Published: January 8, 2012
One news organization credited The Murfreesboro Post with recently breaking a historic national news story. Another news outlet did not.
The News Channel 5 broadcast did a fine job of reporting facts about how John W. Hinckley Jr. had been in Nashville on Oct.9, 1980, stalking former President Jimmy Carter, who was on a campaign reelection tour, before Hinckley attempted to assassinate former President Ronald Reagan six months later in Washington, D.C.
But Channel 5’s facts were taken straight out of The Murfreesboro Post without attribution, after this columnist had procured the actual arrest report of Hinckley leading up to his arrest at Nashville International Airport for having an arsenal of pistols and bullets in his suitcase.
Smyrna resident Darrell Long, now a Rutherford County deputy in charge of security at the Murfreesboro Judicial Building, had been the arresting officer at Nashville Airport.
These facts, along with the FBI’s subsequent non-interest in Hinckley, had never been made public. As a consequence, Hinckley was released on a $62.50 bond. Six months later, he shot Reagan and others in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster.
It’s always fascinating, tracking the trail a locally developed national news story takes in today’s modern media outlets.
It’s especially titillating to the actual journalist who breaks the story, who spends multiple hours building into days and nights of research, ensuring that facts to an important story line up accurately, and that each source in the story is openly clarified, verified and credited.
As that journalist, it’s been interesting to watch since last week when The Murfreesboro Post broke the story Jan. 1.
The disclosure that Hinckley had been arrested with three pistols in his suitcase at Nashville International Airport the same day Carter was making multiple campaign appearances throughout Music City has received coverage in other states as well as local.
It’s a high compliment for a journalist when his story is picked up and carried in other parts of the nation, as evidenced this week in The Virginia Gazette newspaper in Williamsburg, Va.
And details from The Post’s story were ultimately broadcast twice Tuesday on Channel 5’s 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. local news broadcasts.
Both news organizations carried multiple details that had been disclosed first in the pages of The Post, but the Williamsburg newspaper, one of the most prestigious papers in Virginia, gave full attribution to The Murfreesboro Post.
“If it wasn’t so maddening when others steal copy – not simply plagiarize – it would be humorous. Of course, we have come to expect nothing less of our junior members of the national and local media… the broadcasters,” remarked Ron Fryar, publisher of The Murfreesboro Post and owner of the Cannon Courier. “All one needs to do, if they can stomach it, is watch the opening of a 30- or, God forbid, a 60-minute newscast when some talking head pontificates ‘breaking news from’ or ‘an exclusive you’ll only find on WKRP in Hootersville.’ May it be noted in this instance neither opening was utilized as they obviously knew from where they got their story, and it did not qualify as such even in their own limited understanding of professional ethics.”
Additionally, Murfreesboro WGNS Radio Talk Show host Truman Jones, a retired longtime lawman familiar with security issues in America, devoted an entire hour crediting The Post’s exclusive coverage of Hinckley’s historic arrest in Nashville and ultimate release.
There’s an old adage in the news business: To be copied is the highest form of flattery.
The next big development involving Hinckley will be whether a U.S. judge permanently allows Hinckley to go free without supervision from a federal mental hospital in Washington, D.C.
Hinckley, who was ruled innocent of Reagan’s assassination attempt because of insanity, is now allowed to visit his mother in Williamsburg without direct supervision.
Hinckley was first allowed to leave St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital for supervised visits with his parents in 1999, and then unsupervised visits in 2000.
However, those privileges were revoked when pictures of Jodie Foster were found smuggled back into the hospital. He was again allowed visits in 2004 and 2005.
Although prosecutors appealed repeatedly throughout 2011 to keep Hinckley institutionalized as a criminally insane person, his lawyers have been successful in getting the courts to again allow the now 54-year-old Hinckley extended furloughs with his mother, who resides in an affluent gated community.
It would be interesting to poll Middle Tennessee newspaper readers how they feel about Hinckley’s possible permanent release back into society after he attempted to assassinate not one, but two American presidents.