Just when you think cable news’ insatiable desire to fill every second of its 24 hours has hit bottom, they find a new low. On Friday afternoon, the landlord of the apartment that San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik lived in with their 6-month-old baby opened the dwelling up for the media, and notwithstanding the questionable legality or propriety of that move, MSNBC elected to broadcast the macabre tour live, in real time (CNN started with an audio-only report, and waited a restrained 20 minutes or so before showing video).
The result was, of course, a shitshow that veered from useless to creepy and useless, and potentially harmful and useless. The whole thing was presided over by an obviously mortified Andrea Mitchell, who pulled the plug after ten minutes, which was ten minutes too long. Here are some “highlights.”
Ironically, reporter Kerry Sanders starts off the proceedings by throwing shade at an Inside Edition reporter who paid $1000.00 to jump the line instead of having the class to crowd in like everybody else. What’s fascinating is to hear the thought process that’s usually kept off-camera when gathering news for LATER presentation, as Sanders decides to cleverly go where everybody else ain’t: the baby’s room!
“So we’re walking up stairs here, which I am told is a two-bedroom apartment. Let’s just take a look. Okay. Here we come around the corner and this appears to be the baby’s room right here. You can see we have, this is where the 6 month was — 6 month old child, and here’s a computer.”
Next, after touching as much of the remaining computer equipment as he can, Sanders makes a couple of important discoveries: a possible prayer rug that might be facing Mecca, that might have been left exactly as it was, and a calendar that appears to celebrate fall foliage:
“I want to take a look at the calendar, see if anything’s marked on the calendar. I don’t see anything. That’s November. Let’s go over here to December. See if anything of importance was marked on the calendar here. Nothing there. It’s just a typical sort of calendar with pictures. As I turn around here I think I found something interesting. As we look at the floor here, this is a prayer rug. So this prayer rug here may have been, I’m not sure which way but you would face it towards Mecca. It’s possible that that prayer rug has been left exactly in the position where it was.”
So far, Sanders is only being creepy and banal, at which point he graduated to possibly damaging businesses by name-checking them among the killers’ possessions: a check for $7.98 from Chase, an LG computer monitor, a First Years bottle warmer, and whatever this already-creepy toy is:
It gets much worse, and I don’t want to belabor this, but it is absolutely surreal the way Sanders then raids the kid’s closet and literally stands there reading an Arabic textbook on camera, concludes aloud that it probably wasn’t for use by a six month-old (sharp stuff), before Mitchell has to tell him to move on:
Then, it gets really terrible, as Sanders heads into a bathroom and starts rifling through photographs on camera. I’ve shortened it up here, but after Mitchell tells him to get tight shots of the pictures of people they keep explaining that they cannot possibly identify, he continues showing photos for three minutes, at which point Andrea Mitchell tries to get him to stop showing pictures of the children, to no avail:
Finally, Sanders proceeds into one of the bedrooms, and just when you’re breathing a sigh of relief that he’s not breaking out the luminol and the blacklight, he picks up a drivers license belonging to someone who is not one of the suspects, and gives it a good long closeup before another reporter sets him straight. That’s when Mitchell has finally had enough, and shuts it down:
As amazing (and not in a good way) as all of that was, it’s even more amazing that a seasoned journalist like Andrea Mitchell didn’t see this coming a mile away and put the kibosh on it. Aside from the innate grim tackiness (all that was missing was an exit through the gift shop), MSNBC managed to put up a report that was simultaneously without value of any kind AND grossly irresponsible.
That fact didn’t escape the notice of viewers like myself, and even appears to have attracted some criticism from one of the network’s own stars:
And she wasn’t alone:
CNN did not show as many personal details as MSNBC did, and they released a statement noting that:
Whoever decided this was a good idea, delete your account.
Update: Here’s MSNBC’s statement on this travesty (via Erik Wemple):
MSNBC and other news organizations were invited into the home by the landlord after law enforcement officials had finished examining the site and returned control to the landlord. Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside. We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.
Update 2: Chris Hayes obliquely addressed the apartment tour debacle at the end of Friday night’s All In. Good on him:
You know, I’ve now spent the better part of three weeks immersed in the strange mobile village of TV news, coming to the site in the wake of an atrocity. And it’s been weird and sad, and there’s two things I think that can get lost. One thing for us and one thing for you. The thing for us is, in the air of competitive pressure, it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact we’re dealing with human beings. All the stories we’re telling are about human beings, with inner lives and loves and hopes and dreams, and that competitive pressure to get the story can make us forget there is a space for grace and dignity.