So Friday I managed to show up on time for the press conference abut Jessie Davis, the 26-year-old mother who vanished a week ago.
There the great existential question dawned: Why did I bother?
This is a sack race with all of its grace and delicacy. The press is tethered to the police, to the family of the Jessie Davis, to anyone with a shred of information, and the family is sort of tethered to us, wanting it's story out, wanting to keep volunteers in the field searching, wanting to attract the tip that will unlock the mystery. (OK, I realize I have the press tethered to too many people to make a credible sack race, but I am too lazy to polish this metaphor. It still sorta works if you don't examine it too closely.)
Problem is, this sack race team is heading in diverging directions. We need a story. The family needs publicity. The two things are not the same, and both parties stuck in the sack are fed up with their partner in this race for failing to head in the proper direction.
It was obvious reporters were growing impatient by the repetitiveness of the questions posed to Stark County Sheriff Chief Deputy Rick Perez and FBI special agent Scott Wilson.
The questions came down to this: Do you have any suspects? Can you tell us more about what Jessie, or her boyfriend Bobby Cutts, were doing just before Jessie disappeared? Can you give us an idea of what you think happened?
The answers all added up to this: We can't tell you. Anything we tell you could jeopardize the investigation.
So, how do you argue with that?
But even the most mundane of questions got non-answers.
A reporter asked, What has this been like for you guys? Perez starts to smile slightly, and I think, oh, maybe they'll be at least an interesting quote here, but he prevents himself from being interesting.
We're trained. We're doing our jobs. And we're trying to find Jessie. Our bottom goal is to find Jessie Davis.
Then Jessie Davis' younger sister Whitney comes to the podium. OK, maybe there will be some little warm quote here to use. Obviously, this has to be hell for this family, and I can't help admiring this young woman for putting herself out there day after day. It can't be easy.
But Whitney has little to say. I guess she's fed up. She declines to talk about Jessie's 2-year-old son Blake, and who can blame her? She declines to talk about Bobbie Cuts Jr. She declines to go into detail on anything other than asking people to continue to come out and volunteer.
Her mother was on the Today show earlier Friday and she talked about all of the above. Maybe the family regrets that by press conference time.
One reporter asked Whitney why even volunteers were being told not to talk to the press. (I didn't run into that Friday, but maybe I will today.)
Since the police aren't saying anything worth putting in the newspaper or on the air, and the family is apparently weary of letting the whole world watch their grief and again, I sympathize here -- without the volunteer searchers, what have you got?
Whitney responded: I don't think it's necessary to speak to the volunteers. They really don't know anything else.....as far as speaking with them, I don't think that's necessary at all.
The reporter went on, hey, these volunteers put a face on this continuing story.
Whitney's lawyer got up to say that volunteers might divulge the location of where the searches are taking place. (This is easy information to come by whether a volunteer speaks or not. The county buses that haul them around fail the invisibility test, as do the parades of people wandering around in fields.)
So after nothing but content-free answers from police, growing reticence from the family, and now the official stamp that not even volunteers should speak to the press, the attorney, Rick Pitinii, decides to make a plea to the press.
Keep it in the paper. Keep it in the news. Keep it out there. The pressure that is applied through your resources cannot hurt in finding somebody that knows something. Just keep it out there...they (the family) understand (that) after the initial involvement of media, sometimes these things die down to a certain extent, but we'd ask not, don't let that happen. There's a lot of local media here. Don't let that happen.
No one sighed audibly at this statement. I wanted to. I walked out of the press conference wondering what the hell I would lead with for Saturday's paper. The reporter beside me commented, They're not playing by the rules. You've got to feed the beast.
In other words, you can't beg the press to keep a story alive when there's nothing new to report. I don't know how to fix that. But this story will fade until the next actual news development.
Perez said there will be no press conferences on the weekend unless there is a major development in the case. The next press conference takes place Monday. I wonder how many people will be here for it. Unless something happens, I'll probablly head for home Sunday morning.
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