Crown AutoNet

AP WireAP Wire
Web SpecialsWeb Specials



Phone calls to gunman
raise concerns about media's role


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 1998

The telephone rang inside the gas station where Hank Earl Carr was cornered by police, holding a clerk at gunpoint. It was not a hostage negotiator on the line but a reporter who wanted to interview him live.

Listeners were riveted by Carr's eerily flat recital of how he killed two Tampa police officers earlier Tuesday, in a conversation with Don Richards, news director for radio station WFLA-AM 970. Area television stations picked up and replayed the six-minute recording on their live broadcasts as well.

This was powerful stuff. The horrifying tale of a killing spree had yet to end, but here was the hunted man matter-of-factly justifying his rampage.

"He was icily detached," Richards said. "I or anyone else would be quaking and quivering."

Richards' "interference" drew criticism from several law enforcement officers Wednesday and raised what is an increasingly pressing question for the media: Did we cover the news, or did we become a part of it?

"Our negotiators were trying to make contact, and (Carr) was on the phone with the radio stations that were trying to get a scoop," Hernando County Sheriff Thomas Mylander said. "We're going to have to try to get some control if they (media) won't control themselves."

• Carr stayed free by staying invisible
Outpouring of support is overwhelming
Survivors are offered financial aid

Trooper from small town gave life for job he loved
A grandmother grieves for the boy she raised
'Stress' teams offer comfort to officers

How could such a man have such a lethal arsenal?
• An evil beyond words robs us all
• Phone calls to gunman raise concerns about media's role
Hometown mourns for trooper
Killing leaves student shaken

Standoff leaves Shell in disarray
Killer's shirt gives cafe unwelcome publicity
Police in Citrus reviewing guidelines after officers' deaths

Times reporter Amy Ellis also talked briefly with Carr after phoning the Shell station.

"To call the gas station at the height of the crisis is totally unjustified and unethical," Bob Steele, director of media ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, told the Associated Press. Poynter is a non-profit journalism center that owns the Times.

At WTVT-Ch. 13, protocols prohibit such contact: "We do not call into hostage situations," said general manager David Boylan.

The station did, however, join others in replaying the conversation for viewers and sent its news helicopter jockeying for position above the gas station with five others. At one point it filmed SWAT team members, their rifles aimed, lying in a ditch opposite the store. Should we be showing that? anchor John Wilson asked.

It was later learned that there was no television in the store to show Carr the positioning of the officers.

"My first rule is, do no harm," Richards said. "And if they (police) needed that phone line, we would have lost it very quickly. They can cut in."

"I'm proud of him," said WFLA-AM general manager Dave Reinhart. "First of all, he thought to do it. Then he handled it in a very admirable manner. And I believe he was instrumental in the hostage coming to no harm."

Richards' tone during the talk with Carr was measured and non-threatening. He asked Carr to release the hostage and come out of the building unarmed. About four hours later the woman left the store and Carr fatally shot himself. Carr also killed a Florida Highway Patrol officer and is implicated in the death of his girlfriend's 4-year-old son the same day, officers said.

Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole said officers were "disappointed" by the phone calls to the suspect. Some drive-time DJs took a swipe at the "inappropriate" phone interview, placed by a competing station.

"It is a very sensitive situation," Times executive editor Paul Tash said of a reporter's trying to contact Carr. "Our basic purpose is to get the news and to do that in a way that doesn't interfere with authorities."

Advertise online!

Business | Citrus | Commentary | Entertainment
Hernando | Floridian | Obituaries | Pasco | Sports
State | Tampa Bay
| World & Nation

Back to Top
© Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.