Opinion

To the media, the Navy Yard shooter used the wrong gun

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter

We have to use our good sense to decide whether or not an event like Monday’s Navy Yard nightmare garnered as much news coverage as we’d expect if it occurred under normal conditions.

And by “normal conditions” — as far as mass shootings go, at least — I mean when the murderer uses an AR-15, the Big Bad Wolf of weapons.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi observes that the news media has skipped along quickly from the story of Aaron Alexis’ storming of the Navy Yard, a military installation located in Washington D.C.

“The national news media had other things on their minds,” wrote Farhi. Fox News started discussing “the Hiccup Girl trial”. Something Britney Spears did found a buyer in the marketplace of ideas.

Farhi’s theory for this response to the massacre — an example of either negligence or resilience, depending on your perspective — is that a U.S. representative wasn’t targeted, as was the case when Jared Loughner targeted Gabby Giffords in a shooting that killed six people in Tucson. The Navy Yard massacre wasn’t Sandy Hook — no innocent children were murdered. Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and Boston it was not.

Farhi also called on a noted criminologist, James Alan Fox, who argued that the story fizzled out so quickly because the shooter was black which was supposedly significant because “white America tends to be more intrigued about the minds and motives of white murderers.”

Alexis’ race may have had the same effect on the media, as the shooter’s political orientation might have as well. The killer was a fan of President Obama.

Though there is no technology that can gauge news objectivity, it does feel like Alexis’ rampage lost the attention of the national news media, and therefore the public’s as well. The story’s stamina won’t carry it through the week and won’t spawn a surfeit of deep-dive pieces asking “how did this happen?” Who’s to say how much coverage the shooting deserves? Who’s to say how much coverage other mass shootings warrant?

Farhi’s premise is correct, but his opinion on the mechanism of this collective turning from the story is not.

For Farhi hastily assumes that news consumers control news content. Who decides which footage is aired, which angles are investigated, and which experts voice their opinions? I know I don’t, and neither do you.

One objective truth about the national media’s coverage of the shooting is that a majority of the more prestigious outlets were wrong about the involvement of the AR-15.

As The Daily Caller News Foundation laid out earlier this week, Piers Morgan, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, Sens. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein all jumped on the AR-15 report. The New York Daily News is still scraping egg off of its face after it ran a front page splash which screamed “Same Gun Different Slay” comparing the Navy Hook massacre to Sandy Hook and Aurora.

The macabre jubilation was cut short when CNN’s Barbara Starr reported on Tuesday that the AR-15 report was wrong. Quite a buzzkill it was.

Not only was the national media embarrassed by this turn of events, they were disappointed that they had lost an angle on the story.

Alexis used a shotgun and perhaps two handguns during his spree. Those are weapons that even the most strident anti-gun activists know the public will oppose banning.

In fact, the public has become more tolerant of ownership of these types of weapons over the years. A Gallup poll conducted after the Sandy Hook shooting, in which Adam Lanza did use an AR-15, found that 24 percent of respondents favored a ban on handguns. That number had fallen from 1993 when 39 percent of Gallup poll respondents supported a similar ban.

Absent the ability to get rid of these accepted weapons, the conversation might have to turn to the shooters’ patterns of mental health problems or a widespread cultural malaise in which people feel victimized by society. And so we turn away.