Thursday, January 25, 2007

Stupid law tricks

The Washington Post's Marc Fisher (no known relative) has a blog post on one of the stupider legislative bills to come down the pike: Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli introduced a bill to make a criminal of anyone going onto the property of someone "within a week after the owner's family 'suffered a substantial personal, physical, mental, or emotional loss, injury, or trauma.' "

Cuccinelli wants to ban reporters from bothering the grieving. Fisher has a different tale, one from when he was a 22-year-old reporter sent to talk with the widow of an FBI agent who had just been killed:

I knocked. The reality was vastly worse than my expectation, because it turned out I was the first human being the new widow saw after getting the call about her husband's death. To my amazement, she did not turn me away, but asked me to come in.

She wanted to tell me everything about her husband. She wanted to talk. She wanted the world to know what a wonderful man he'd been, what had driven him to become an FBI agent, what he intended for himself and for her.

I thought I might get a few telling details, borrow a family photo and get out of there in 10 minutes.

I stayed three hours. Sure, I had an ulterior motive, a business purpose. But I also served the function of listener, fellow human being, witness. Several times, I offered to leave. Each time, the woman begged me to stay.

As Fisher points out, that's the reality in many cases -- families and friends want to talk about those who have died, and good reporters know they are there to help tell those stories.

Fisher does us a bit of a disservice, however, with this throw-away line: "Sure, there are jerks and abusers who take advantage of families in such situations; no one should have to deal with pompous TV reporters barging into their houses, lights shining and hairspray hanging in the air."

So Fisher is suggesting that somehow only print reporters have the dignity and skills to interview the grieving? Balderdash. Yes, TV is intrusive, but to generalize TV reporters as hairspray freaks shallower than a puddle after a midsummer rain is as guilty of being as broad-brush as Cuccinelli's idiotic proposal. (And I've known more than my share of boorish print reporters.) Not only that, but given the choice, I think more than a few grieving folks would take the chance to tell their story on TV; they're not stupid -- they realize the relative impact.

Aside from that little slip, however, Fisher's blog entry is well worth reading. And it's comforting to know that the Virginia Senate has smacked this one down in committee for now. But don't let legislators in some other states know about this idea -- it might show up in your Statehouse.

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