Oak Creek and Media

By Naunihal Singh:

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.

The tragic events in the Milwaukee suburb were also treated differently by political élites, many fewer of whom issued statements on the matter. While both Presidential candidates at least made public comments, neither visited, nor did they suspend campaigning in the state even for one day, as they did in Colorado. In fact, both candidates were in the vicinity this weekend and failed to appear. Obama hugged his children a little tighter after Aurora, but his remarks after Oak Creek referred to Sikhs as members of the “broader American family,” like some distant relatives. Romney unsurprisingly gaffed, referring on Tuesday to “the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple.” Because the shooting happened in Paul Ryan’s district, the Romney campaign delayed announcement of its Vice-Presidential choice until after Ryan could attend the funerals for the victims, but he did not speak at the service and has said surprisingly little about the incident.

As a result, the massacre in Oak Creek is treated as a tragedy for Sikhs in America rather than a tragedy for all Americans….

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.


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  • Alan K

    A very lamentable situation. As suffering increases, our empathy capacity decreases.

  • Truly, the media imbalance is reflective of its political affiliations.

    Most aggregiously, they haven’t hardly mentioned a word about the Family Research Council shooter having been a volunteer at the LGBT program for the 6 months prior to this shooting. He even claimed that he had been motivated by political considerations.

  • James

    When the media is dominated by ratings and advertising revenue, filtered through political allegiances, expectations of principled priorities are, sadly, misplaced. Worse, the newer crop of journalists are taught to be advocates of particular paradigms, and see themselves not as objective, but as crusaders. I fear we’re going back to the kind of awful coverage the NY papers had back in the late 1800s, when the press would have made The Enquirer look like the BBC World News.

  • BradK

    Perhaps Singh’s own comments that “[t]he two incidents were obviously different in important ways” in that “Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive” and that “[t]here were also the Olympics” are sufficient to explain the differences. But that’s not as provocative as attributing the differences to racism or some kind of American “ethnocentricity.” There is an old saying that one should “never attribute to malice that which is easily explained by stupidity.” Paraphrasing, perhaps one might say “never attribute to racism or to unfamiliar names and thick accents that which is more easily explained by greed.” As James mentioned, the media is dominated by ratings and advertising revenues. Maybe the news media just decided that another shooting was “so two weeks ago” and that other stories would sell better?

  • SG

    I think it’s better for the media to provide less, at least sensational, coverage of shootings. I believe media coverage is an encouragement to shooters who are seeking attention (Holmes and Columbine come to mind though not all shooters are motivated in this way). Once the media ceased coverage of airplane highjackings in the 1980’s, there were fewer attempts. There are different motivating factors for both crimes but I do believe there is a similar lust for notoriety in both. Americans have become emotionally dependent on the media to extensively cover and present to the general public, our tragedies.

  • EricMichaelSay

    Like BradK above, I have a hard time believing its a political bias in the media. The whole “If it had been religion x killing people x” thing is so hypothetical, and the quick boredom of Americans sounds like a better explanation.

    And the FRC shooting resulted in an injured security guard, not really newsworthy after the Aurora shooting, whatever the political motivations.

    To listen to some people, anytime a police officer is shot should be national news.

  • Perhaps what BradK (4) describes contributes to the failure of not only the media, but the presidential candidates and other politicos to personally face up to the grieving Sikhs of Wisconsin and beyond. Perhaps. And, as others have observed, the Olympics managed to squeeze our limited attention spans in a direction that would not admit space for the horror.

    What if part of the rejection of the atrocious story was related to the ethnic identity of the assassin? Hmm…that would make for a different appraisal of the failure to address this story.

  • Mike M

    The slide of the story into “obscurity” would have come from higher up, at the networks out east since here in Milwaukee, all of the local network stations did cover the shooting. I heard about it on the radio minutes after it ended on a CBS affiliate.
    I wonder, too if part of the actual or perceived slide is American indifference to cultural and religious details. Sikhism is a beautiful monotheistic religion in its own right. They are neither Hindus nor Muslims and have made a rich contribution to American higher education and business.
    Things like this grieve me so and I’m so sorry for the Sikhs and so sorry for Milwaukee.