Thursday, June 12, 2014

Media Quick to Drop Shooting Story

Wow.  That was fast.

Today's Washington Post website features an article on its home page about suing Coca-Cola over pomegranate juice made with apples.  Plus an article entitled "The Slow Demise of the Frequent Flier Program."

They have nothing about Tuesday's school shooting in Oregon that left two students dead.  Apparently, that's yesterday's news.  Over and done.  Dropped from the front page.

CNN's homepage has an article about North Korea's Kim Jong Un and the dictator's fury over inaccurate weather forecasting.  Plus a photo album entitled "Scenes from Rio's Beaches," with a teaser pic of bikini-clad women.  Plus a list of "26 Movies That Will Make You Cry."

Stop.  The.  Presses.

It's a similar story over at the New York Times' website, which also has a home page story about the pomegranate lawsuit, plus a fascinating piece about Facebook allowing users to customize the advertisements they see.  It's the fourth story down in their website's center column, so it must be important news.

However, they've nothing about school violence, either.  Or gun control, or what might have motivated 15-year-old Jared Padgett to kill Emilio Hoffman in their school on Tuesday.  Padgett was reputed to be a devout Mormon who was likely troubled by his parents' contentious divorce, according to reports continuing to dribble out of his local community around Portland.  But that's mostly speculation at this point, since we're still only two days past yet another tragic event at yet another public school in yet another ordinarily quiet, suburban town.

Sure, we know America's media machine always strikes while a story is hot.  Reporters and talking heads kick up some dust, milk as much sensationalism as they can out of things, and then race off to the next big story.  Or the next story our mainstream media tells us is big.  Meanwhile, the American public crests and falls while being led along on these rapid-fire chases through headlines that, thanks to communication technology, get easier to publicize.  If not actually report.

What's interesting is how quickly Tuesday's shooting has lost the media's interest.

All most Americans know today about Tuesday's shooting is that it happened.  We don't know why, even if advocates of greater gun control legislation think they do.  And for the most part, our media is content to leave it at that.  Throw in a sound bite by President Obama about Congress being "terrified" of the National Rifle Association, and click the "Post" button.

Okay, next!

After all, we've got to make room for the 20th anniversary of O. J. Simpson's slow-speed freeway chase.  Then there's the World Cup starting today, which while an interesting topic for most of the world, is a yawner for most Americans.  And where would our media be without the relentless violence in Iraq?  And Hillary Clinton's relentless coyness regarding her presidential campaign?  Our attention span may be notoriously short, but for some topics, our media overlords seem to think that some topics are more worthy of overkill than others.

Granted, what's unfolding in Iraq this week is indeed sobering, and ultimately jeopardizes everything for which 4,400 American soldiers have died trying to provide the people of that country.  Even if we didn't have to invade it to begin with.  Do you ever wonder if George W. Bush loses sleep at night, racked with guilt for staging an invasion based on trumped-up charges?  And zero evidence?  Frankly, it's amazing our mainstream media isn't camped out in front of the Bush's gated Dallas neighborhood, demanding to speak with the guy who single-handedly destabilized the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Sure, Hussein wasn't running an American-style democracy, but women and Christians enjoyed far more liberty under Hussein than they have since he's been gone.  If there's one thing we should be learning from the chaos that has unfolded in Iraq, it's that people don't necessarily need democracy to have freedom.

And even when a people group has democracy, what kind of freedom do they truly have?

When it comes to gun violence, proud advocates of the Second Amendment immediately rise in defense of their gun rights, afraid that one of these days, the broader American public is going to finally say "enough" to school shootings, and force elected leaders to enact even stricter legislation that supposedly will make gun violence more rare.  Conservatives say that would be an example of a democracy voting away their freedom.

Except that such conservative advocates of the Second Amendment have a pretty strong argument against such legislation:  guns don't kill people, people kill people.  On the one hand, it's a tired cliché, but its basic truth is hard for the anti-gun crowd to deny.  The NRA wields a lot of influence, but it's not because their stance doesn't have logic behind it.

Meanwhile, where's the logic in making it harder for law-abiding people to get guns?  By definition, gun violence isn't being perpetrated by law-abiding people.  Then, too, it's hard to define exactly what is so sacrosanct about the Second Amendment.  The Constitution is not an infallible document - shucks, it's been amended 27 times!  And...

Do you see why the media drops these school violence stories?  Over the years of responding to these shootings, the rhetoric on both sides has been honed down to the same debate, hasn't it?  There's nothing much new anymore when it comes to exploring whether or not more legislation will help put a stop to shootings and killings on school campuses.

The mainstream media doesn't even report every shooting - they only report the shootings they hope can frame the conventional debate, and could one day be the tipping point for the NRA's defeat.  Technically, there have been a grand total of 74 shootings at American schools just since the Newtown massacre in 2012.  But that total includes suicide attempts, gang fights, accidental misfires, and other incidents involving guns that happen to have occurred on the property of any educational institution, not just elementary or high schools.

In other words, they're not all incendiary examples that represent the politics of gun control.

Yes, any incident involving a discharging gun within close proximity to students can be dangerous.  But some of these shootings lend themselves more conveniently to the gun control debate than others, and those are the ones that most of the media reports to the public.  If not to present America with perhaps the definitive case for gutting the Second Amendment, of course, at least to remind the country that we have a festering sore of unfinished business.

And when the country doesn't take the bait, and rise up to the debate en mass, or if the details of a particular shooting fail to muster the appropriate emotions and push the right buttons, then the media seems more willing to drop it and move on.  After all, there will be another school shooting, probably sooner than later.  Maybe that one will resonate more with the public.  Look at how far gun control advocates were able to run with Newtown's fallout.

And so it goes.  With the only change seeming to be the speed with which media outlets cut bait and move on to other things.  And they still get to blame us, the consumers of their news products, since we're so fickle and attention-deficient, and we demand constant stimulation with new baubles.

Of course, the mainstream media doesn't stay in business by running stories it knows nobody wants to read.  So those photos of scantily-clad women in Rio, and the story about frequent flier angst, likely say as much about those of us who consume the news as it does those who package it for us.

Not quite sure what those stories about a lawsuit over fruit says about us, however.  But thankfully, by now, the school year should be pretty much over across the country for the summer.

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