In the past 10 days, the UCSB campus and community has had to endure more than their fair share of loss. The numerous displays of compassion and sympathy provided hope for all. From the mountains of floral memorials, to the candlelight vigils to Thursday’s open-mic event in Storke Plaza, this community showed what it is made of, and everybody ought to be proud of the support they generated. But a display of shameless, sensationalist journalism and attention-seeking student politics tainted the public outpouring.
The Saturday morning papers following the Sabado Tarde tragedy were plastered with blatant condemnation and self-righteous prejudgment of the Isla Vista “party scene.” Immediately, the deaths of four were attributed to a drunken driver and minimized as an inevitable consequence of living in an alcohol-soaked community. As evidence emerged about David Attias’ state of mind at the time of the incident, the media hounds let go of the alcohol angle and refocused on the “real life” soap opera unfolding in our community. Our grief became public domain.
There is no question that the tragedy needed to be addressed by national media; however, the way the story was reported and the manner in which the journalists conducted themselves during the candlelight vigils were both unprofessional and highly insensitive. More than a few news vans crowded the streets around the memorial site. A flock of reporters hovered, prying for comments from grieving attendees. If the constant drone of news van generators didn’t disturb the silent reflection, the countless cameras and microphones shoved in the faces of students certainly did. Perhaps it may have been a little more respectful to wait until after the 15 minutes of silence before asking people to express their feelings. Amazingly, the general sentiment was sorrow.
There has been a tremendous and sincere outpouring of emotion by the local community. The strength and cohesiveness that Isla Vistans have demonstrated over the last week has surpassed all expectations. Unfortunately, there were a number of individuals among us who marred the situation by injecting an unnecessary amount of media spectacle into what was, on whole, a cathartic week of mourning. This brings us to Associated Students.
The accident shocked and deeply affected the UCSB community. As such, it was entirely appropriate for our student politicians to become involved. But less than 24 hours after the tragedy, Mel Fabi, chair of the I.V. Community Relations Committee, had fully outlined and distributed an agenda for the correct manner in which these victims should be remembered. It seems that an array of committee meetings is the appropriate way to grieve – refreshments provided, of course. But Fabi released his agenda before the identities of the victims were released, and there is simply no way that he could have consulted with the friends and family before he decided to publicize his itinerary from coast to coast. A.S. took what should have been a very intimate and solemn week and turned it into a media circus, replete with public officials and broadcast grief.
The “Week of Remembrance and Reflection” was “equally [devoted] to the problem of alcohol and drug abuse in our community.” It has not yet been determined whether alcohol was involved and as time goes on, such a scenario seems less and less likely. Premature insinuations only cast an unsubstantiated shadow over Isla Vista. But this fact didn’t matter – A.S.’s anti-alcohol agenda was shoved down our throats anyway. Case in point: “Dry I.V.” The IVCRC wanted us to abstain from alcohol and give the money to the families of the victims instead this past weekend – a nice gesture, but completely misguided. Will a bunch of college students’ booze money assuage the pain? Probably not, but A.S. seemed determined to stand in the spotlight. Leg Council passed a position paper in order to take an official stand on the incident. For kicks, they forwarded the letter to every major media group in the country, from CNN to the New York Times, and read it aloud at what was otherwise a very touching memorial in Storke Plaza.
Pushing the anti-alcohol stance only fed the media’s hunger for portraying I.V. as a ticking time bomb. An article printed in Sunday’s LA Times stated, “[Students] listen to garage bands around kegs of beer, burn couches in the street and ride bikes as frenetically as the people of any city in China – all next to a venerable campus that houses world-class academics, including three Nobel laureates.”
Apparently, I.V. is comprised of nothing more than student degenerates living near a renowned university. The media has chosen to completely ignore the diversity of I.V. beyond weekend revelry and failed to acknowledge the students who worked hard to get to a UC school, and more importantly, those who work even harder to stay. But, then again, that story wouldn’t sell as many papers.
When the media believed Attias was drunk, they blamed the I.V. party scene for creating him. Now that his mental health is being questioned, we are blamed for not diagnosing him and preventing this tragedy (front page of Sunday’s Santa Barbara News-Press). When will this end? The media spotlight seems uninhibited to shine such scrutiny before important facts are illuminated.
No one is saying this story should not have found its way into papers, or that A.S. shouldn’t have organized the open-mic memorial in Storke Plaza last Thursday. But the way the tragedy was handled was inappropriate and insulting. It is unfortunate that a desire to make headlines appears to overshadow a community that genuinely cares about the loss of four young people.