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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 1999-05-17

Leading Off: Covering Tragic Events
By Robert Hanashiro

This issue of Sports Shooter was delayed because of the recent mass murder at a Denver-area high school and the tornado that ripped through Oklahoma.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
Covering tragic events like OK City and Columbine are never any REAL fun, but there certainly is a big difference when disaster hits Oklahoma.

This was the second time I had to make an extended visit to OK City, the first was to cover the bombing of the federal bldg. several years back. And both times the residents, officials and even the hotel people made me feel welcomed and thanked me for visiting.

This was certainly in harsh contrast to my weeklong stay in the Denver area to cover the aftermath of the shooting at Columbine High. As I told one colleague, I haven't been confronted and flipped off so much in my entire career.

Covering death and destruction isn't always easy and it certainly isn't anything I relish (jezzz, I missed 6 Lakers home games while I was in Oklahoma and Colorado!), but the people of Oklahoma showed more courage, compassion, generosity, patience and class than subjects I meet under GOOD circumstances.

Emotions are tough to predict, but I wasn't prepared for the media backlash we all received in Denver. Hand painted signs at various staged events, churches and funeral homes declaring "NO MEDIA" were more the norm than the exception. Having 15-year-old kids wearing bad clothes and having equally bad skin run up to us and say "Fuck the 1st Amendment and fuck you guys" happened daily.

Even at events (vigils, memorials, etc.) staged obsensibly for media coverage, tv crews and still photographers would get "The Bird" pointed into their lenses and some verbal abuse from residents, but mostly teens.

Even at the massive memorial service held in the parking lot of a shopping mall the Sunday after the murders, it was announced several times that photographs of the Columbine High students and families was discouraged.

Photographers and TV crews were respectful and kept their distance, but still did their jobs and made pictures of the event.

I'd never bought into the religious right and conservatives' belief that violent music, video games and action/horror films were the root of aberrant behavior. But somewhere and somehow kids in Littleton-Denver learned to be quick with the middle finger and the foul language to their elders (namely the media).

While I did encounter survivors and family members of survivors of the Columbine High murders who were generous with their time and did not verbally assault me when photographing them, but they were definitely in the minority.

Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I am becoming more of a cynic. But after the kindness and courage and dignity I witnessed for a week after the tornado and for three weeks after the terrorist attack on the Murrah Federal Building several years ago, Oklahomans are on top of my list of favorite people.

Hopefully now I can get back to the more mundane things like photographing Shaq slam dunking (and missing 12 free throws).

Robert Hanashiro
Editor, publisher Sports Shooter


Related Email Addresses: 
Robert Hanashiro: rhanashiro@earthlink.net

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