The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Odds Without Ends

What exactly happened on September 26, 2007? The media certainly doesn’t know.

The New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News – every media outlet sensationalized the entire event, sacrificing the facts in order to sell more papers.

St. John’s received an overwhelming amount of positive press from the lockdown, as journalists nationwide described the incident as a success story, noteworthy after the shortcomings found at Virginia Tech earlier in the year. But their coverage was both exaggerated and one-sided.

The media’s failings should come as no surprise; after all, just a few days before the campus lockdown, “objective” news pieces regarding the Iranian President’s trip to Columbia featured headlines such as “The Evil Has Landed,” and “Evil Walks Among Us.”

St. John’s does deserve a lot of praise for its efforts last Wednesday. The Department of Public Safety, student police cadet Chris Benson, and Officer Dan Boylen all acted quickly and bravely, apprehending the suspect within minutes of his appearance on campus. And the University gets a lot of credit for wisely shutting down the school in case of a second shooter.

But, at the same time, the media’s tremendous praise for the University misstated the case. In truth, St. John’s had quite a few errors in its emergency response plan that didn’t make the headlines. Should more text messages have been sent out during the lockdown to reassure students? How efficiently did Public Safety lock the gates if countless reporters were able to make their way on, and off, campus?

These are both legitimate questions. But, with the media focusing exclusively on how St. John’s prevented another Virginia Tech shooting, these concerns were lost. In many ways, the media created an “ends justify the means” scenario – as long as St. John’s caught the culprit and prevented a potential tragedy, then their methods had to have been perfect.

Reports released after that day have shown that Omesh Hiraman, the student accused of carrying the rifle to campus, was hardly a threat; he had only one poorly loaded piece of ammunition, which resembled a pellet more than a bullet. To compare SJU’s lockdown with the tragedy at Virginia Tech is sensationalism at its best.

While Public Safety did a great job given the circumstances, how would they have reacted to a true gunman with the intent to kill? Contrary to what the media reported, last Wednesday’s incident provides no indication.

Hiraman’s compliance with Public Safety is perhaps the biggest indication that he meant no harm. Officer Dan Boylen, in an interview with The Torch, noted how Hiraman easily relinquished the gun and “didn’t seem violent at all.” Students, fearing for their lives during the lockdown, had no idea how little a threat Hiraman actually was.

The media’s decision to run emotionally charged pieces that often lack factual information has created more than its fair share of negative consequences. Most notably, it has affected the St. John’s student body, leaving many ignorant to the case at hand.

For example, Facebook groups have popped up within the last seven days explicitly making fun of Omesh Hiraman, despite his history of mental illness.

The biggest victim of last week’s incident was Hiraman – a victim of his own afflictions. This hasn’t stopped hundreds of SJU students from joining these juvenile groups and posting hateful expletives on the forums.

The media has not reported last Wednesday’s incident fairly. Its sensationalizing stories and “heroes and villain” reporting have left many ignorant of what really went on.

So, does the media know what happened on September 26, 2007? No, and as a result, neither does anyone else.

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