Aurora Slaughter and the Enthralled Tribes of America


How overly-enthralled we are becoming to our ideological tribes? Enough, perhaps, to wonder if our too-passionate engagement with ideas is poisoning our communal well, and robbing us of our humanity. At a moment when we should be united as a people responding to evil in our midst — and a mass murder is not a “tragedy”, it is evil on legs — it’s disheartening to realize that while the dead were not yet cold, the injured were still dying or being treated, the people who are charged with the public trust of telling the nation its stories, (and to do it factually, without passion or prejudice) were so quick to abandon that charge with a smiling possibility that political hay could be made.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday morning, in a segment with host George Stephanopoulos, Ross said James Holmes, the man who allegedly murdered 12 people in the Aurora movie theater, appeared to be a member of the tea party movement based on information from Facebook, which Stephanopoulos said “might be significant.”

ABC News has since apologized for that. Some are calling for Brian Ross to be fired. I’m not sure about that; on one hand, he was likely only repeating what some producer told him. On the other, he’s an experienced journalist and he should have, perhaps, had the common sense, discretion and maturity to both wait for confirmation and — here’s a crazy idea — consider whether it was the moment to inject politics into the story, in any case.

Worse, it seems his recklessness has resulted in threats against the incorrectly identified man.

Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds has some links about that, and he writes:

They know how to be exquisitely sensitive and non-prejudgey when it might be a Muslim or some other protected minority, so maybe the only way to encourage them to show better judgment the rest of the time is to cost some people their jobs. Who was the producer? Meanwhile, I look forward to the libel suit. . . .

He’s not the only one to make the fair point that, during the Fort Hood shootings, the press and politicians went out of their way to repeat, ad nauseum, “we do not know anything about this shooter; we should not assume anything.” It’s a sound policy, and it’s one that should not be one-sided — only put into place when it suits the script.

ABC News’ error has revealed to us, though, something of how the press operates in the 21st Century: violence and evil occur; people are dying; “quick, go check the registration rolls of political opponents and see if there is any way we can associate this shooter with them…”

We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

The expression, the smile, on Brian Ross’ face said it all. Enthrallment to ideological passions rules the day for the press, and it appears to be toxic.

And just so, on social media we quickly saw this weird imprematur come forward from Time’s Michael Grunwald, who said, “Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with politicizing a tragedy”. Even, apparently before the blood has been washed away, and the first thing about the shooter, or his deranged thinking has been discovered. For some, it’s never too early to sneer, or even to opine with a too-clever-by-half pun.

Very quickly, and predictably, the issue of gun-control has been brought up on social media, and on the tube. MSNBC apparently had such a passionately anti-gun prepared that it even made Dan Abrams — no gun-lover, he — uncomfortable. He tweeted:

I’ve written extensively on 2nd Amendment NOT guaranteeing individual’s right to own guns but MSNBC segment on this now feels wrong.

At TNR, Amy Sullivan has called for an “honest debate” about guns. Meanwhile, at Slate Dave Weigel wondered if a movie patron carrying a gun could have stopped the attack and decides “no” but demonstrates open-minded consideration on his twitter feed, where folks are offering stuff like this in response.

Lest anyone think I am only picking on the mainstream media that is very clearly aligned with the Democrat party, only accusing folks on “the left” of enthrallment, I stipulate that it is not a one-way phenomenon. On any given day, with any story, the enthrallment to ideology that has made us tribes perpetually at war can easily be found on “all sides”, all over social media, and in print and television — it’s everywhere; it is us; it is you and me.

But the mainstream media has a public trust, and they are abusing it.

More importantly: sometimes, just once in a while — like when human blood is still being cleaned and wounds bandaged, and shocked parents are clinging a little tighter to their children — it might behoove us all, and perhaps even make better people of us, if we can just resist the urge to score a cheap political point or exploit emotions, and give a bit of respectful silence to the grief in our midst; to acknowledge that sometimes, the only appropriate words are offerings of sympathy and prayers, and that anything further is just rampant ego, giving always-divisive evil yet another assist.

UPDATE: Instapundit links here (thanks Glenn) and also links to more reactions to ABC News.

What if the penalty for such a crime were certain anonymity?
“Half-assed media speculation”
Quiet, Please
Shut up, Please
Colorado Shooting: Guns and Cameras
A Tragedy Not the Time for Political Opportunism
Where is God in Wicked Times?
Is Batman to Blame?
Time to “curtail violence in film”?
Praying For, With and Through Colorado
Living in the shadow of the Tower

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About Elizabeth Scalia