Courtesy our friends at the Suicide Girls Blog comes a message from their writer A.J. Focht, best known for his “W33K 1N G33K” contributions. Focht was in the Century’s Theater 9 when a gunman launched a surprise attack that would leave 58 people injured and a dozen more dead at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
Focht’s editor at the Suicide Girls Blog has asked us to pass along this message from Focht, intended for the media but instructive to the public at large as to how events like the shooting at the Aurora Century 16 are covered.
He touches on a lot of issues, some more controversial than others, and shares his unique perspective as someone whose group experienced the gamut of consequences from the gunman’s terrible rampage: Focht himself and others escaped physically unscathed, while one of their group, Alex Teves, was killed in the attack.
Teves has been the subject of numerous media reports, since it was reported that he died while protecting his girlfriend from the gunman, and that has presumably put an even brighter media spotlight on Focht and the rest of his group, who began getting media inquiries before they even left the theater, due to one member’s tweets intended to alert her family that she had survived.
The problem of regular people being thrust into the media spotlight following their unintended–or unwilling–participation in what becomes a news event is not new, but in the world of 24-hour news, where anyone with $50 can buy a domain and set themselves up as a “reporter,” consequences of the press’ bad behavior are more obvious than ever before. The Internet makes it faster and easier to locate and contact the victims of high-profile crimes, and it seems that at least some of the survivors of the Aurora tragedy are beginning to feel trapped all over again by an oppressive and unrelenting media unwilling to take “no” for an answer.
We present Focht’s statement to the media below, unedited, and with our sincerest condolences for what he and his friends and family have gone through on July 20 and every day since.
Thursday July 19th, I rushed home from work to get ready to catch the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises with a group of friends. We were all excited to finally be seeing the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. After wading through the crowd to get our tickets and stocking up on overpriced food and drinks, we made our way into Theater 9 and took our seats. The showing was packed and there weren’t enough empty seats in a row for all eight of us to sit together. We split up, sitting in small groups throughout the theater. I ended up in the second row from the back with my roommate and another friend.
Everyone waited patiently through the lackluster trailers for the feature film to begin. When the movie started, the theater went silent and everyone fixed their eyes in on the screen, mesmerized. Scene after scene, I became more enthralled with the story. About twenty minutes in, we were all snapped out of the epic fantasy world and into a nightmarish reality. A gunman opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd. I made it out of the theater unscathed, but I can’t say the same about the rest of my group. One of them was injured and went to hospital, and another didn’t came out of the theater alive. While I survived, 12 people were killed in the massacre and another 58 were injured.
It took seemingly no time before the twenty-four hour news networks had informed everyone across the nation as to what had happened. The mad rush to present the world with information caused the media vultures to deliver several false reports as they stopped at nothing to get their stories. In the midst of this living nightmare, the media circus fed off the victims’ despair like it was fresh bread in a famine.
With only a small charge left in her phone one of the members of my group thought it best to send out a blanket distress beacon via Twitter so she could conserve her battery to call her parents and a ride home. Caitlin tweeted from her account @dingos8myTARDIS informing her family and friends of the chaos and that she was physically alright. Her tweets were some of the first online, and within the hour BBC, CNN, and others were broadcasting her messages on the news. The hundreds of media outlets that contacted her throughout the night were unexpected, but we could understand they were just trying to do their jobs. Once we had been released, Caitlin, not wanting the mass media attention, released these tweets:
dingos8myTARDIS: To the media: I was tweeting earlier because my phone was on 10%batt & I needed to let people know I was okay. I am (in) no shape for interviews.
dingos8myTARDIS: To rephrase: I have no interest in interviews at this time. I was merely sending an emergency beacon.
Despite her requesting to be left alone, she was perpetually bombarded by yet more media requests via Twitter from outlets including FOX News and The Huffington Post. As if the mass attention on Twitter was not enough, other news networks took it upon themselves to get her phone number and start calling her.
