Self-Congratulatory Reporters Make Parents MORE Worried about School Safety

UPDATE! ydnatzfzhr
I love this comment so much, I have to highlight it here:

“When I was a little girl, an unarmed adult wandering the halls was likely to be questioned, not presumed to be a psychotic mass murderer.”


Readers — This  surprising story ran in yesterday’s New York Times about the news media’s new favorite story, finding “breeches” in school security. As reporter John Eligon begins:

The three news reports followed the same format: Television reporters walked into schools with hidden cameras, under the premise of testing the security measures. Each time, the anchors provided a sobering assessment of the findings.

“One of the more depressing reports I’ve seen in a long time,” said Matt Lauer, the “Today” show host, after a report showed unsettling lapses in security.

“What we uncovered may shock you,” Chuck Scarborough warned viewers of WNBC in New York.

Similarly, an anchor with the NBC affiliate in St. Louis prefaced a story by saying, “Some of it will disturb you.”

What disturbed ME — aside from the schools that went on lockdown, the kids made to cower in the classroom, and the not insignificant possibility of someone shooting the reporter — was summed up by Al Tomkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute, who told Eligon:

“What happens is you’re spending all this energy and time investigating school safety when that’s already the single safest place for your child anyway… [This] sort of reaffirms the false notion that my kids are really in danger at school when they’re not.”

Exactly. Like all the sweeps week stories where reporters go to playgrounds to film how easily kids can be lured away — as if to suggest strangers are doing this all the time — this new generation of reporters would make us believe our kids are in grave danger anytime any adult steps foot in a school.

That outlook reinforces the notion that all strangers are at least somewhat likely to be madmen, and that therefore all schools MUST be hermetically sealed. (See earlier post, “Strangers in the Schools”) The upshot is letters like the one I got a few weeks ago from a mom in an Iowa town of 1000, where students are no longer allowed to hold the door open for ANY adult, even one they know. (Which, in a town of 1000, is probably everyone.)

The media tells itself it does these reports as a public service. It does them for ratings, and the public be damned. – L

School or prison? Does it matter?

School or prison? Fearmongering reporters push to make them the same!

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27 Responses to Self-Congratulatory Reporters Make Parents MORE Worried about School Safety

  1. E March 18, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    I’ve read the story. Did I miss where the reporter that caused the lockdown was charged with something? We all know that kids would be in deep crap if they did something (like pull a fire alarm) like that.

  2. Christine Hancock March 18, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Great. Reporter walks in to a school only to discover it is not a high security prison. That must have been a slow day for news, indeed.

  3. Christine Hancock March 18, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    correction: reporters walk into schools to discover that while they are not high security prisons, they are governed by some easily frightened, neurotic bureaucrats. When I was a little girl, an unarmed adult wandering the halls was likely to be questioned, not presumed to be a psychotic mass murderer.

  4. BL March 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    @Christine Hancock
    “reporters walk into schools to discover that while they are not high security prisons, they are governed by some easily frightened, neurotic bureaucrats. When I was a little girl, an unarmed adult wandering the halls was likely to be questioned, not presumed to be a psychotic mass murderer.”

    Of course, some schools DO have armed adults walking the halls. But since they call them “resource officers” instead of “prison guards”, they can claim not to be prisons.

  5. Steve March 18, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    My job requires me to make service calls at schools to fix office equipment. There’s a wide range of reactions when I arrive. Most of them I just walk in what looks like the main entrance and ask somebody where the main office is. A few, I know where the equipment is and just go there and talk with whoever is back there. There are a very few where I have to get buzzed in the door, escorted to wherever the machine is, and somebody sits there the entire time I am working, and then escorts me out. It’s usually the larger school districts that are a hassle.

  6. Warren March 18, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Is not inciting panic in public a criminal offense?

  7. Donna March 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I have to go to school to take my daughter her swim stuff today. I almost didn’t agree to do this, not to teach her to be more responsible (it was my fault the stuff got left today), but because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting it to her in school.

    The last thing we need is MORE security making it difficult to drop off left behind swim clothes.

  8. lollipoplover March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    “I have a few more gray hairs because of it, and it terrified my kids and a lot of other kids.”

    They should be charged with trespassing and prosecuted. What crappy journalism. What next-sneak into a nursing home? A zoo? The lion’s cage? I can only wish.

