The on-air dog bite suffered by 9News' Kyle Dyer started out as a simple news item. But the harder 9News has tried to control the story, the more the tale has morphed into one that touches on media ethics in the 21st century.
The latest question: Did the station censor staffer Kirk Montgomery's posts about the topic on his Facebook page?
The gist of the subject, which Westword editor Patricia Calhoun and I discussed on Peter Boyles's KHOW radio program moments ago: According to former Denver Post staffer John Moore, who wrote a guest commentary for the paper entitled "Fox-31's handling of dog bite video flips 9News the bird," Montgomery "wrote there's a special place in hell for whoever at the local Fox affiliate has chosen to keep airing the slowed-down video of a dog biting 9News co-anchor Kyle Dyer's lip on live TV." However, that post and another reported Montgomery followup aimed at "the haters" are no longer on view on his page.
Did 9News order Montgomery to remove the post? Or did he remove it himself? And if he chose the latter tack, was the decision inspired in part by pressure from his bosses? We don't know the answers to those questions at this writing. But we do know that this is the second time since the biting incident that a Facebook post by a 9News air personality on this subject has disappeared. Gary Shapiro, Dyer's co-anchor on the station's popular morning news program, turned to Facebook to disseminate a quick update on her condition in the immediate aftermath of the bite. This note was quoted in a different Denver Post story, but shortly thereafter, it was gone.
The Shapiro statement was incredibly benign -- not nearly as potentially controversial as the one shared by Montgomery. In both cases, though, the notes were presumably unauthorized and unvetted by 9News management. And that's a key factor to consider.
Companies in the eye of a controversy like to speak with one voice. As such, it's not uncommon for workers to be told not to communicate with members of the media, so that a spokesperson's delivery of the official line won't be sullied by competing takes. But such a philosophy is complicated when the organization in question is part of the media -- and when its staffers are public figures who've been encouraged to communicate with their audience via social media. In that case, any removal of posts, such as the ones by Montgomery and Shapiro, will likely receive more attention than did the original sentiments.
By the way, Moore's piece, published yesterday, takes Fox31 to task for showing the video in slow motion, but it slaps 9News, too. Here's an excerpt:
The station deliberately downplayed the severity of Dyer's injuries in medical updates it released that day. Viewers were told only that Dyer had been taken to the hospital for treatment, which hardly communicated what we know now: She was undergoing emergency reconstructive surgery after the 85-pound Argentine mastiff took off half her upper lip, requiring 75 stitches. She lost a lot of blood, and her lips were sewn shut.
Acting out of sensitivity to Dyer's family and co-workers, Channel 9 willfully chose to withhold information from concerned viewers, many of whom witnessed the incident on live TV. And that, in this isolated incident, calls its public trust into question.
Governmental and police agencies seek to control the flow of information by the media every day. But it's the media's job to disseminate the most current information available as quickly and accurately as possible. Not to obstruct it. It's a slippery slope.
Granted, Moore concludes that it's "better to be guilty of restraint than outright classlessness." He believes the latter term fits Fox's decision to slow the clip down for "maximum, Murdochian effect" and air it weeks after the incident.
Maybe so -- but it's a close call. Although 9News has every right to cover this story its way (by, for example, featuring a series on dog safety, as it will this week), the station crosses a line when it attempts to impose those standards on every other news organization. And as was stated clearly in a Today show piece on the Dyer bite, that's precisely what the outlet has done.
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The old saw popularized during the Watergate era -- it's not the crime, it's the cover up" -- has never been more true.
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More from our Media archive: "Kyle Dyer, 9News anchor, needs seventy stitches after on-air dog bite."