At first, people thought it was fireworks, or a military salute to the flag. This detail topped several news stories—in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune—yesterday after a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois, opened fire on a Fourth of July parade, killing six people and injuring dozens more. One local resident told the Chicago Sun-Times that they heard as many as twenty-five shots amid the ensuing pandemonium. In videos posted to social media, NBC Chicago calculated, more than fifty shots could be heard.
The idea of celebration giving way to carnage reverberated through the news cycle all day, in analysis pieces weighing what the shooting said about America on a day dedicated to national meaning, as well as in awkward juxtapositions. A fireworks graphic in the shape of the Stars and Stripes popped over thumbnails of news articles about the shooting when users Googled “Fourth of July.” On CNN, a segment about the shooter still being at large cut directly to a firework-studded commercial for the network’s planned evening of celebratory coverage, with “music from Pitbull, Maren Morris, Machine Gun Kelly.” Later, as that coverage kicked off, Dana Bash, in DC, called the shooting a “painful reminder of the challenges we face as a nation as we mark 246 years of independence,” but also recognized that “tonight, Americans are coming together in the spirit of celebration to enjoy one another and what’s best in America.” Don Lemon, in New York, agreed. “We do not want to let one bad guy win tonight,” he said. “We do not want to let one shooter upend the time-honored traditions of this Fourth of July.”
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No little coverage of the shooting also juxtaposed the horror of the act with the typical sleepiness of Highland Park, a well-off suburb about twenty-five miles north of Chicago that, we were told, is “quiet,” “usually safe,” “unaccustomed to such violence.” If a shooting can happen there, headlines in the Post and CNN warned us, then “nowhere is safe.” This is a common framing in the aftermath of mass shootings in suburban areas; on this occasion, some observers suggested, mainstream-media types may have been extra keen to stress the distance between Highland Park and downtown Chicago as a preemptive rebuttal to the right-wing media impulse to portray that city as a gang-infested, lawless hellhole. It’s also, unavoidably, a coded framing, as observers also noted yesterday. Reporters’ asking suburban residents whether they ever expected a shooting to happen here, the writer and professor Tom Zoellner pointed out, is often “an unconscious or conscious reference to the affluent whiteness of the community.” Ashley Brown, an editor at NPR, urged journalists to drop the last place you’d expect conceit—because “no civilian place, no matter how under-invested or affluent, should ever have to ‘expect’ gun violence.”
While the Highland Park shooting attracted by far the most media coverage, it was not the only mass shooting over the holiday weekend. The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings, counted thirteen, with nearly half of those taking place yesterday: in Highland Park, as well as Boston (four people injured), Kansas City (four injured), Richmond (six injured), Sacramento (four injured; one killed)—and Chicago, where five people were injured in a shooting on the city’s South Side. Local outlets covered that shooting, albeit perfunctorily, relying heavily on the police account of what happened. (According to officials, all of the victims were taken to hospitals, and were said to be in “fair” condition.) On the national level, the Times mentioned the shooting as part of a brief story, pegged to the Highland Park attack, noting that in total, nine people were shot dead in Chicago over the long weekend (not including the victims in Highland Park).
Also over the weekend, the police chief in Akron, Ohio, confirmed that more than sixty shots were fired in a shooting in that city last Monday. The shots in question were all fired by local officers at Jayland Walker, a twenty-five-year-old Black man, killing him. Walker had fled after the officers tried to pull him over in a traffic stop; officers said that Walker fired out of his car window (and video footage would seem to corroborate this), and a gun was subsequently found in the vehicle. But the police chief conceded that Walker was not armed at the moment the officers shot him dead. By that point, Walker had gotten out of the car and started to flee on foot.
At first, Walker’s killing was not treated as a big news story; according to a Stanford University tool that tracks cable news coverage, his name wasn’t discussed at all on any major network between the date of his death and this past Saturday. Local outlets were quicker to the story, but the early police narrative often framed initial coverage; various news organizations referred to the killing as an “officer-involved shooting”—euphemistic law enforcement jargon that leading newsrooms pledged to stop echoing in 2020, following the police murder of George Floyd, only for its use to tick back up more recently, according to research published by HuffPost and the Garrison Project. As the days passed, however, the Akron Beacon Journal noted key questions that the local police chief had failed to answer; Cleveland’s WKYC reported, based on an autopsy report, that police fired ninety shots at Walker in total; and the voices of Walker’s family and those of protesters started to ring louder in coverage. Bigger outlets began to take an interest, crescendoing on Sunday, when the police chief offered more details and released some body-camera videos of Walker’s killing.
