YouTube spread news of Florida's Taser incident fast. But instant media doesn't always tell the whole story.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many are conveyed by a video tape? Whatever the number, it is not always enough to understand the situation. That will not stop many people from rushing to judgment based on what they think they know. Their views are formed more by the media stampede and their own biases than by what really happened. And that says a lot about how people react and how information is used today.
Take the case of Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who had a Taser used against him by campus police at a speech by Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts last month. Videotapes of the incident made the evening television news and immediately found their way onto YouTube.
People around the world saw the incident replayed as thousands of newspapers and television stations picked up the story. The YouTube videos were viewed more than 3 million times.
As the story spread, many people formed a firmly held opinion. I also had an opinion on the event, but my perspective was unique. I was the moderator of Sen. Kerry's talk and the only other person on stage with him.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was called in to investigate whether the actions of the officers were appropriate. Their 300-page report was recently turned over to university officials. (A summary of it is at www.president.ufl.edu/incident/.) The report concluded the officers acted "well within" their guidelines and also pointed out that the student had provoked an earlier disturbance on campus. He boasted at that time to a friend that if he liked that confrontation he should come to Kerry's speech and see a real show. In a letter released October 29, Mr. Meyer publicly apologized for his "failure to act calmly" during the speech and admitted he had "stepped out of line" and was truly sorry for tarnishing the university's image.