Media and Trauma are the Focus of Second Colloquium in “Reflecting on Sandy Hook” Series

Craig LeMoult, left, and Jim Castonguay speak on media and trauma.

News Story: March 25, 2013

On Monday, March 18, Sacred Heart University’s Human Journey Colloquia program sponsored the second of a four-part series, “Reflecting on Sandy Hook.” The discussion focused on the role and actions of the media, both during and after the tragedy. Craig LeMoult, WSHU senior news reporter, and Professor Jim Castonguay, director of SHU’s MACOMM program, were the speakers.

In examining the media’s role throughout the tragedy, LeMoult shared first-hand experiences as a reporter covering the events in Newtown, while Castonguay addressed not only the media’s role in our culture, but also how the media is impacted by tragedy. “Media is part of a broader influence in our lives, and anytime we try to understand something as tragic or horrific as Newtown, we have to look at this broader constellation of influence that is our society,” he said.

Castonguay highlighted the ways trauma and media integrate on different levels. He touched on how mainstream news media are profit-driven companies, noting that a company that is driven by ratings and advertising revenue can’t help but be motivated by these two factors.

LeMoult then discussed his personal experiences during the Sandy Hook tragedy. Confronting both the good and bad in his own reporting, LeMoult said he faced dozens of ethical dilemmas. “When I arrived early Friday morning, what I found were parents and children walking away from the school. I didn’t know what happened. So what do you do? When you get into a situation like that, you have to start talking to witnesses. In this case, the witnesses happened to be children,” he said.

LeMoult stressed that interviewing children is not something he takes lightly. Throughout his coverage of Sandy Hook, his number one rule was always to obtain parental permission. He played a recorded interview with a student, where he was provided with his first clues as to what had happened that morning. In the interview, the child discusses the sounds and chaos that interrupted his normal class routine and expressed the hope that everyone was okay. It was this interview that began LeMoult’s tireless hours of covering the tragic events of that December morning.

Early on, LeMoult was encouraged to attend a press conference at a separate location. He spent hours gathering information as it was slowly released throughout the day. Looking back to his first interview earlier that morning, LeMoult described his sheer disbelief at what he had learned by the end of the day. “Once they announced what had actually occurred, I was, frankly, in shock. I didn’t expect that, and I just couldn’t believe that was what had happened,” he said.

As a reporter, LeMoult faced many of the issues that most journalists and reporters were plagued with on that day and in the days that followed. Following the tragedy, there was public backlash against reporter’s unknowingly spreading false information. LeMoult confessed that in his desire to get information out as quickly as possible, he passed along incorrect information.

“There is one glaring, factual error in my reporting during my PBS News Hour appearance. I said that the shooter was the son of a Sandy Hook teacher – something that has been widely reported. I was repeating things that the Associated Press had reported and, in this case, they got this detail wrong,” he said.

LeMoult told his audience that reporters face challenges on almost a daily basis. However, these ethical dilemmas are more immediate and apparent during events like the Sandy Hook tragedy. “In cases like this, we do have to question what we can say and, more importantly, what we can’t say. We have to decide what is going too far in our coverage,” he concluded.