It's been two weeks since Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot down and tumbled to pieces in an eastern Ukrainian field. In the chaos that followed, governments pointed fingers, militants descended on the scene, looters combed victims' bags, and even soccer teams feuded.
With such a ripple effect of stories, the media struggled with the coverage, and many ended up crossing the line.
MH17 was a dual disaster: The incident was partly a straightforward plane crash story, and news outlets—including The Wire—chose to examine the victims' backgrounds and the causes of the crash. At the same time, it was a politically charged investigation that left the site messy and mishandled.
"The site was obviously not secure," Kelly McBride, vice president of Academic Programs at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, told The Wire. "That makes it complicated and that ties directly into the facts of the crash."
Incidents like MH17 are chaotic for journalists, noted Columbia Journalism School Professor Todd Gitlin, if no one is there to take charge:
There's a mania that kicks in when many journalists from many news organizations come upon the results of a violent action in which material of some descriptive value is all around to see, whether that's a building that's just blown up or the remains of the September 11 attacks...
There's a sort of twilight zone where the people who formerly possessed what they possessed, no one would possess it, and the authorities have not created a new property system.
In other words, according to Fred Brown, vice chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee, the crash site gave way to a "mob mentality-like free-for-all for anyone and everyone nearby." "It's certainly interesting, I suppose, in a lurid sort of way, to look at the personal property of people who died in a horrible tragedy," Brown said. "Maybe you can excuse it as a stressful situation even for reporters, but that's what differentiates a really responsible reporter from one who isn't thinking clearly."
Brazier, unfortunately, wasn't alone.
And this week, ABC journalist Phil Williams was shown picking up a purple scarf, even after the Brazier debacle had occurred.
These journalistic embarrassments raised the oft-asked question: What should have journalists done when on the scene of an unfolding story centered in the middle of a political conflict?
In short, treated the site like it was—and still is: a delicate crime scene. "Our job is to observe and document and tell stories, and not to become part of the story," Sean Elliot, photojournalist and former president of the National Press Photographers Association, said. "I think the most important thing that we can do is to record the images and capture the moments and have an active editorial process."