Saturday, December 15, 2012

News as Gossip: A diatribe

When I went to bed last night, we knew this much about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut:  the shooter's name was Ryan Lanza; his mother was a kindergarten teacher who died in her classroom with her class at her son's hands; he had killed his father, too, in a separate location; the shooter  was let into the school building in apparent violation of school security standards; and 18 children and 8 adults were dead.  And Mike Huckabee was an ass.

When I woke up this morning, most of this wasn't true.

What happened?  The news reports didn't rely on police reports (which, as of the time I write, again has not issued any definitive statements about the shooter beyond his name and a request to leave the families of the dead alone).  The news reports relied on gossip; on hearsay; on reports 'corroborated" by other people who had heard the same thing.  At least, that's the only conclusion we can draw right now.

CNN and FoxNews gained year end fame again for mis-reporting the ruling by the Supreme Court regarding "Obamacare."  FoxNews famously misled its entire audience about how the Presidential election would turn out.  And now this, with MSNBC and AP and every other news outlet covering itself in ignominy.  It pales in comparison to the tragedy, of course; but it also makes the tragedy that much worse.  There will be people who go to their graves convinced that Adam "Ryan" Lanza's mother was a teacher at the school, that he was allowed into the building, guns and all, and that this killing had something to do with a family dispute.  Now we're being told Mrs. Lanza was a gun collector, and that the guns used were expensive handguns owned only by collectors and/or the wealthy.  Is this true?  Have the police released this information?  The last press conference I saw, the CT State Police insisted they were tracing down the registered owners of the guns used in the crime.  Barely an hour later, MSNBC reported the guns were registered to Adam Lanza's mother, the 'gun collector.'

But is this true, or false?  And by the time we find out, how many versions of the truth will be circulating about this story?

It is bad enough such crimes happen and that they inspire others to commit such crimes.  Is there a link between this shooting and the mall shooting a few days earlier?  If there is, it can only be in the news coverage, in the massive attention paid to senseless violence when it occurs to white Americans on such a public scale.  As Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out this morning, over 400 Americans have died in Chicago in gun violence as of September; statistics say 32 Americans die of gun violence every day.  But they aren't mass shootings and they don't predominantly involve white people, so....

Maybe this isn't the time to say this.  Maybe this isn't the time to point out the egregious failings of the media.  Surely Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right, and this is a time for action, not words.  It is certainly not a time for still more abstract discussions about causes and effects and "violence" as if it were a force all its own, and the "desire to know" as if that,too, were are force of history or something "larger than us" to which we must all bend and sway.  I'm as disgusted by the media frenzy for any scrap of noise they can justify publicizing as I am by the thought of one human being slaughtering so many other human beings, especially children, before apparently realizing what he had done and killing himself.  I am as dismayed by our society's acceptance and glorification and employment of violence as the root and basis of entertainment as I am by our acceptance of violence in everyday life, so long as it isn't OUR everyday life.  I am wearied by the discussions of abstractions about "mental illness" and talk (on NPR yesterday) about how violence just seems bad but in the grand scheme of things isn't because statistically schools are safer  now than they were in the '90's.  Tell that to the grieving parents of Newtown.

Or the talk of what really causes such violence. It's caused by poverty, or local gun laws, or political preference.  If the latest stories about Adam Lanza are true, if his house was large and the guns he used expensive, then we are down to considering not his mental health, but only who he voted for in November.


The problem with gun violence is guns.  Period.  Guns do not protect you from guns.  That stupid response should die now, and the morons who promote it should be shamed out of human society.  And the ammunition of guns should be taxed.  Now.

It should cost more to fire a gun than to purchase one.  Period.  Drive the price up on the open market, it won't go down on the black market.  Perhaps sell it tax free at licensed shooting ranges with strict access to bullets sold and fired, so none can leave the range.  Or just let shooting ranges fall silent; that wouldn't bother me, either.  Just tax the stuff.  You may have a right to keep and bear arms; no one can seriously argue you have a Constitutional right to fire one.

Do not speak to me of hunters and "responsible gun owners" and the like.  I know such people, too.  But these are the people we are responding to, or not responding to:

The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone - their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers - experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality.

 And I think there’s a sense in which they’ve constructured their own (batshit insane) reality.

One in which we have to live.
I am tired of living in their world.  I am tired of what they are doing to the real world.  And I think the "Error of the Year" was pronounced prematurely, and given to too few news outlets.

And I think we should all shut up, and think of the dead, and spare a thought for the living, and whatever comfort we can give or offer them.  May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep the hearts and minds of all who lost friends, family, loved ones, or who had persons they love who were wounded, in the knowledge and love of God and the comfort of Christ be with them.  Or at least this.

Even Mike Huckabee deserves the peace of God; although he is still an ass.

Update:  this morning on NPR they reported the speculation that the shooter perhaps suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.  There is no evidence whatsoever for this, but it didn't stop the reporter from talking about the speculation for the next five minutes, and wrapping it into a discussion of "mental illness."

I don't think this is ever going to stop. 


  1. Sherri5:42 PM

    I think the license to own a gun should cost more. The license to sell a gun should cost much more. The license to manufacture a gun should cost much, much more. Yes, tax bullets, but let's treat gun violence like pollution, and make the contributors to the pollution contribute to the costs of the externalities.

    As for the news, I stopped watching TV news a long time ago, because it didn't inform me, it only upset me.

  2. Last night, I watched TV news for a bit, and I found it sickening.

  3. I happened to be with someone in my family when the news broke and she turned on the regional cable news station. For the next three hours there was a non-stop, air-filling stream of consciousness-informed by rumor wall of babble about everything, including all of the false reports you list and more. I'm told that FOX helpfully put up a photo from "the suspects'" Facebook Page and kept it up as the victim of that journalistic smear by irresponsibilty tried to get them to take it down. I hope there's a very large verdict against FOX for that one. Cabloid "news" has a big part of the blame, more turns out to be far, far less, once more. I think it should be far easier for victims of media smears to sue them into the flames of hell. And it's way past due to put cable under public service requirements in the same way broadcast used to be and for an even more important reason than "public ownership of the airwaves". The amount of time the collective public has to be accurately informed about public affairs is far more finite than the usable bandwidth in the broadcast spectrum, the effects of misinformation is bad enough that it overrides the media's corporate "right" of freedom to insert lies and misinformation, distracting nonsense and advocacy for macho violence. The dangers of an overreaching government are at least matched by the dangers that come from an irresponsible and intentionally corrupting media.

  4. Great discussion on the role of media hype and copycat actions. I had never heard of this. Worth a ponder