Monday, May 05, 2008

Blood Sport

As a Santa Monica resident, the big media event of the day could be summed up in the LA Times headline: "Veteran teacher at Santa Monica school held on suspicion of molestation."

My youngest child is actually a pupil at the school, which was surrounded by no fewer than a dozen news vans during the day, but he had no contact with the accused teacher, as was the case with my older son. Thus, we felt relatively divorced from our local media circus and even gave the parents' meeting a pass. Since I have worked for a public agency that was involved in some child protection cases, I certainly have sympathy for potential victims. But, having worked in this very municipality and having reported some molestation cases in my time, I have to point out how much more common this crime is among families and yet how little media attention it receives when it is a reminder of uncomfortable intimacy rather than easy voyeuristic externality.

Because I study risk communication, I also think that it is an interesting example of failed outreach through digital networks. Although the school has my e-mail address, I received no official correspondence through that channel, and the website for the school only announced that a campus tour had been canceled. There was no explanation of this extraordinary press activity at the district website either, which merely trumpeted successes about local farmers' markets and national science bowls. This official digital silence had also been the case when there was media attention to threats of a school shooting earlier this year.

The website of the teacher himself had a blank calendar and assignments that had been not updated since the beginning of the academic year. It did, however, have this image of a sunset, which can only be read as painfully ironic for the parents who may be worried about the well-being of their children and who may wish that he had gone into the sunset of his employment history much earlier.

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