In television newsrooms across the country, reporters, producers and editors were busy Thursday scouring scores of newly-released police body-cam videos from last month’s Pulse nightclub shooting: videos full of flashing lights, showing the first responders’ interactions with wounded patrons, just a small portion of the hell that was June 12, 2016:
But one video in particular sent shockwaves through Orlando’s LGBTQ clubbing community. This one showed a police officer walking through room after room, checking behind the bars, in the bathrooms and dressing rooms, with the help of an enthusiastic police K9, but ultimately turning up nothing.
Which is not surprising, since the entire video was recorded nearly three miles from Pulse, the nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people, many of them Latino, most of them gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
That’s not what the video led viewers to believe: the caption said “Pulse Nightclub Bodycam Video,” and “First body camera video in Pulse nightclub massacre released.” This video was shared online by WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, a CBS affiliate branded locally as CBS12, owned by the conservative-minded Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the country’s largest operators of local television stations.
The video was indeed provided to the station by the University of Central Florida police department. It clearly showed the nearly empty club in near-perfect condition: no bullet-holes, no bodies, no blood, no sign of any disarray at all. The liquor was all stashed away neatly, none of it spilled or left by frantic patrons running for cover. Chairs surrounding the stage where drag performers hold court were neatly arranged in rows, not one out of line or knocked over in the desperate dash to escape gunfire.
Because there was none, not at this club: Southern Nights, a gay nightclub on South Bumby Avenue. According to Google, the club that was Pulse is 2.8 miles away on South Orange Avenue. It’s now the location of a makeshift memorial, where flowers and messages of love and remembrance have taken the place of police cars and ambulances.
People who worked and who frequent Orlando clubs reached out to LGBTQ Nation, in hopes of setting the record straight. We contacted WPEC-TV Friday evening and also reached out to its news director in hopes CBS12 would correct the record. Late Friday night, the station made edits on the cbs12.com website to indicate the location shown in the video was actually “a near-by nightclub;” the headline mentioning Pulse remains, but the story itself was also edited to reflect this was recorded elsewhere:
“UCF K-9 officers sweep the surrounding businesses including other Orlando gay nightclubs (shown in one of the videos below) within hours of when Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse.”
The problem, however, was exacerbated by the way local TV stations share video through affiliate services such as CBS NewsPath, CNN Newsource and Network News Service (NNS, a consortium of CBS, Fox and ABC stations designed to compete with the NBC affiliate service, NewsChannel). WBMA-TV in Birmingham, Ala., for example, continued to label the video from Southern Nights “Pulse,” long after WPEC-TV corrected its video.
But due to the persistence of LGBTQ Nation, WBMA followed suit and corrected its video to show it was not recorded at Pulse. We are checking other stations that partner with WPEC through its networks to see if they got the message, too.
All this may seem like no big deal to some, a minor mistake.
But to the members of Orlando’s LBGTQ community, many of whom lost friends and family, been injured or otherwise traumatized by the events of June 12, every mistake, no matter how careless, unintentional or minor, can spur anger, and seem like another affront to an already wounded community. And so it is.
We queer members of the media have your back, Orlando.