Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania was obviously frustrated when he held a news conference Wednesday afternoon about the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman, all caught on videotape and posted to Facebook.
He was angry because people are drawn to these videos, aggravated that viewers (and journalists) will soon move on to the next salacious or violent video and frustrated by all the rumors about the crime circulating on social media.
He also criticized the media for its focus on speed. I get it. We can be demanding. People expect answers now, not later. We try to deliver. But we are not going to sacrifice accuracy.
We sat on this story all day while other media reported on the video circulating, reporting it was unclear where the crime happened but it was probably in Gulfport. Say what?
If I don’t have the answers, I try to find them before I hit “send” on a story. My editors not only encourage but demand this. Accuracy remains the first goal.
We also don’t report rumors. Rumors are not stories. We stick to the facts. Good journalists are about one thing, first and foremost: the truth. And that’s the truth.
Papania had a chance to debunk some of the rumors during his news conference, and he did. I asked about Facebook comments indicating the victim was mentally challenged.
The chief said, “We have spent our day following facts and we haven't been that attentive to all the crap on social media. We're going to investigate facts . . . There's so much junk out there right now, it makes this job incredibly hard.”
He then said if the victim was in some way incapacitated, the charges would reflect as much. They’re continuing to consider everything.
Which gets back to Papania’s frustration. While they’re working the case, social media will move on to the next thing. A fight video, or a monkey video. Whatever.
It does make your head spin. Imagine trying to police a city in such an environment.
He addressed the news reporters in the room: “Y'all are going to forget about this.
“Two weeks from now, y'all are going to be focused on something else. It may be the next funny video. But we're going to be dealing with this. They're still going to be pulling this case together and we're still going to be trying to put people in prison for this horrible act.”
We, the media, will of course move on. But we will also follow this story.
And we’ll stick to the facts. Promise.