When a Neo-Nazi gunman killed and wounded worshipers at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, we looked at a few problems with the coverage. Some readers suggested additional problems. See here and here, for instance. I actually thought much of the coverage was good. This New York Times story (“For Victim in Sikh Temple Shooting, a Life of Separation“) was a keeper and the general coverage at CNN and its Belief Blog have been extensive and thoughtful.
But more than anything, what strikes me is the lack of coverage. This was a major shooting at a house of worship in the Midwest and while the media seemed interested at first, it just kind of dropped off.
A reader sent in this media analysis that ran in the New Yorker. I thought it worth discussion. Written by Naunihal Singh, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, he begins:
The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora. Only one network sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks gave the murders in Wisconsin the kind of extensive coverage that the Colorado shootings received. The print media also quickly lost interest, with the story slipping from the front page of the New York Times after Tuesday. If you get all your news from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” you would have had no idea that anything had even happened on August 5th at all.
Because of the way the media and political elites handled their reaction to the shooting, Singh writes, the massacre has been viewed as a tragedy for Sikhs rather than a tragedy for all Americans. He continues:
The two incidents were obviously different in important ways: Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive. There were also the Olympics. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers. Both the quantity and content of the coverage has been clearly shaped by the identities of the shooter and his victims.
I’m not sure. I really am confused about the general lack of coverage of the Sikh shooting. I think the media reaction to the shooting at a socially conservative non-profit group this week is also interesting. Some have covered, some haven’t. CNN apparently took three hours to even mention it. Say what you will about their Oak Creek coverage but at the very least they were on it much more quickly. And on a Sunday no less. Why do some stories generate so much interest and others don’t? What confuses me about the Sikh shooting in particular is that it had all the elements of a story that could be pursued for a long time. Or, as Singh writes:
The murders took place at a house of worship on a Sunday. There was the heroic president of the congregation who, even though he was sixty-two, battled an armed attacker, sacrificing his own life. There were the children who sounded the alarm and joined fourteen women huddled in a tiny pantry for hours, listening to the agony of the wounded outside. There were the relatives at home, receiving texts and phone calls from loved ones. There were heroic police officers, a shootout, and the attacker’s death by self-inflicted gunshot.
Exactly! Think of how many stories we could get out of this? So why aren’t we seeing those? After the Colorado shooting, local media outlets and national media outlets were able to dig down and tell some very compelling stories about the shooting and the lives affected. Some took weeks to tell and are still being told. And obviously there are still news and features being written about Oak Creek, but the quantity of the coverage is not enough.
I wonder if this is a problem of journalists not being interested and, if so, why. But I also wonder if this is a problem of readers and viewers not being interested and, if so, why. Normally I like to have some point I’m arguing for here, but I honestly don’t understand why we haven’t seen more coverage — particularly when some news outlets have done so well with it. Any wisdom to impart?