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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

In rush to publish, news coverage of Arizona shooting more speculative than factual



The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) and 19 others on Saturday in Tucson has prompted debate about the news media's role in violent, political rhetoric, and how the media focused more on speculations than real reporting of facts.

Jared Loughner, 22, is charged with killing six people and attempting to assassinate Giffords outside a grocery store on Saturday. Another 13 people also were wounded in the rampage.

"Speculation often overwhelmed real reporting," wrote James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times. "The skirmishing reached full tilt Monday in the hothouses of radio, cable TV and the Internet, along battle lines that should surprise no one. Conservative talkers argued that politics played absolutely no role in motivating a troubled young gunman. Liberals asserted that vitriolic anti-government rhetoric in the media had to have been part of the trigger."

As Josh Kraushaar wrote in the National Journal, "For all the blame placed on politicians for their aggressive political rhetoric, the media have been just as guilty in promoting crude political discourse and conflict. I’m not just talking about the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world, but news coverage that elevates conflict over substance and encourages contentious arguments over thoughtful discussion. And in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, the media’s worst tendencies were on display, from the onset of the crisis when several outlets inaccurately reported that Giffords had died, to the immediate, unwarranted assumption that the killer was associated with the tea party."

After NPR erroneously reported that Giffords had died, the public radio network published a story condemning the speculation about the shooter's motive: "The Internet and the Twitterworld have been filled with speculation on why she was shot: that she was too liberal and was shot by a Tea Party conservative. Or that she was too moderate and shot by someone on the left. All we know is that the shooter is under custody. No statement has been released, no motive revealed. Self-anointed 'journalists' should keep such opinions to themselves until we know more."

The shooting even prompted Media Matters to send a letter to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, saying it was time for Fox News to take responsibility for its vitriolic rhetoric. "Now, in the wake of the killings, your network must take a stand," the letter said. "You have the power to order them to stop using violent rhetoric, on and off of Fox's air. If they fail to do so, it is incumbent upon you to fire them or be responsible for the climate they create and any consequences thereof."

Despite the immediate reaction that the shooting was related to political rhetoric, it has become apparent that the shooting was not politically motivated, but rather the act of someone who is mentally ill.


Other Related Headlines:
» New York Times (Talk radio hosts reject blame in shooting)
» MediaBistro (NPR Editor calls Reporting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Death ‘a serious and grave error’)
» The Washington Post (After Giffords tragedy, fingers point to the media model of confrontation)

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