Policeman Runs Down Two People, Media Focus on Cop’s Good Looks

Media trivializes horrific hit-and-run by focusing on officer's modeling fame
Media trivializes horrific hit-and-run by focusing on officer’s modeling fame

Reading the headlines over my morning coffee yesterday, I was flummoxed by the way the media approached an incident that happened over the Thanksgiving weekend. According to the reports, an off-duty San Francisco cop named Christopher Kohrs, 38, was driving a Dodge Charger westbound on Broadway around 2 a.m. on Sunday when he slammed into two pedestrians at the intersection with Montgomery. Both victims were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Kohrs abandoned his truck and fled the scene.

He was later arrested.

ABC7 News reported that one of the victims is Franco Vilchez, who sustained a broken neck, fractured eye socket, broken nose, broken jaw, and brain bleeding. Vilchez is a veteran of the Iraq War.

The incident is frightening enough: A veteran officer whom we entrust to keep us safe apparently broke the law and hurt people badly. He then ran away and left them to die.

It looks a whole lot like he decided to take a chance with a hit-and-run charge, rather than face a guaranteed DUI — Kohrs turned himself in too late to be tested. The department is reportedly still looking into the possibility that he was intoxicated. We’ll have to wait and see how the investigation progresses.

But the other disturbing element of this story is the way it was reported. When I studied journalism, I learned the “inverted pyramid.” Basically, it says put the most pertinent facts at the top of the story and less salient information farther down.

Then how is it that nearly all the news outlets had “Hot Cop” as the first two words of the headline? Some had it in the first paragraph. All of them mentioned the cop’s good looks — he had done some modeling and his picture is popular on the Internet — by the second paragraph.

“It has a perverse way of trivializing the incident,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “It’s a knee-jerk and typical reaction of how news is defined today — you have somebody who had a brief moment of public notoriety that becomes the peg for the story, rather than the life-threatening injuries he inflicted.”

Did headline and story editors think “hot cop” was a sexy draw for clicks? Try to imagine the two victims and their families reading “Hot Cop of the Castro Arrested.” Is the headline supposed to be funny? If it is, I don’t get it. I doubt Mr. Vilchez will find it funny either, if he’s able to read it.

If the cop had committed a rape or murder, would the stories have started by reporting that he is handsome? Not to be flip, but take it to a bigger extreme: Imagine reading a headline such as “hot terrorist beheads hostage.” Once again, we see a media that thinks drunk driving, speeding, and hit-and-run are lightweight news.

“It has the unintended effect of turning this into a goofy, off-beat story, when it’s a deadly serious matter of misconduct,” said Wasserman.

True enough. And perhaps reporters need to be reminded that 31,000 Americans die on our roads every year, and a good number of those are killed in incidents such as the one with the “hot cop.” I know journalists want to write snappy headlines. But have some respect for the victims. Here’s your headline: “San Francisco Cop Arrested for Hit-and-Run Crash.”

It’s what happened. Isn’t that catchy enough?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Easiest thing to do is ignore mass market TV, radio, papers, and internet outlets. If nobody visits their sites, they will eventually die.

  • BBnet3000

    Eh, its what the guy is famous for. Would you expect them to not lead with that? I found it a hell of a lot more informative that he was identified with the nickname he’s famous for, rather than “SFPD Officer Christopher Kohrs, an 8 year veteran of the force”. I like my news non-viral, but that doesn’t mean I want it completely dry.

  • Rayn

    Yeah, he had a fan club and everything named exactly that. The only cops really known by name are Park District cops. This guy was known outside of SF as Hot Cop of the Castro too.

  • griependerp

    “Veteran Left with Broken Neck, Brain Injuries After Hit-and-Run by Off-Duty Cop”

  • spencerfleury

    ‘Imagine reading a headline such as “hot terrorist beheads hostage.”’

    If that terrorist had been known at one point for a brief modeling sideline, then yeah, I can totally imagine reading that, so it’s not a solid comparison. In any case, to me, using “Hot Cop of the Castro” in the lead is just a way of saying, hey, a cop ran over some people, and you might actually remember the guy from something else he did once.

  • Alicia

    Don’t have to imagine that. Just look up the response to the “Rolling Stone” putting one of the Boston Marathon bombers on their front cover. While they didn’t call him “hot,” he was featured just like any musician or politician they normally write about would be.

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