While we all sat anxiously awaiting information on the MIA member of our group, phones and email notifications continued go off till all our phones had died. Before even our families and friends had a chance to check in, the overzealous reporters were all but knocking on our doors. Right after our group finally learned our missing member didn’t make it, Caitlin’s phone began to ring; It was the Today Show on the other end requesting an interview about him. She told them off and asked them not to contact her again. However, her pleas didn’t stop them from calling again the next morning, still trying to get an interview.
This is not to say that everyone in the media treated this tragic event and the victims like they were just a breaking news story. A select few talk show hosts and reporters handled their responses to the incident with the utmost tact. Craig Ferguson changed his opening monologue in response to the Aurora shootings. His heartfelt reaction was a signal that some of the media could show signs of humanity and compassion for the victims. On his Hulu show, Spoilers, Kevin Smith opened with a sincere speech and spent the rest of the time talking about the incident with theSpoilers crew. Responses like these made a huge difference for the survivors in my group who had begun to feel the media had turned on them.
Since the shootings happened in the early hours of Friday morning, it wasn’t until the following Monday that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert had their say on the events. As longtime fans of both shows, I, along with everyone in my group, was interested to see what they both had to say. For once this week, we were not disappointed.Stewart called out the media circus for reporting false facts and refusing to talk about certain related issues. Colbert further pointed out how useless the media was with their inaccurate reports and misguided debates.
While an array of talk show hosts had excellent responses to this tragic massacre, only a handful of career journalists handled it with the same level of professionalism. Out of all the reporters that covered this tragic story, only a few reported it both honestly and with consideration for the victims and survivors. Anderson Cooper conducted an interview with the father, girlfriend, and best friend of Alex Teves, the deceased member of our group. Cooper was genuine, and he allowed each of them to speak their mind. At the end of the interview, Teves’ father challenged Cooper and CNN to, moving forward, stop talking about and showing the gunman, since doing so only gave him the attention he sought, and asked them instead to focus to the victims.
In contrast, ABC continues to provide the wrong information five days after the shootings. In the ABC News interview with Alex’s father and girlfriend, Dan Harris ended the segment by saying that Alex graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Physical Therapy. In reality, Alex recently graduated with his Master’s Degree in Counseling from the University of Denver. Even after being called out on The Daily Show, ABC fails to check the facts to their reports before airing them.
As if the misleading media wasn’t enough, their voyeuristic nature is making the victims and survivors feel uncomfortable even attending the memorials and vigils held in their honor. During the prayer vigil held on Sunday outside the Aurora Municipal building, reporters and photographers were swarming the lawn as the mourners arrived. There was a sectioned off area up front, but it was only for the families of the deceased victims, and it was located right in front of the podium for all the cameras to see. There was no media perimeter, and photographers from all ranks of media aggressively roamed through the crowd. Everyone from bloggers to international news organizations forced their way onto grieving groups. When Caitlin asked for her picture not to be taken, the only response she received was that she should not be in a public space. When friends of the victims would act as human shields, getting in the way of the pictures, the cameramen became increasingly volatile. At an event that was supposed to be for the victims, the victims couldn’t find any sanctuary from the press.
The political speeches throughout the vigil and the mass media presence raise the question: who was the vigil for? As a survivor of the Aurora massacre, I can say that I didn’t feel comforted by any of it. Amongst the several prayers, mostly Christian, all I heard was political name dropping ahead of the upcoming election, as the victims and survivors were left to defend themselves against the heartless, overbearing, and at times downright hostile actions of those in the media.
My message to the media is simple: First, as Mr. Teves asked Anderson Cooper, stop showing the face of and talking about the shooter. He is a coward that massacred an unsuspecting group of civilians. Every time you talk about him, you only help add his name to the pages of history. Next, I beg that you give both the victims and survivors their space. There are plenty of victims and families that are willing to talk to you, and could use the attention for good reasons such as medical bills. For those who want to be left alone, it’s the least you can do.
A.J. Focht is a student, writer, and self-identifying geek. He has a BA in English, and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at the University of Denver. He is a regular contributor to SuicideGirls. His work is also featured in Kush Magazine.