    If there is any true journalistic integrity, reporters would investigate the top causes locally of childhood death (likely car accidents, drug overdoses, suicide, and accidents like fires). I couldn’t help notice the “fatal fire” underneath the picture of the school. If you want to help the school community and focus on preventing death among the student body, do some fact searching. Causes of death from idiot journalists or strangers in schools won’t make the list.

    Spend your energy working with local fire departments and get smoke detectors in all houses with children. Film all the stupid teenagers texted and driving. Highlight local community programs that are free and open to teens to keep them busy and off the streets. Leave the schools alone to educate our children. Stop trying to break into them like Mission Impossible: Stupid Journalism.

  9. lollipoplover March 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    My son just called me because the baseball tryouts were moved to today (rescheduled because of snow) and he needed his stuff dropped off. I usually don’t drop off forgotten items but this actually wasn’t his fault.

    So I walked into the middle school with a baseball bat in my hand and a backpack containing a glove and helmet. The gentleman who held the door open for me (he was buzzed in) was 6’5 and HUGE and also holding a baseball bat! The secretary said “hi” and told us where to leave our stuff and the man (whom I never met before) helped me put a label on my son’s bat and bag as he’s done this before.

  10. anonymous this time March 18, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    “What you see may disturb you.”

    It’s the tagline for the intro to every story about kids these days.

    If it’s disturbing to be responsible for another person’s life and well-being in the general sense, and you can’t reconcile the fact that even though you do your best to help them thrive, the odd freak thing can happen, well….

    DON’T HAVE KIDS. Seriously. And if you do have kids, DON’T WATCH TV.

  11. J.T. Wenting March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Sue the school for not shooting the reporter for violating school security…

    Let’s see how quickly they stop with such nonsense.

  12. Donna March 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Lollipoplover – It actually ended up being less of a hassle than usual since the secretary just took it and called back for my daughter to come get it.

    The last time, when I forgot to put her homework in her backpack after I looked at it (last time I tried to review her homework too), I had to sign in, get a visitor badge, get buzzed back, walk to her classroom and back and then sign out. Total pain to ealk into a classroom for 2 seconds.

    The thing that is annoying is the secretary clearly knows me by sight. She knew my daughter’s nane and her classroom. She identifies most of the parents on sight. That she doesn’t have the authority to just let us through is ridiculous. I don’t blame her as she is wonderful and I would hate for her to lose her job, but it would certainly be more efficient if she only had to deal with the people ahe didn’t recognize and not everyone.

  13. Jen (P.) March 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    “Journalistic integrity”–seems to be more and more an oxymoron. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics warns them to avoid “staged news events.” I suppose the news outlets in question would call these “undercover investigations” instead. But these reporters crossed a line. It’s one thing, to use a recent example, to hide a camera in a hotel room to see whether housekeepers replace the dirty glasses with clean ones (no, in case you’re wondering). In that situation the reporter isn’t influencing what happens.

    But in this case, the reporter is making himself the story, or at least part of it. How the school officials react will depend on what he does. It’s more like that couple who went into ACORN offices and recorded staffers/volunteers advising them on how to hide their prostitution ring and avoid paying taxes on illegal income. I think he was pretty roundly criticized by so-called “professional” journalists for his lack of professional integrity. And given the heightened state of alert in many schools, these stories could turn ugly.

    On an unrelated note, how does the NYT decide who to call for expert opinions? I thought it was funny they quoted a journalism prof from Depauw–a small liberal arts college in Greencastle, Indiana. Great school, but not one I would expect a NYT reporter to have on speed dial.

  14. kate March 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    “a reporter visited five schools in the New York area and was able to get into one without being stopped by any security guards or school staff.”
    So, in four schools, the reporter was questioned about his presence. One school let him in no questions asked. This means our school in general are unsafe and we must worry about the safety of our children?

  15. lollipoplover March 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Donna- Our school used to do that but now has a drop zone and sends an alert to the teacher if there are students who need to pick up things in the office. Much easier.

    On breaking the rules, this absolutely cracked me up:

  16. Papilio March 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    “If there is any true journalistic integrity, reporters would investigate the top causes locally of childhood death (likely car accidents, drug overdoses, suicide, and accidents like fires).”

