Virginia killings: Shooter Flanagan ‘a human powder keg’

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

If we watch the Virginia TV shooting is the suspected shooter ‘winning’?.

MONETTA, Va. The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Virginia when reporter Parker and cameraman Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism. “This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7. Maeser told AFP she was just rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn when she got an unexpected telephone call from her news director, telling her to hurry into work immediately. It soon developed that the suspected shooter, Vester Flanagan, a former reporter for WDBJ, appeared to have recorded the shooting himself, posted it on Facebook and then tweeted about it using his on-air name, Bryce Williams.

She didn’t yet know that, just minutes earlier, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, had been shot and killed on air by a disgruntled former WDBJ reporter. What unfolded was familiar to any TV viewer: A recounting of the crime; news conferences with updates from authorities, and reaction from those who knew the victims. The gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, also known as Bryce Williams, later fatally shot himself when police caught up with his getaway car — but not before posting his own video of the murder. He points the gun at Parker and then at Ward, but he waits patiently to shoot until he knows that Parker is on camera, so she will be gunned down on air.

The Twitter and Facebook accounts were quickly suspended, and YouTube took down the videos, but the disturbing images continued to circulate, prompting an equally widespread “Don’t Watch” campaign. Outside the studio gates, dozens of WDBJ viewers solemnly converged before sunset to place bouquets of flowers and shiny remembrance balloons under a tree wrapped with two black mourning ribbons. The station in Virginia’s Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, however, left it other outlets to dwell on the footage from WDBJ’s unwitting broadcast of the shooting and, in a bleakly modern twist, apparent “selfie” video posted online by the alleged gunman.

At best, some said, watching or sharing the footage was an endorsement of a media culture run amok, proof that the medium has indeed become the message — people will now literally do anything to be on television. Parker and Ward were the youthful, energetic and ambitious early morning reporting duo at WDBJ, a CBS affiliate that covers mainly rural southern Virginia with an editorial staff of about 50. Ott was in the control room and witnessed her fiance’s death in shock — and as a fellow New Jersey native and close friend, it fell on Maeser to console her throughout the day. “I was supposed to be at their wedding. The station received calls for interview requests from media outlets in Russia and Australia, among others. “We are choosing not to run the video of that (the shooting) right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again. As if news were suddenly beholden to feelings of gentility and any medium should be blamed for insane people attempting to leverage it for their own dissociated ends.

That man, authorities said, was Flanagan — a former staffer who used the on-air name of Bryce Williams and was fired by WDBJ, a man who always was looking for reasons to take offense, colleagues recalled. They were set to get married next summer in Charleston, South Carolina,” she added, choking back tears. “She had this energy about her, on the air and off,” he added, standing alongside his tripod-mounted live video camera as WDBJ began its evening newscast. When something terrible happens, many of us want to do something, to help in some way; it is the very best of human nature to offer aid of every sort as quickly as we can. Wednesday’s on-air murders reverberated far from central Virginia because that’s just what the killer wanted — not just to avenge perceived wrongs, but to gain maximum, viral exposure. Then Marks, his hair disheveled but his emotions in check, put a stop to it, at least in those early, freshly painful moments. “We should probably go back to regular programming now, rather than prolonging this.

Flanagan’s planning may have started weeks ago when, ABC News said, a man claiming to be Bryce Williams called repeatedly, saying he wanted to pitch a story and needed fax information. In an age when video of crashes, shootings, fires and other tragedies is readily available and endlessly replayed, it was a decision — albeit it one influenced by personal loss — that other outlets often fail to make and for which they are roundly criticized. News outlets did not show the space shuttle Challenger explode repeatedly on a minute-by-minute basis, or the Twin Towers fall over and over again, for entertainment’s sake. He sent ABC’s newsroom a 23-page fax two hours after the 6:45 a.m. shooting that was part-manifesto, part-suicide note — calling himself a gay black man who had been mistreated by people of all races, and saying he bought the gun two days after nine black people were killed in a June 17 shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C. In it, a hand holding a gun is seen behind Ward for several seconds and then squeezes off shots at Parker. “At this point we don’t,” she said Wednesday evening. “We’ll review that as we go.

Their live spot Wednesday was nothing out of the ordinary: They were interviewing a local official at an outdoor shopping mall for a tourism story before the shots rang out. Certainly the killing of two journalists on live television will get more coverage than most other workplace murders, but the medium is not the message; the murders are the message.

No.” Lee Wolverton, managing editor of The Roanoke Times, expressed the newspaper’s sympathy for the victims and its intention to provide complete coverage. Flanagan, 41, who was fired from WDBJ in 2013, was described by the station’s president and general manager, Jeffrey Marks, as an “an unhappy man” and “difficult to work with,” always “looking out for people to say things he could take offense to.” “Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln in a theater before jumping onto the stage yelling “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus ever to tyrants”) and, by many accounts, was inconsolable by his portrayal in the press.

On Wednesday morning, YouTube and various media outlets, including this one, made decisions on whether to make the videos available (the Los Angeles Times decided to post a clip that stops before the shooting). But to suggest that we ought to ignore horrific events out of fear that acknowledgment will fulfill a killer’s wish is not just absurd, it’s agreeing to adopt a murderer’s way of thinking. Marks said Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially tinged comments to him, but that his EEOC claim was dismissed and none of his allegations could be corroborated.

Dan Dennison, now a state government spokesman in Hawaii, was the WDBJ news director who hired Flanagan in 2012 and fired him in 2013, largely for performance issues, he said. “We did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man,” Dennison said. “You just never know when you’re going to work how a potentially unhinged or unsettled person might impact your life in such a tragic way.” Court records and recollections from former colleagues at a half-dozen other small-market stations where he bounced around indicate that Flanagan was quick to file complaints. The random, senseless horror of their deaths — one minute Parker is doing her job, the next minute running for her life — should remind us that murder, which remains the No. 1 narrative arc in television drama, is not entertainment, that real killers are not fascinating creatures of tortured back story and twisted mythology. It should stop us in our tracks with the knowledge we are all vulnerable to random gun violence and that threats and signs of stalking should be taken seriously.

Just as images of police brutality against black Americans recently reignited protest and investigations, the tragic last minutes of these lives should prompt as many serious conversations as prayers. When we’re too afraid to see what violence really looks like, or too worried that our horror will encourage it, that’s when we’ll know the barbarians have won.

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