Austin news outlets release the entire security camera footage from Uvalde shooting
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Seventy-seven minutes - that's how long it took police in Uvalde, Texas, to act when an armed man entered the Robb Elementary School. He killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers. The Austin American-Statesman, in partnership with KVUE TV, obtained the full video from security cameras in the school hallway. They decided to present it to the public for full view. That video captures exactly what happened and what didn't in the school's hallways during that period of time. And the decision to publish and broadcast has sparked a ferocious backlash from relatives and a debate among journalists. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us.
David, thanks so much.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Pleasure.
SIMON: What was the argument the paper and station made why they publicized the video before the families had a chance to see it?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, they obtained this video as a leak, and they really explained the process in reporting it, but not a ton on why. Here's what an anchor for KVUE TV told his viewers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Now, we're doing this for these people, for their families in Uvalde, for the people of the city, and really the people of the state of Texas who have been desperate to learn what happened inside that school back in May.
FOLKENFLIK: The editor-in-chief of the Austin American-Statesman, Manny Garcia, wrote that it boiled down to a key fact - that authorities had repeatedly misled, misinformed and lied to the public about the police response and what really happened there and that this was their effort to get to the bottom.
SIMON: And what did we learn from the video?
FOLKENFLIK: This is tough stuff to watch. You see a gunman walking the halls, a boy scurrying back to a bathroom to hide. You hear gunshots, so many gunshots. I want to say it's deeply disturbing and yet there's nothing specifically graphic. The two news outlets removed the audio of piercing screams of schoolchildren, but it really is like a horror movie come to life. As our friend and colleague Adrian Florido said, there's nothing we didn't intellectually know to be the case, but you see what a failure to act looks like - not people cowering in cars miles away, but these beefy, well-armed law enforcement officers assembling, giving fist bumps at times, hand sanitizing. It's astonishing to watch for more than an hour. And there is a hierarchy of understanding media, I think. You know, what you read is different than hearing it for yourself, which is quite different, again, from seeing it for yourself.
SIMON: Should there have been some context at the same time? I mean, notably this week, for example, there was an officer shown consulting his iPhone screen. And then we later learned that wasn't the whole story.
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. The officer was actually the husband of a teacher who was killed there. And, in fact, another police officer shown as sanitizing his hands, that was somebody who had been apparently told by medical officials to prepare to do triage for victims coming out. So there are ways in which your eyes can tell you the story, but not the whole story.
SIMON: Yeah. What about the response of the parents?
FOLKENFLIK: Been wrenching. You've seen Facebook posts where the parents I've read have said, remember the kids as they lived, not as they died. You've seen hate for the lead reporter for KVUE, people saying no one should ever talk to him again, people suggesting shunning these news outlets. There's been some sharp, sharp reaction in the city of Uvalde.
SIMON: The journalists involved, of course, have taken pains to express respect for the families. But they say this is all part of a fight for access for verifiable information.
FOLKENFLIK: So much of what we know has come, despite what local law enforcement has done rather than because of it. That is information that should be public record. They're taking advantage of loopholes to deny the public access to it and to deny the news organizations access to it. And why that matters is because so much of what came out of their mouths and the mouths of senior local, county, state officials, including the governor, was wrong, seemingly at times, willfully so. So these are all things hanging over the decision that KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman made.
I do want to offer you two caveats and questions here. The newspaper and the TV station didn't say whether they consulted family members before making their decision. That could have prepared the families for what ensued but also affected what choices they made and how they presented the videos, what context they offered. And second, these videos are supposed to be presented by authorities to families in coming days and then presumably to the public. The newspaper has not explained why it decided to step ahead of that process and do so on its own terms.
SIMON: Taking it all together, has the public been well-served?
FOLKENFLIK: I think given the way in which local law enforcement and local officials have betrayed the public trust in not only the failure to protect their young children's lives but the failure to be honest about what happened and providing information and accountability and transparency, it's hard not to view this as a public service, as painful as it is. But the way in which you do things is often as important as what you do.
SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.