As this video shows, a deadly encounter can develop in seconds. Lucky for WREG reporter April Thompson and cameraman Ben Short, the confrontation with a gun-toting local didn’t escalate. And it was mostly luck; neither Thompson or Short acted appropriately in the face of an irate aggressor. Let’s break it down . . .
1:26 – Thompson’s voice-over states “But what happened when I turned to leave the house is something I didn’t expect.”
Why didn’t she expect it? As a reporter, Thompson should know that her work is, by its very nature, inflammatory. (Don Henley didn’t write Dirty Laundry for nothin’.) Thompson should always be on the alert for people who take her work a tad too personally. She should always have an escape route and plan ready to rock and roll.
Double so in this case. Despite Thompson’s assertion that she “didn’t expect someone to answer” when she showed-up at the scene of a heinous crime, what did she expect if they did? This kind of door-stepping journalism (a.k.a., public interest trespassing) runs an inherent risk of raising hackles. Duh.
1:30 – “A speeding truck screeched to a stop . . .” When someone’s driving the Welcome Wagon like a SWAT team on a no-knock raid, it’s not a good idea to move like you’re on a Caribbean beach. It’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.
1:38 – I can’t really hear what the guy’s saying. But Thompson is walking towards him (on the “wrong” side of the mailbox), rather than towards the truck where, ideally, she could put the vehicle between herself and the potential aggressor.
1:42 – Thompson answers the man’s demand for her to leave with a feeble and thus, dismissive “OK”. She immediately asks him “Do you live here?” Police, reporters and other authority figures (yes journalists) assert their authority by asking questions. “Do you live here?” is a cop question.
This was not the time for Thompson to try to take control of the situation. De-escalation depends on ceding authority and obeying commands and making clear statements that that’s what you’re doing.
Here’s what she should have said: “OK. We’re leaving right now. We don’t want any trouble.” Screw reporting. And then leave.
1:48 – Thompson isn’t just not leaving, she’s planted herself in the ground. Both her hands are full. And she’s explaining her actions to the young man. Sweet talking him. As if he doesn’t know they’re an ambulance chasing TV crew. And wants to engage in a discussion about the finer points of journalistic practice
1:52 – The agitated man tells the crew to leave. “Right now.” That’s the second time he’s given them a direct order and still . . . there they are.
2:03 – He attacks the camera. If that’s not a clear signal that the subject of their story is unhappy with their presence and willing to use violence to get them to piss off, I don’t know what is.
2:07 – He’s storming back to the truck. Now why do you think that is April? I would be thinking two possibilities: 1) get a weapon and attack me or 2) start the car and drive over my ass. At that point, the camera is still rolling and the crew is still stationary.
2:21 – April’s in shock. “Why . . . is he gonna pull a gun on us?” Gee. I dunno. Maybe ’cause he’s angry about the news coverage surrounding his best friend, as he clearly stated before he went and got the gun?
Once again, situational awareness is the key to survival. When a threat arises, if you have the chance, do what you can to appease the attacker. To make him or her calm down—as you plot your escape or attack.
Thompson and her cameraman had numerous opportunities to de-escalate the situation. They did nothing of the kind. In fact, Thompson’s post brandishing commentary indicates the sort of sanctimonious self-righteousness that made her blind to the threat in the first place. In other words, she learned nothing from the experience. Thankfully, we can.