Skip to Content
Streetsblog California home
Streetsblog California home
Log In
Streetsblog SF

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?

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog California

Strategizing About Reduced Funding in the Active Transportation Program

Funding for Cycle 7 of the Active Transportation Program is less than $200 million, and already there have been requests for fifteen times the amount of available funding

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave Is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024

We Need to Stop Killing People On Our Roads; A New ‘Bikes Belong’ Campaign Could Help

A ground-breaking campaign in the 90s helped deliver the federal money America needed to fund active transportation infrastructure. Is it time to re-launch it?

July 18, 2024

Eyes on the Street: Hollywood Boulevard Bike Lanes are Open

The Hollywood bike lanes project, already very much in use, is also already being criticized by commenters at Nextdoor and other social media

July 18, 2024

Eyes on the Street: Vincent Bikeway is Coming Together

The new waterway bike/walk path - with on-street connections - is expected to open later this year

July 18, 2024
See all posts