Editorial: Coverage of Tucson shootings expose illegitimacy of modern journalism
By Nikki Martinez
The shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and at least 17 others in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, exposed a pattern of media coverage which consistently fails to inquisitively report social issues.
The pre-meditated shootings of Giffords and her constituents were orchestrated by Jared Lee Loughner, 22. The college dropout had reportedly been obsessed with Giffords, one of the few Democratic representatives in Arizona who also opposes immigration reform in the state and voted for the health care bill, according to various media reports.
The news media’s immediate commentary-heavy coverage of the shootings failed to address any real issues or to propose any real solutions. Instead, air time was filled with soft news and uncontroversial material.
The most predictable response from the media was the excessive coverage of the death of Christina Taylor Green, 9. Her age and politically-tied birth on Sept. 11, 2001, and death made her one of the most newsworthy victims of Loughner.
Taylor Green’s media coverage gave a glimpse into the emotionally exploitative nature of a 24-hour news cycle.
CNN, among other organizations, intensely covered the story by interviewing her grief-stricken parents, divulging details of her short-lived life and future aspirations, and reiterating the irony of her 9/11 birthday with quotes like, “Christina entered the world ‘on a tragic day and she went out on a tragic day,’ said her father, John Green.”
If the media outlets were truly concerned with honoring Taylor Green’s death, they would have delved deeper into the “why” aspect of this issue. As in, “Why aren‘t there psychological tests for gun owners?” and “Why do some legal guns give owners the ability to shoot 18 people in the span of a few seconds?”
The softball approach to this event allowed news organizations to feed into the less difficult questions and avoid losing viewers by exploring a stance that would be more controversial.
Other news organizations sought to prove that Loughner’s actions were solely the result of psychological issues he faced his entire life. The coverage suddenly made Loughner’s neighbors, former classmates at Pima Community College and high school peers experts of psychology and political ideology.
The invalidity of the sources the news chose was proof that the news media of today fill time rather than fill inquiries.
The greatest mistake by the news media’s coverage of the Tucson shooting is that though Loughner shot a representative of the United States government, the news organizations were slow to address the political nature of the shootings. Most notably, Loughner has not been referred to as a “domestic terrorist” by any news organization.
The definition of terrorism is as follows: “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes,” according to the entry on Dictionary.com.
By choosing to relegate Loughner’s actions solely to his mental health and not the combination of his health and political ideology, the media is reinstating the idea that terrorism is in the hands of those who have dark skin and speak a foreign language.
The reality is Americans can kill Americans and Americans are killing Americans. Domestic terrorism is alive and well.
By affirming Loughner’s role as a terrorist, media organizations would be forced to realize that their rhetoric may be speaking directly to the people like Loughner whose inability to rationalize American politics can drive them to take terrorist action.
The 24-hour news cycle has become a danger in our current political climate. The cycle blurs the lines between entertainment and information. By accepting the news as it is today, Americans are becoming more complacent, less politically individualistic and simply aren’t holding the news media to a high standard.
It is imperative that Americans realize the importance of their reaction and exposure to the news. They must be critical of the news content they are presented with and cautious of indulging in only the news that affirms their own beliefs.
News journalists are public servants. They are obligated to comply with the Society of Professional Journalism Code of Ethics which obliges them to report truth, be free of any other obligation than that of the public’s right to truth, expose political injustice and the unethical practices of other news and media sources regardless of affiliation.
News organizations need to remember this obligation to the American viewing public, and work as the checks and balances of the American government once again.