Now that we’re into the weekend, the coverage of the Umpqua Community College shooting enters the fourth or what I call the “mop-up” phase. Phase 1: reporting. Phase 2: outraging. Phase 3: “debating.” Phase 4: mop-up (a.k.a., Sunday chat show analysis). The report above is a Phase 3 production. Notice that NBC titles the video – an overview of the post-Umpqua political reaction – Jeb Bush on Tough Gun Laws Following Mass Shooting: ‘Stuff Happens’. In other words, forget analysis, gotcha Jeb! And despite Jeb’s [out of context] realism, SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! As a former CNN editor, let me say this about that . . .
TV news isn’t about information. It’s about emotion. If you gave viewers a comprehension test after the NBC report above they’d fail. I don’t care what you’d ask, except maybe “Are guns bad?” Which would elicit the same response if you asked them before they saw the news package. That’s why support for gun rights doesn’t flag – or only flags temporarily – after a “mass shooting.”
These horrific events are only so powerful, so emotional, because they’re perceived to be completely random. It could have been me in that classroom! Or my child! In contrast, a toddler gunned down in a drive-by shooting (inserted into the NBC piece) is too distant from mainstream Americans’ experience to resonate deeply. The toddler’s death is random, but not that random. And, I gotta say, not that horrific.
Political attempts to put mass shootings into a box labeled “here’s something we can do to stop it” are doomed to failure. The idea that you can stop crazies from being crazy defies common sense. Anyone with common sense, or anyone who watches Criminal Minds, knows that homicidal maniacs are not deterred by laws, gun control or otherwise.
That said, Americans did buy into gun control as an answer to unspeakable “gun violence” after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and John and Bobby Kennedy.
I believe the Internet (presaged by CNN) fundamentally changed the way Americans perceive events. No longer do most Americans get their news filtered by three white urban liberals at the top of three major TV networks, and a bunch of white urban liberals controlling national newspapers. Americans now consider multiple news sources or none at all, ignoring just about everything in favor of feel-good entertainment (previously unavailable during the nightly news).
So don’t panic when the mainstream does its usual unhappy dance after a mass shooting or spree killing. All people really want is to see what happened. So they can continue to shake their fists at the NRA, craven politicians and “gun nuts.” Or, as is increasingly the case, make sure they’re armed in their own defense and the defense of other innocent life.
In short this changes nothing. Which, as Jeb almost dared say, is not the worst possible result.