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Yesterday, America was rocked by two separate mass shootings, however, the media is giving the shooters the benefit of the doubt, resisting to jump to the obvious, needed labels.
Want a reminder that racism is very much alive and well in educated America? Take a look at your favourite mainstream news outlet.
If it is covering breaking murder story, or covering similarly violent crime, you can be certain you will see one of two angles.
The first is the objective and “in no way trying to elicit an emotive response from the audience” angle of introducing the suspect in as mundane a manner possible. In the modern realm, when shooters are aided and abetted by alphanumeric chat boards, it’s easy to group them into the same mass. We know them as domestic terrorists, but the media is oft to not to populate such a term. They’re just x from y who allegedly did z.
The background of the Christchurch shooter had a similar tableau. The product of a small town we never thought would grow such hate. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took his name out of our mouths for good, but this was long after most of our media outlets ran large pieces of the gunman’s horrific live-stream of the shooting. Had he not been so overt in recording himself doing the crime, and too, publishing a manifesto under his name to explain why he did it, you’d bet that we’d lean into the Single White Male angle. He wasn’t representing anything, just himself.
He certainly wasn’t a white supremacist, enabled by a patchwork of international internet racists, he was just one hateful individual. The alleged suspect of yesterday’s El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, purportedly published a manifesto supporting the Christchurch shooter. Yet, outlets are yet to paint a picture beyond the standard angle.
Where the first option sought to keep the reader as stone-faced as possible, option two feeds off of white-hot rage and irrational fear. You can almost definitely expect to find a long list of prior convictions, accompanied by an unflattering mugshot, or incriminating selfie found in the depths of the defendant’s archives.
The other angle serves no purpose other than the draw condemnation from the audience writ large.
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You may be wondering just how it is that editors decide which option to take. It’s actually quite simple: all you need to do is ask yourself, “what race is the suspect?”
Dylann Roof murdered 33 black parishioners in the name of racial purity, yet not once was he ever labelled an extremist, nor a terrorist. No, Roof was just “one hateful person”, as much as he was “a normal kid”, a “typical American kid”, and a “smart kid”.
Take the races and swap them, however, and you get a very different picture.
Much of the coverage of his crime focused on his conversion to Islam.
It tars the very notion of objective reporting and demeans the reader’s intelligence at its every emotive turn. It reduces the audience into a brutal binary. An “us” and “them” – black and white.
It tells budding racists that the prejudices they hold are valid and that they can do no wrong. It feeds the supremacy side of white supremacy and permeates the idea that one race is worth more than another.
It’s all well and good to put on a shiny, progressive face for your social media followers, but it looks more than a little bit hollow when that same face is spewing tales about “criminal thugs” and “typical American kids”.
News organisations haven’t printed their papers in black and white for a long time; now it’s time they stopped thinking that way, too.