Earlier this week, one of the TVs in my hotel lobby was tuned to the chaos that is 24-hour news. The field reporter, stationed outside Pulse bar in Orlando, stood before a camera with a responsibility to inform Americans about the latest attack on human lives. Instead, she made a mockery of us all.
During an interview with a former senator from Florida, she spent three minutes playing a rotten version of the Blame Game.
Was this not an act of hate toward gays?
Was this not a problem with our gun laws?
Was this not another example of bigotry with a dash of terrorism?
The senator would have none of it. He focused on the lives lost, no matter whose lives. He focused on the people of Orlando. He focused on the brutal assassination of 49 fellow Floridians.
We can’t say the same for the media. They are the greatest antagonist to a nation seeking stability. They are enslaved to the almighty dollar, and they will do and say anything to lure another maniacal assassin out of his den. They are more dangerous than any gun, Muslim or, dare I say, bigot.
Why? How? When did this happen?
Our nation’s lust for bloody information is as old as the press. “If it bleeds, it leads” has been a mantra in newsrooms for as long as we’ve shared information. But taking pictures and telling stories of tragedy was always about the tragedy, the victims and the assailants. Today, in our rush for perspective, information has become infected with a search for a faux frenzy.
Mass killings in our nation, unfortunately, are not new. The way media cover them is.
Consider Sept. 12, 2001, one day after 9/11. On the front page of USA Today, the headlines told us the story with integrity.
“Tears most of the day” topped one story. “Pentagon in flames.” “Bush to Nation: ‘U.S. saw evil,’” read USA Today’s headlines.
On Dec. 15, 2012, one day after a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, The New York Times offered us depth:
“Gunman massacres 20 children at school…” “A principal dies; Pupils ages 5 to 10 – Hearts are broken.” “Who would do this to our poor babies?”
On April 16, 2013, one day after terrorists detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon, the city’s newspaper, The Boston Globe, told these stories:
“3 killed, 130 hurt by bombs.” “Amid shock, a rush to help strangers.” “A mother reels as 2 sons lose legs.”
On Sept. 17, 2013, one day after the Navy Yard shootings, The Los Angeles Times led with these headlines:
“A workday, then terror; Employees describe pandemonium and a morning on lock down.” “Those killed in two-hour rampage at the Washington Navy Yard include the gunman, a veteran.”
Every single one of those headlines – the stories that led our nation’s coverage of too many tragedies – focused on the event. More importantly, they focused on the victims of the attacks.
And somehow, in the span of three pitiful years, our national media has become the caretaker of our conscious. Need proof? These are the front-page headlines one day after the Orlando massacre:
From the front page of USA Today, we got:
“Shooter pledged allegiance to ISIL.” “’Act of Terror’ and ‘Act of Hate,” which they pulled from a speech President Obama gave hours after the shooting. Let’s make sure everyone knew this was probably a hate crime.
From the front page of The New York Times:
“A tie to ISIS? Uncertainty as a strategy.” “FBI studied shooter years before attack.” “For gays across America, a massacre punctuates fitful gains.”
From the front of The Boston Globe: “Massacre in the night: Gunman declaring devotion to Islamic State kills 50…”
And from The LA Times front page:
“An Act of Terror and Act of Hate,” ibid. “Gunman, investigated twice for terrorist ties, pledged allegiance to Islamic State before worst mass shooting in U.S. history.”
Let’s be fair. Every one of these newspapers had stories about the victims. Of course, those stories were reserved for the inside pages to make room for the blame out front.
Let’s also be fair, especially to our nation’s largest newspapers. They are starved for readership and attention. Most of them are hanging on by a grocery store insert, and they’ll do anything to grab your eye. They are trying to feed the beast, and the beast is us.
But this isn’t reserved to print media, which is largely digital media with a paper copy the next day. This is every news medium across this nation, and they’re all on a scavenger hunt for likes, retweets and pageviews. Each of those correlates to dollars, and the only formula for selling advertising is to crush their consumers with the creation of rage. They are addicted to the idiocy of bigots, terrorists and AK-47s, and we are the worse for it.
Once, we required our news sources to tell us what happened, and we didn’t mind a moment or two of commentary. Today, we get a moment or two of what happened and a barrage of commentary and perspective leading our newscasts and dominating our front pages.
In this instance, it just so happens this “Act of Hate” apparently was committed by a man who was, himself, gay. Guilt passed across the airwaves and front pages were just hope for editors across the globe, and that is sickening.
It’s no wonder Gallup released a survey this week that said trust in newspapers and TV is now at an all-time low (20 and 21 percent, respectively). That’s almost as low as our Congressional approval ratings.
Congratulations, media. If any industry deserves it, you do. And you should be ashamed.