Who what when where why?

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, February 01, 2018

Did any of you notice, as I instantly did this morning, that none of the stories in our nation’s Big Three newspapers addressed the central question about the collision of a special Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck, in Crozet, Va., just west of Charlottesville? I was taught that any good news story should answer five questions, the most important of which is the last: Why? Why did that truck get into the crosshairs of the Amtrak train? Nine reporters from those three prestigious newspapers—New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington (“Democracy Does In Darkness”) Post were assigned to the story. None of them even addressed that question! Nor did their editors ask them to! So I will.

The grade crossing was protected by both flashing lights and crossing gates. After the collision both lights and gates were seen to be working and undamaged. So why? There is but one plausible explanation: The truck tried to diagonally negotiate the lowered gates, its driver perhaps thinking a slow moving train was approaching. Had the truck ignored the gates, perhaps out of control, at least one gate would have sheared, but neither was. 

I grieve that the driver’s acts cost him his life. But I also grieve that none of those nine reporters had the intellectual curiosity to even broach the subject. Who knows how many of us play Russian Roulette at crossing gates, and how many spin to the loaded cylinder? This was an educatable moment for the Big Three, and as so often happens nowadays, they blew it.—Fred W. Frailey

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