The Office Shooting du Jour

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

The Office Shooting du Jour

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

The Office Shooting du Jour
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Nov. 3 1999 5:58 PM

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

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Right, fragmented attention spans. Very important ...

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I'd like to comment on that, but I'm watching CNN at the moment and can't concentrate. The Seattle police have just put out an APB for the suspect in the office shooting du jour (one dead so far, two critical, one stable). The suspect, a man of course, was wearing a brown hat, according to the police account. And camouflage clothes. Aside from that, he looked pretty average--average height, hair color, skin color (police said he was either a white guy or a light-skinned black guy). Horribly, what he's done is starting to sound pretty average, too: He went into an office building (want to bet it's his?) and opened fire. The television coverage is all too average as well: Lots of Johnny on the spots, excitedly telling what they know "at this point" (not much) and second-guessing themselves by telling TV Land which neighborhood the police are searching, then showing the neighborhood from a helicopter, then deciding that it was a boneheaded move to show where, exactly, the police are hunting (let's not let the shooter know where the cops are!). and zipping over to another Johnny on the spots who doesn't know much. At this point.

Ah, is there anything that's at once so exhilarating and banal as breaking news? I know that sounds callous and I apologize--someone is dead, perhaps others will be too soon--but stories like this are far and away the worst thing that we in the media do. Remember when we were both junior reporters at Newsday, doing far too much police news, knocking on the doors of the dead and the near dead? And remember that time when that lady hissed at you? "VULTURE," she hissed. We are vultures ... We feed off dead things and help the overall process of decomposition. Why am I watching this broadcast? Why is it national news? What good does it do? Where's the public need to know here? Won't it just inspire another nut to gun down his officemates? Or schoolmates? Then he can be on CNN, too.

Oh, cool: Video footage just came on showing the cops storming a house with one of those SWAT shields. This is getting good. See you at dinner. Gotta go.

Joshua Quittner is Time's technology columnist and editor of Time Digital. Michelle Slatalla writes a weekly column about online shopping for the New York Times "Circuits" section. They are the authors of Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace (click here to buy it).