Courage in Face of Deadly Tornado Spawns Rare Positive Coverage of Boy Scouts

The tragic death of four Boy Scouts and the bravery of other Scouts garnered nationwide media attention on June 12 and 13, providing the country an up-close-and-personal look at the very best of Boy Scouting.

All three broadcast news programs carried features on their June 12 evening shows about the EF-3 tornado that ripped through a Boy Scout camp in Iowa, killing four teenage boys and injuring 48 others.  Each network also devoted time in their coverage to profiling some of the courageous Scouts who put scout training into action to save their friends.  The stories continued on the morning programs as well and major daily papers, including The Washington Post and USA Today also offered positive coverage of the young heroes.

Any producer or editor worth their paycheck knows this story is front-page/top-of-the-hour stuff:  young boys caught in a terrible storm, tragedy, triumph and heroism, all set in an American heartland that is currently taking a tremendous pounding from Mother Nature.  And the reporters assigned to the story did a good job of setting the scene, but it was the voices of the boys themselves – the Scouts – that really made the stories shine.  In giving voice to these young men what the national media ultimately did was give their audiences the chance to see what Boy Scouting does for America's boys.  It is a program designed to build character, integrity, skills, resourcefulness and courage.

Here is just a taste of what some boys had to say about their experience:

On the CBS Evening News:

THOMAS WHITE (EAGLE SCOUT): We started moving rubble off the kids that had been crushed by the fireplace. There was a kid with something stabbed through his leg, and he was screaming, you know, there's blood on the ground, kids got hit in the face with bricks and broken out teeth. It was about five minutes after I was up there that I saw the-- um... the scouts that had died. (cries) So... but you know... I stayed calm when I was up there because the one thing that we gotta' do is you have to stay calm yourself so the other people stay calm and then everything goes a lot smoother and people get taken care of and more people survive.

On NBC Nightly News:

ANN CURRY: What did you about being called heroes?

UNIDENTIFIED SCOUT:  I said that being called heroes is probably an overstatement, we were Scouts and we were just doing what we knew how to do and what we've been trained to do.

On ABC World News with Charles Gibson:

ZACH JESSEN (SCOUT):  I saw one person that was halfway in and halfway out. So I went over there, and I started lifting debris up. He said my ankle hurts. I said I can't quite lift you alone. So, I got somebody else to help me.

ERIC HORNG (Reporter): On the other side of the camp, Alex and Scott were also being tested. They and others were unharmed. But fallen trees had left them stranded.

SCOTT STAVER (SCOUT):  I did see some boys that they were really scared and started to cry.

ALEX WAY (SCOUT): They teach us to help them with shock. I used that to help a few boys get through it.

HORNG: They've been called heroes. But these four best friends have other things on their minds.

JESSEN: I wish I could have saved the one boy in my group with me. I'm just, like, god help his family through this because I know it won't be easy for them.

On CBS Early Show, Jacob Porto told anchor Harry Smith that although the entire experience was “complete insanity” it was also a “proud thing for the Boy Scouts of America.”  The teenager said, “We did what we were trained to do and we saved many lives by using our skills.”

On Good Morning America and Today tribute was also paid to the four teenagers who lost their lives.  Their brief biographies also paint a picture of the kinds of boys who comprise the Boy Scouts of America.

Janet Shamlian, on Today, reported, “Friends describe 14-year-old Aaron Eilerts as the kindest kid you could ever meet. 13-year-old Josh Fennen was an adventurous teen who was supposed to start high school in the fall.  13-year-old Sam Thomsen's Facebook page says he was interested in Jesus, football and the Nebraska Huskers. The other 14-year-old was Ben Petrzilka, who friends remember as loving the outdoors.”  Good Morning America's Robin Roberts said the four boys were “among the elite” and “testaments to the true meaning of scouting.”

The “true meaning of scouting” is found in the Boy Scout Law, Oath, Motto and Slogan.

·        The Scout Law says, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

·        The Scout Oath states, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

·        The Scout Motto is “Be prepared!”

·        The Scout Slogan is “Do a good turn daily!”

As the parent of a newly minted Boy Scout I can testify first hand that these are in fact the principles that guide the molding of boys in the Scouting program.  The national media did their audiences a service by highlighting the courage of the young men who endured the terrible ordeal in Iowa

As a media critic, though, I have to end with a challenge to that same national media.  You now have spent precious minutes and newsprint covering the very heart of what Scouting produces in the boys of America.  Will you take that knowledge and apply it to what is happening to the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia?  THOSE Boy Scouts are being evicted from a building that their forebears built.  It sits on city land and the Scouts pay a token rent to use the facility.  The Scouts have also spent thousands of dollars over the years to maintain it.  Yet the government officials there have said that since the Scouts – a private organization – “discriminate” against homosexuals being in leadership positions they must either change their policies or pay $200,000 a year in rent. Or get evicted.

There has been barely a whisper in the national media about this case, as CMI's Director Robert Knight has documented repeatedly

The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Boy Scouts' right to determine membership in their private organization.  Nevertheless, the City of Philadelphia has decided that the local Council, which services approximately 60,000 boys in the Philadelphia area, must kowtow to their whims in order to stay in a building constructed by the hands of Boy Scouts decades ago. 

And so my challenge to the national media – as a critic and parent of a Boy Scout – is this: When will you tell America about the terrible ordeal afflicting the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia?

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.