Do you really need to show this?
Various iterations of that question have surfaced all over comment threads on media outlets’ Facebook pages regarding their coverage of Gary Pinkel’s Wednesday night arrest for driving while intoxicated. Local NBC affiliate KOMU-TV in particular drew ire for posting the dashboard video of Pinkel’s arrest.
“Welcome to the world of the Jersey Shore, Kardashians, and COPS,” One person wrote on KOMU’s Facebook page. “Maybe we could throw a pilot episode of reality TV COMO style. Or, aspire to appropriate journalism. Please take the mug shot of our beloved coach off your facebook page.”
“Maybe KOMU should be shut down for animal cruelty,” another commenter wrote. “Beating a dead horse.”
The flood of local coverage is unsurprising – MU has a fairly prominent football program and is home to the world’s top school of journalism. Combining those two elements leads to heavy local coverage when MU football news breaks.
At first I was surprised national outlets were reporting on the arrest – I didn’t think MU was so newsworthy that its football coach getting a DWI would end up on the bottom ticker of ESPN and even CNN. However, given the current media environment after the Penn State scandal, anything a coach does is going to be more heavily scrutinized.
Of course, there are a million differences between Pinkel’s arrest and the Penn State scandal, but in the immediate aftermath of the PSU controversy, in which wrongdoing by a coach became a national story, wrongdoing by any coach is going to be heavily covered. Add in the fact that Pinkel is the football coach of a school that has been in the public spotlight for months because of its involvement in conference realignment, and suddenly the amount of attention the story first received makes sense.
Putting MU in a Bad Light
“It’s both sad and ironic that a news channel that touts its affiliation to the University of Missouri with such pride could disgrace one of its own so shamelessly with its continued coverage of Coach Pinkel’s arrest,” a commenter wrote on KOMU-TV’s Facebook page.
“SHAME on you!” another commenter wrote. “Are all of you too pathetic to find some important issues to incorporate into your broadcast???? Seriously, may you all receive public humiliation for your mistakes. Way to support our community!”
The media’s job is to keep the public informed. Does Pinkel’s arrest cast a negative light on the university? Absolutely. Should local outlets shy away from covering Pinkel’s arrest because of the negative light it casts on the university? Absolutely not.
MU is an integral part of the community in Columbia, but that doesn’t mean news outlets should only report on good news. You never want to make somebody look bad unnecessarily. But you’ve got to portray things what they are.
Blaming the media for reporting something negative about a university is unfounded. I’m not sure what alternative Tiger fans who didn’t like the coverage would propose. Should we only report what makes the university look good and ignore anything negative that occurs? Should we sweep any wrongdoing by our public figures under the rug?
The answer to both questions is a resounding “of course not.” At any level – TV, newspaper, radio and even blogs such as this one – the purpose of the media is to hold institutions and officials accountable. Sometimes that means being the bearers of bad news. That’s just the way it is.
Protecting Pinkel’s Privacy
“To rip at a person and open the curtains on peoples lives and movements is something to question,” a commenter wrote on KOMU-TV’s Facebook page. “Exploiting a high profile persons arrest was uncalled for.”
“I am just appalled by the video shown of gary pinkles(sic) arrest,” another commenter wrote. “That was not right. It is a private situation and should be kept that way.”
“Don’t you think he’s going to be humiliated enough as it stands?” a third commenter wrote.
This was definitely the toughest part of covering Pinkel’s arrest. He is, above all, still a person. He did something incredibly thoughtless and dangerous, but that doesn’t mean he deserves unnecessary humiliation. If he were a regular citizen pulled over for a DWI in which no accident occurred and nobody got hurt, there would have obviously been far less coverage. The Columbia Daily Tribune wouldn’t have a link on its sports page to a separate page dedicated entirely to his arrest. The Columbia Missourian wouldn’t have released the entire offense report with the details of his failed field sobriety tests. KOMU-TV wouldn’t have released the dashboard video of the arrest.
That doesn’t mean any of those media outlets are wrong for giving Pinkel extra coverage. He’s the head football coach, and the story broke two days before a game against a conference opponent. Additionally, he is not only a football coach, but a university official. It’s a big story, and local media outlets would be remiss not to provide key details. One of the media’s jobs is to provide its audience with enough information to make its own decisions. In this case, how the audience judged Pinkel for his DWI depends largely on just how intoxicated he was. Drinking and driving is never OK, but there’s a difference between being barely over the limit and being almost blackout drunk. Pinkel didn’t submit to a Breathalyzer test, and he pleaded guilty before the blood sample he submitted was analyzed, so his blood alcohol content, the key element in determining Pinkel’s level of intoxication, will remain unknown. The next-best information media outlets could provide their audiences to make their judgments with were things like the police report and dashboard video.
Pinkel’s Take on the Media Coverage
For what it’s worth, Pinkel was asked yesterday in a press conference at his attorney’s office for his opinion of the media coverage of his arrest.
“When I took this job, we understand there’s responsibilities you have,” Pinkel said. “Some people might say, It’s unfair you get treated differently from other people. We understand when you make a mistake it’s going to be publicized, and that’s part of my failure.”
More Pinkel DWI coverage