Bill Dwyre, the L.A. Times sports columnist and ex-sports editor, wrote Saturday that he feels angry and ashamed at how he wrote up the story of Pat Tillman, the NFL linebacker who was killed six years ago by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Dwyre says he, and other journalists, fell into the easy fallen-hero story line, when he and they should have been asking real questions.
I blathered on about barbecues and water skiing with the family, about cherishing the freedoms we have because of heroes such as Tillman. All I missed were some rockets red glare. I was so pleased with myself. Heroes are a columnist's best friend.
Thursday night, on the sixth year anniversary of Tillman's death, I went to a screening of "The Tillman Story." It is a documentary about the quest of Tillman's mother, Mary (Dannie) Tillman, to get the real facts of what happened on that hillside. Halfway through, I was mortified. I realized why the Tillman story has stayed in my gut.
Dannie Tillman did what a nation full of high-paid, overblown journalists should have done. She went after the real story while the beautiful people on TV and the nerds with notepads broadcast and wrote morality plays.
A housewife got the real story, or as much of it as anybody probably will. Professionals trained to do so gathered moss and wrote slop.
After I finished that piece, I read Nancy Rommelmann's post here at LA Observed about deciding not to pursue a story on a convicted murderer who was offering to talk. She's told the stories of murderers before, tried to understand them — but not this one. Not this time. Excerpt:
He told me he lied in court; he wouldn't give his life for his victims. "I have zero remorse... I honestly have not had a single lost night's sleep over them," he wrote, and then detailed for me how he killed the woman. This took four pages. I read the letter at a coffee shop. I went outside and called someone familiar with the case: did he think John was unburdening himself to me, or was this his m.o.? The person said, the latter; that it seems John is turned on by his crimes. I drove home and was sick.
I could say it was then I had to decide whether to continue with the story, but that is not the case. I knew I would not. Not because John wanted attention (or, as my husband put it, "Fuck him, he doesn't get your time"), or because there is nothing there to write about. The circumstances and decisions that got John where he is today might well intrigue another writer, who will want to spend time excavating the story. But it is not for me.
Read all of Nancy's post at Native Intelligence.