    Yeah – that you can look up a map of your city with red dots on all the places where kids were harmed/died in traffic accidents, with info on their transport mode and what caused the accident (speeding, talking on phones, running red lights, ignoring crosswalks, etc etc). See who&what the real danger to kids is.

  17. Casey March 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I don’t understand the presumption that schools have to be run like Supermax facilities.

    When my youngest tried out public school (we homeschool now), the parents were not allowed inside the building at dismissal time “for safety.” Instead, all 300 kids were herded into the front halls and the staff would scream their names above the din as their parents arrived to pick them up.

    Then the kids would be walked out of the building. It was total shrieking chaos–and probably a fire code violation as well. For safety. Ugh.

  18. anonymous mom March 18, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    I’m also wondering why it’s legal and okay for a reporter to go into a school with hidden cameras, causing disruption and panic.

    My son had a lockdown drill at his school yesterday, which I guess are now required. He found the drill very upsetting, and it mostly made him feel like his school was unsafe.

  19. Nic March 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    It seems to me that more children and adults are being traumatised by the lockdowns, than the total affected by any real threat. It seems America is in a situation where parents are brainwashed and frightened, those who should have more sense and authority are knee jerking their reactions, and those with sense have no power to change this. And who will suffer for all of this, the kids.

  20. Reziac March 18, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    What disturbs me is that they’re supposed to be educating these kids, yet don’t know the difference between ‘breeches’ and ‘breaches’.


  21. BL March 19, 2014 at 5:35 am #

    “It seems to me that more children and adults are being traumatised by the lockdowns, than the total affected by any real threat.”

    We certainly never had lockdowns at any school I attended (back in the “good old days”), nor have I ever worked anywhere that had lockdowns, to this day.

    Lockdowns occur in prisons. Calling them “schools” doesn’t change anything.

  22. Puzzled March 19, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Just another reason to abolish schools – so long as they exist, they cut children off from the real world, and are publicly pressured to do so.

  23. Michelle March 19, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    Earlier this year, an 82 year old nun and two other anti-nuclear activists were able to break in to a United States government facility storing weapons-grade uranium, spray paint graffiti on the walls, and wander around for hours before encountering a guard. THAT is a security problem worthy of reporting. This is nonsense and sensationalism.

  24. E March 19, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    @Christine, I realize you are commenting on the ‘way things are’, but once this guy asked about security, asked where the bathroom was, and then left in another direction, I’m not sure what choice the school had. They actually tried to reach the guy by phone (and couldn’t) and even took the time to call his presumed employer who couldn’t confirm his ID. I don’t think the school had any choice at that point.

    I doubt they thought he was a mass murderer (especially if they took the time to make 2 phones calls), but at that point they had little to go on and it was time to follow protocol.

  25. Art March 19, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    OMG, it’s getting crazy in the schools.

    I occasionally sub teach Elementary in a large district in Texas.

    At one school, I was there for a third grade room, and I got asked if I had a paper or documentation that I was there to sub. Seriously? This school knew me, I knew the principal, and is one the preferred sub list for this school. I was constantly having to be buzzed in and out, and was not allowed a badge to make getting the kids in and out from the playground.

    At a different school (there for First Grade), again, I’ve been to this school before, I was asked FIVE TIMES during the course of the day who I was, and what I was doing there. The, pardon my french, god##$m CLASS with me one time and they even said “He’s our sub!”

    It’s insane.

  26. Papilio March 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    Re strangers in the school: today I was one of them! The door, which had a poster behind the window saying ‘this is a voting location, you are welcome’, was unlocked. I could walk right into the main hall, no locked doors inside either (no doors at all between the main hall and the corridors with the classrooms), no front desk with secretary, just a table with some very friendly people handling the voting (checking ID’s was only for that purpose).

    Wonderful. Now I really appreciate all this normalcy.

  27. Lily Anderson March 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    I so miss my high school. It shares a building with other facilities and, as we got reminded annually about the risks of leaving our stuff in the hall, is a public building. Nobody needs any permission to walk in off the street. I don’t remember it happening very often, but people would cut through when it was raining hard outside.

    And this is downtown in a major city!

    And you know what? Nothing ever happened. Ever. Not an issue. If a stranger looked lost, we’d ask if they needed directions.

    (Nor did we students need permission to visit the piza parlor across the street or the bookstore on the next block.)