When it comes to addressing mass killings, what approach do you favor? It could be the tightening of gun laws, removing existing “loopholes,” examining mental health issues, investigating prescription of psychiatric medications, all of the above, or something else entirely.
Whatever your chosen approach, it seems to me that the least productive of the strategies, in terms of possible solutions, is categorizing the tragedies and the shooters in purely political terms.
It seems as if each time there is a new tragedy, some in the media, some political figures and some in the public wait just long enough to find out a detail that supports their political agenda. Then, they let loose with political blame.
Yes, there are political issues, policies and laws to discuss. But the over-the-top vitriol tends to drown out rational, productive conversation.
The rush by some to politicize every mass killing also leads to such nonsense such as some blaming President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE after an anti-Trump mass shooter — a Democrat who supported Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE (I-Vt.) — targeted Republican members of Congress in 2017.
Politicization also tends to incite more expressions of hate on all sides — the exact opposite of what most say they want.
For example, in Germany in 2016, Muslim refugees allegedly launched multiple, murderous attacks (none using guns) after a mass influx of illegal immigration into Europe. An Afghan refugee reportedly injured five people in an axe attack on a German train, a Syrian refugee’s suicide bombing injured 15 outside a German music festival, another Syrian refugee allegedly stabbed to death a woman and injured five, and a Tunisian refugee was blamed for killing 12 by plowing a truck into a German Christmas market.
After this rash of incidents, all in one year in one country, there was a backlash against Muslim asylum-seekers.
Yet it is wrongheaded to argue that all Muslims should be targeted for investigation, or that the actions of the killers were the fault of a particular political leader.
We in the media have a role to play in all of this. News organizations would best serve the public by sticking to the facts and the news. Speculation should be minimized. This can be tough in the 24/7 breaking-news environment, with so many wanting to be the first to report significant details and with so many hours to fill while we await the facts. But the truth is, in the early moments and hours after a shooting — or any tragedy — the rumors and initial reports almost always turn out to be replete with errors. Information that is presented confidently as fact often turns out to be incorrect.
When analysis and opinion are invited, various viewpoints should be represented. Allegations of political blame, when they occur, should be reasonably challenged on all sides, as good journalism requires.
Political problems and solutions can be part of any discussion. But amid America’s mass shootings, gun-related killings in cities such as Chicago, and other violence that sometimes feels out of control, knee-jerk accusations and unfounded conclusions are at risk of becoming their own epidemic.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”