Tragedy in Roanoke

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Monday, August 31, 2015 10:50pm
  • Opinion

The horrible murder of two local journalists in Roanoke, Virginia, has affected me more than I thought it would. Journalists are taught early on to compartmentalize. As a local TV reporter, I saw bodies from plane crashes and victims of mass murder. I covered natural disasters and witnessed the aftermath of cruelty to children and other inhumanities.

The murders of 24-year-old Alison Parker and her 27-year-old cameraman, Adam Ward, by a deranged and disgruntled man whose shoulder chip was as big as a boulder took me back to my early days in the business.

At Alison’s age, I was working as an Army private with Armed Forces Radio in New York. Most of us had civilian jobs on the side to supplement our meager military pay. Mine was as an engineer at WOR-TV in the Empire State Building. Most journalists start out at small stations or small newspapers, learning the craft and honing skills. The salaries are puny, but love for the profession and the prospects for advancement (and higher pay) keep most plugging away in hopes of a career breakthrough.

At Adam’s age, I was working for an NBC affiliate in Houston, covering the space program, the medical center and general assignments. My cameraman and I were sometimes exposed to the elements and potential danger, but we never expected to be shot dead while working, not even during a prison riot.

President Obama and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe were quick to exploit the incident, predictably calling for more gun laws. Understandably, Parker’s father echoed their statements. In fact, had an armed security guard been present at the shopping complex where the shooting occurred, there is a good chance the shooter might have been stopped before he got close to his targets. Laws do not stop lawbreakers, but good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

News networks and some local stations now have security never considered during my early years in TV and radio, beginning in the lobby. There are coded passes for employees, elevator cameras and bullet- and bomb-resistant doors that can seal off management and the offices of network stars at the push of a panic button. Some of the best known media personalities even travel with armed security.

I never met Parker and Ward, but I can identify with their ambitions. Each appeared to have bright futures in journalism. Both were in committed relationships. Investigators want to know how Vester Flanagan acquired his gun. They will also want to learn why his mental problems, unprofessional behavior and displays of anger that led to his dismissal from more than one TV station and put fear into his colleagues (police were called to escort him from the Roanoke station after he refused to leave and began cursing his boss and threatening revenge) did not show up during a required background check. These are legitimate questions.

Perhaps this incident will cause some to reconsider the universal denunciation of “the media.” Most reporters have families and many work for lower pay than they might receive in other professions.

Everyone working in local news no doubt has been affected by this incident. While notes and gifts of condolences are being received at WDBJ7 in Roanoke, TV viewers in other markets might want to send their local station notes of appreciation for the job they are doing in bringing needed information to the public. That would be one good way to honor Alison and Adam.

 

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com

More in Opinion

The official ballot for the Aug. 16, 2022, Special General Election features ranked choice voting. (State of Alaska Division of Elections)
Voices of the Peninsula: Check out the ballot before you vote

This kind of ballot is not something you have seen before.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party

State Sen. Josh Revak (Photo provided)
The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The hope is that the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2992) will come to the Senate floor for a vote

Michael Heimbuch attends a memorial service for the late Drew Scalzi on Aug. 5, 2005, at the Seafarers Memorial on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Point of View: King salmon: The clash of culture and science

People do some pretty awful things to king salmon stocks

Lieutenant governor candidate Edie Grunwald speaks at a Charlie Pierce campaign event at Paradisos restaurant in Kenai on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Election Integrity: An Alaskan question with an Alaskan answer

A needless round of feel-good meetings and what-if conversations will be a thing of the past

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

The offical ballot for the Aug. 16, 2022, Special General Election features ranked choice voting. (State of Alaska Divison of Elections)
Opinion: Alaskans deserve an election system that represents our differences

The new system’s goal is to make this election cycle transparent, secure and easy for all Alaskans to vote

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

The cost of health insurance will rise substantially next year for about 13 million Americans

Most Read