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INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM: WHERE DID IT GO?

Before the avalanche of cable news networks, the 30-minute evening news reports by Walter Cronkite, Huntly & Brinkley, Frank Reynolds, and Howard K. Smith were focused on world and national news. They had to present concise, cogent material quickly and did not have time to be entertaining. Moreover, they were funded by the income brought in by programs on ABC, NBC, and CBS.


The advent of cable news networks in the 1980s gave us news 24/7, as if we needed that. Those news networks cost more money than programming could provide. Therefore, ratings became important, more important than news journalism, investigative or otherwise. We now have entertainers bringing us snippets of the news from Google searches with a heavy dose of political ideology and their opinions. Regrettably, their lack of investigative savvy, political ideology, and opinions do not serve the public well.


The quadruple murder in Moscow, Idaho two months ago is an excellent example. Fox News set up a vigil in that small town and reminded us every hour of every day that neither the killer nor a murder weapon had been found a week after that gruesome event. Why was this? Oh, right, the Moscow Police Department was composed of inept bunglers. Fox News pundits did not say that outright, but that is what they suggested. Spoiler Alert: this ain’t the movies!


Such investigations take time, manpower, and a lot of thinking and planning. Little information was offered by the Moscow Police Department for good reason. This infuriated the entertainment news media. The impatience of American society, the need for instant gratification, led by the news media was on full display for weeks. And to make matters worse, Fox News interviewed the father of one victim multiple times. Would his anger, frustration, and emotional devastation help with the investigation? No, but it was good for ratings, permitted legal and law enforcement experts to pontificate, and allowed the public an opportunity to have an emotional catharsis by living through this grisly tragedy vicariously. It was a great reality show.


The killer was found two months after the event. The Moscow and Idaho State Police Departments in conjunction with police in other states and the FBI demonstrated how patient, systematic data collection and evaluation, cooperation, and sealed lips can lead to the apprehension of a vicious monster. Did anyone see apologies from the news media?


Another example of the lack of investigative savvy is shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the Rust movie set by Alec Baldwin. The Fox News “journalists” have demonstrated an inquisitive poverty that is astonishing. The way I understand the story, the set armorer had placed some prop single action handguns on a table. An assistant director picked up one of them, handed it to Baldwin saying it was a “cold,” that is, a gun with no live rounds in it. The ensuing tragic event proved otherwise. Until very recently, Baldwin has been the only person held accountable by the media for Hutchins’ death.[1]


The following is a quote from the New York Times article “Alec Baldwin Was Told Gun in Fatal Shooting Was Safe, Officials Say” by Simon Ramero, Julia Jacobs, and Glenn Thrush, published 21 October 2021 and updated 10 November 2021.


"On film sets, the safety protocols for using guns are well established and straightforward: Weapons must be tightly managed by licensed armorers, cast members should be trained in gun safety, and live ammunition should never be used.


"Productions typically use real guns that are loaded with blanks, which can still be dangerous since they involve gunpowder, a cartridge and paper wadding or wax, which provide a realistic-looking flame and spark. (When people are injured by firearms on sets, it usually involves a burn to the hand, safety coordinators said.)


"But in this case it was evident that something had gone very wrong, experts in film safety said. “Protocol had to have been broken,” said Daniel Leonard, an associate dean of Chapman University’s film school who specializes in set procedures. “We will have to see what the details are, but the industry has a very specific set of guidelines to follow to prevent something like this from happening.”


"Larry Zanoff, an armorer for films who worked on the set of “Django Unchained” and was not involved in “Rust,” said that in general, only blank ammunition — a cartridge case with no bullet — is sanctioned on a film set. Productions sometimes use prop guns, such as rubber guns or replica guns, but oftentimes they use actual firearms firing blanks, he said. “The safety guidelines that we live by on television and movie sets prohibit the use of live ammunition on a set,” he said. A production will typically institute rules for keeping a safe distance from the muzzle of a gun, which is usually 20 feet, he added."


Am I the only one confused here? This description of how guns are handled on movie sets raises a lot of questions which the media have ignored.


Although “protocol had to have been broken,” the focus has remained on Baldwin alone. Indeed, he can be blamed for not checking the rounds in the handgun and saying that “I did not pull the trigger,” was beyond stupid. But who was the assistant director who handed the gun with a live round in it to Baldwin and told him it was a “cold gun?” Mr. Assistant Director, are you supposed to handle prop guns? Why did you do so? Do you know how to check the gun? Did you check the gun? Did you knowingly hand Baldwin a handgun with a live round in it?


And why has the armorer also been ignored? Apparently, she is licensed, but not competent. Ms. Armorer, how did a live round get within 50 feet of your arms room? Since it obviously did get in, how did it wind up in the handgun? As there are six chambers in those Colt handguns, how did a live round get to be the first one the hammer would fall on when the trigger was pulled? Ms. Armorer, did you load the handgun that killed Ms. Hutchins? Did you knowingly put a live round in the gun?


How did a live round escape notice by the armorer and the assistant director? These seem like logical questions. Perhaps they have been asked, but none of the news coverage of this tragedy has brought them to light that I know of.


From what I have gleaned, Alec Baldwin is not one of Holywood’s favorite people. I am not a Baldwin fan myself, quite the opposite. However, in light of the NYT article and without any investigative journalism having been done, I must ask WAS ALEC BALDWIN SET UP? Was he to shoot someone on the movie set? Obviously, it was not Ms. Hutchins, that was pure accident. But where in the script and at whom would he have fired that first round?


It is a shame the news “journalists” are more interested in Baldwin’s stupid statement, an easy way to increase ratings, than in sorting out the more germane chain of events that led to Ms. Hutchins death.


PROMETHEUS

23 January 2023

[1] The set armorer has also been charged with unintentional homicide.

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