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Race-baiting media's 'rush to motive' after mass shootings is exploitation at its worst

Race-baiting media's 'rush to motive' after mass shootings is exploitation at its worst
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We've all heard of the term “rush to judgement” when it comes to deciding guilt or innocence. 

But lately, there's been another kind of rush being committed by more than a few members of the media: a rush to motive.

Exhibit A appeared almost immediately following the shootings at three metro Atlanta spas, allegedly carried out by 21-year-old Robert Long. Eight people died, including six Asian-Americans.

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On cue, the rush to motive began despite law enforcement saying there was no evidence – at least as of now – that Long harbored anti-Asian bigotry. The shooter also reportedly told authorities that he did not select his targets based on their race, telling investigators that he had a "sexual addiction" and executed the killings to eliminate his "temptation" to pay for sex.

In other words, this appears to be a sex addiction issue — for which Long's roommates say his was in rehab. Something similar happened five years ago at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, when a shooter took his rage out on what he saw as the centrality of his temptation. 

"He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past," Cherokee County (Ga.) Chief Frank Reynolds told reporters recently. "We believe that he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out."  

No matter. Some in the media looking to exploit fear for ratings or to push an ideological agenda had already decided without evidence that these shootings were racially motivated and should be called a hate crime. Even late-night "comedy" hosts who morphed in politically-obsessed cable news pundits in the Trump era felt compelled to weigh in by lying about what Long told authorities. 

"The Atlanta shooter blamed a specific race of people for his problems, and then murdered them because of it. If that’s not racism, then the word has no meaning," Comedy Central host Trevor Noah declared.

Ah, but that's just a comic, right? Pay him no mind.

But just one tweet with video of Noah's comments was viewed by more than 1.2 million people online, including more than 15,000 retweets and 45,000 likes. Hundreds of thousands also tuned into "The Daily Show" that night. 

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The farce becomes fact in many of Noah's audience members’ minds, because, according to what is publicly known, at no point did Long ever blame a specific race for his problems.  

Given the temperature of the country, this is a dangerous game being played by some people with a national stage. It exploits fear. It pours kerosene on it. 

“Follow the facts” has been replaced by “follow your feelings" — or make things up whole cloth to push a narrative. 

Traditional media also rushed to motive, most notably the Washington Post, which ran (checks notes) 16 stories using a hate crime angle, while the New York Times ran nine under the same unproven narrative. The White House also jumped in as well, with Press Secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Biden to talk vaccination strategy with bipartisan governors House Republicans press Biden Education secretary on reopening outreach MORE pointing the finger at Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE

“There’s no question some of the damaging rhetoric we saw during the prior administration … has elevated threats against Asian-Americans," Psaki argued in pushing a motive that has yet to materialize.  

And we've seen this movie before — most notably with African American actor Jussie Smollett, who claimed he was the victim of a hate crime in 2019 after being attacked by two MAGA-hat wearing men who happened to be out at 2:00 am during a polar vortex with a noose handy. 

Almost no one – except for local Chicago media – was skeptical of such a highly unlikely story. Many in the media and many Democratic politicians, most notably then-Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOde to Mother's Day Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate In honor of Mother's Day, lawmakers should pass the Momnibus Act MORE (D-Calif.), automatically believed Smollett.  

Of course, the story quickly fell apart. No one who treated Smollett's hoax as absolute fact apologized or faced accountability. 

And here we are again, with some family members of the Atlanta victims pleading with the media not to make this about race. Those pleas are being ignored. 

An investigation into the killing of eight people in Atlanta continues as you read this. A trial will commence in the coming months. Those two actions exist for a reason: To get to the truth. Too bad investigative journalism seems to be an antiquated model, replaced by a rush to motive through the perpetual prism of race. 

A 2020 Gallup poll showed that 83 percent of Americans believe the media bears most of the blame for division in this country. If looking for a reason why in a nutshell, put the Atlanta shootings and the coverage it has generated immediately near the top of the list. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.