of two scenarios that I feel like sharing. The first comes from the Vietnam War era. American lives and money were being spent in that war and regardless of what President Johnson or General Westmoreland said about the war, the information provided by reporters who were there was telling a different story. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that war or the way it was fought strategy wise, the American people would have had no information as to what was really going on over there had news people not been there to show it unfold in the news. It was every American’s right to know what their armed forces were fighting against and to see where and how their money was being spent. It was, after all, their money. The second involved a vehicle accident I covered very early in my career. I was working late with my editor and a call came in about a car crash just outside the city limits. My editor told me to go grab a photo and find out what I could at the scene. I no sooner stepped out of my car into the darkness of the scene when a voice began ordering me back into my vehicle. I politely informed this deputy that I was press and had been sent by my editor to get a photo. He simply ordered me back into my car and told me I was not allowed to be there. It was obvious to me that he was not going to allow me to take any photos and so I drove back to my office. After telling my editor what happened, he told me to go back and get the information he wanted. So I drove back down to the scene and once again heard the same order, only this time with more conviction than the first time. I had to make a decision at that moment. Did this deputy’s desire to keep me away trump the people’s right to know…and possibly my job if I returned empty handed. I stood my ground and stated emphatically, but respectfully that I was on a public highway and that I was not leaving without my photos. He said nothing in response and I believe he may have been in slight shock. Then I heard a voice come out of the darkness from the area where a car had flipped and rolled down into a creek bed. “Can I help you?” The voice belonged to a state trooper. He was polite and walked toward me. I explained what my intentions were and he invited me into the accident scene, much to the deputy’s chagrin. He explained what he believed happened to cause the wreck. He answered a couple of questions for me and then told me to take as many photos as I needed. He asked that I keep my distance from certain areas and I respected his wishes. The following day. He called my office and asked if I had received the teletype sent out and if I had any further questions. I repaid his courtesy and professionalism by offering to burn him a disc with all the photos I had taken. He accepted the offer and a relationship of mutual respect was born. In fact, I would be called out to future accident scenes by this trooper following that day. I have a great respect for law enforcement and will say that this one deputy early in my career is the exception to the rule. I have found most to be accommodating and willing to give information that belongs to the public. As for working together, it must be a choice by both the reporting agencies and law enforcement to work together for the same goals. Law enforcement officers are citizens too and must understand that when the right to be informed is hindered, they lose the very same rights as all citizens when out of uniform. News agencies must understand that the timing for releasing information is often critical to investigations and public safety issues are always a concern at every type of scene. Why should there be two sides to a story when there is only one goal we srtive to attain?