Pfc. Gorham’s funeral – a wave of emotions

Justin Story

From the get-go, reporters are taught to approach the subjects on which they report with objectivity.

It’s not uncommon for readers to believe that a story expresses favoritism toward this or that side or that coverage of a particular issue has been unbalanced.

Sometimes they have a point and those criticisms can be especially helpful if the critical voices are able to provide information that adds context to a story.

Other times the criticism comes from the subject of a story who isn’t satisfied that he/she is coming off in a less than satisfactory light in the newspaper.

To throw out a hypothetical situation, if an elected official or anyone else entrusted with public money misuses those dollars, that person is not doing right by the public and we as reporters are obligated to make that bad behavior known. That is reporting at its most objective, in spite of any protestations to the contrary made by the public figure being examined.

If we’re able to verify information regarding misuse of public monies or some other kind of corruption, then it should be an easy call for a newsroom to print the facts as they are.

It’s more difficult to maintain the requisite objective distance of a journalist when covering an event in which emotions are laid bare.

Tuesday’s funeral for Pfc. Brian Gorham was an example of the latter.

I never knew Gorham, but in the process of covering his death, visitation, funeral service and burial, I couldn’t help being drawn in by the dozens of mourners crying or shaking their heads with regret over a life cut short, or in the case of his uncle, Charles Rigsby, expressing anger at a government he felt should have offered more protection for Gorham.

Two of the songs played at his service were “Tuesday’s Gone” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Guns N’ Roses’ version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Those songs must have held great significance to Brian and his friends, and while they played, I observed a few mourners reach for the hand or the shoulder of the person sitting next to them, thinking perhaps of a treasured memory of Brian.

It might be a trivial observation to make, but the setting of the burial ceremony, at a small cemetery on the top of a hill outside a church in rural Simpson County, the whipping winds and the Army Guard members encircling the grave site, made for a picturesque scene to an outside observer. All those elements seemed to heighten the solemnity of the event and the grief of the mourners.

This is what I mean when I talk about how difficult it is to avoid getting caught up in the moment, but judging by the feedback I’ve received (more than any other event I’ve covered for the Daily News), this was a moment in which that kind of absorption was warranted.

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