Under the headline: a photograph of the dead girl's house that seems framed to induce feelings of contempt in NYT readers. Low hills in the background. A rusty, non-upright, rural-style mailbox in the foreground. Unpaved driveway. The house — which seems to be constructed from a long trailer attached to a cinderblock foundation — has a porch with a rusted metal roof held down in one corner by an automobile tire.
The Times's reporter, Trip Gabriel, attended the funeral of the 2-year-old Caroline Sparks (who was shot by her 5-year old brother with a "My First Rifle") in Burkesville, Kentucky.
The death has convulsed this rural community of 1,800 in south-central Kentucky, where everyone seems to know the extended Sparks family, which is now riven by grief. But as mourners gathered for Caroline’s funeral on Saturday, there were equally strong emotions directed at the outside world, which has been quick to pass judgment on the parents and a way of life in which many see nothing unusual about introducing children to firearms while they are still in kindergarten.Equally strong? Does Trip Gabriel really know how these people feel? He's there, at the funeral, talking to them. But he's the reporter the NYT sent! Imagine yourself in a small town, at the funeral for a 2-year-old girl and there's a NYT reporter, who you know is there because these elite people somewhere, who never otherwise pay any attention to you, see potential to use that girl's dead body for leverage in a national political debate. I don't imagine myself anything nearly this polite:
“This town, there’s nothing like it. They pull together,” Anne Beall, a family friend, said as she left the Norris-New Funeral Home....
Ms. Beall, a 64-year-old retiree, said she had not heard anyone in town call the parents irresponsible for giving a gun to a 5-year-old or for leaving it unlocked. “Pointing fingers doesn’t really accomplish anything,” she said. “Terrible mistakes happen, and I think that’s what happened here.”I would have said something far less fit to print. And yet Gabriel — no angel — sees fit to write that the mourners' emotions toward the outside world were "equally strong" as the grief over the death. I'm trying to concoct a quote that could have been directed at Gabriel that would actually have be as strong as the grief.
The shooting came after the recent failure in Washington of gun control legislation inspired by the shootings in Newtown, Conn., which exposed a bitter divide on guns. But Burkesville seemed to want no part of being a symbol in a national debate.Apparently, they didn't say "Fuck you" and "Go to hell." The gun-wielding hillbillies did not step up to the task. I’m sorry — no more statements?! How damned disappointing! I wonder how hard Gabriel tried, catching ladies leaving stores, calling people up, creeping around the casket. I wonder how he felt about himself.
“I think it’s nobody else’s business but our town’s,” said a woman leaving a store, who like many people here declined to be interviewed. A woman who answered the phone at the office of John A. Phelps Jr., the chief executive of Cumberland County, whose seat is Burkesville, said, “No, I’m sorry — no more statements,” and hung up.
After the funeral service, two men advanced across North Main Street toward a single television crew present, from the German network RTL, and punched the cameraman, bloodying his face and knocking him down.Ah, so the media did get some satisfaction. How long did they harass these poor people before they tipped some grief-stricken man to say what they knew somebody ought to say? I'm assuming one man said that quote, even though the article says "Two other men told..." (as if we are to picture a unison declamation).
Two other men told a newspaper reporter, “If you had any sense, you’d get out of here. You’re next, buddy.”
The reporters at the funeral call to mind the Westboro Church protesters, who target funerals and love to stand their ground, exercising free speech rights, as if their very purpose was to cause some emotionally overwrought mourner to lash out physically.