Meanwhile, protests in Akron grew day by day; on Sunday, hundreds of people marched in the city. The demonstrations were by and large peaceful, but on Sunday night, a subset of demonstrators turned “violent,” the police department said, and caused some damage to property. Around fifty people were arrested, and the police reported firing tear gas. Yesterday, Akron’s mayor ordered a curfew and canceled several Fourth of July fireworks displays. Headlines in numerous major outlets centered that development, sometimes alongside the words “state of emergency,” which the mayor had also declared, and references to a city “on edge.” Last night, protesters gathered again in front of Akron’s police department, but, according to Cleveland.com, dispersed without incident after the curfew came into effect and fifty officers in riot gear emerged from the department. When I checked earlier this morning, I couldn’t find a single story about Walker on the homepages of the Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Associated Press. The Post had one story, far down the page, focused on the fifty arrests.
Yesterday evening, after a lengthy search, police in Illinois arrested a key person of interest in the Highland Park shooting. He fled in his car after officers tried to stop him, but was later caught and detained. According to NBC and CBS, he surrendered “peacefully.” (The former network attributed that description to police officials.) The danger in Highland Park would seem to be over. While the shooter there might have been “one bad guy,” though, America’s huge, multifaceted gun violence problem can’t be reduced to that—collectively, that problem did upend the rituals of July 4, and not just in Highland Park. It might be tempting for the press to frame the shooting there as the unforeseeable shattering of an idyllic, unifying holiday celebration; of Americans’ inviolable common right to come together and share public space. But it’s important to remember that this feeling does not speak to a universal American reality. It never has.
Also yesterday, revelers watching fireworks in Philadelphia ran for cover after shots were fired there. Bullets grazed two police officers. A bystander told a local ABC affiliate that he thought the shots might have been fireworks. People also fled the sound of gunfire in DC and Orlando, where some of them jumped into a lake. In those cases, it turned out, the sound was actually fireworks.
Below, more on shootings and policing in America, and the press:
- Highland Park: The person of interest detained in the Highland Park shooting “left a long trail of tributes to mass shootings and public killings on social media platforms, according to numerous profiles that appear to belong to him,” NBC’s Ben Collins and Safia Samee Ali report. He made music videos depicting mass murder, one of which showed him draping himself in an American flag in the aftermath of a school shooting. Last night, the YouTube channel hosting the videos was apparently taken down.
- Everywhere: In May, after a gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the satirical news site The Onion not only published an article headlined “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”—something the site commonly does after mass shootings—but also, for the first time, filled its entire homepage with every version of the story it has ever published, dating back to 2014. Yesterday, The Onion filled its homepage with the articles again.
- Policing, I: Last year, Ed Troyer, the sheriff of Pierce County, Washington, was charged with two misdemeanors after following Sedrick Altheimer, a Black newspaper carrier who was driving his regular route, then claiming to a 911 dispatcher that Altheimer threatened to kill him, only later to recant that claim. On Friday, a judge in the case ordered Troyer to post a hundred thousand dollars as bail, ten times the amount prosecutors requested, after learning that Troyer repeatedly contacted Altheimer in violation of his pretrial release. The judge described Troyer as “a substantial danger to the community.”
- Policing, II: ICYMI, Alexandria Neason wrote for CJR, back in 2019, about how police departments, including in Chicago, have planted misinformation in the press. “In relaying information about a crime in which an officer may have been at fault, brand management becomes a priority,” Neason wrote. “Victims—who more often than not are Black—have long listened to police with skepticism, expecting misinformation about themselves and their communities. Journalists have struggled to tell the whole story.”
Other notable stories:
- Last week, Palestinian officials handed the bullet that killed the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May, to US counterparts so that tests might be conducted on it. Yesterday, the US State Department said in a statement that the bullet was damaged, precluding a “clear conclusion” as to who fired it. The statement also said that US security officials were granted “full access” to official Israeli and Palestinian investigations; they concluded, after reviewing both, that Israeli forces likely killed Abu Akleh, though as a result of “tragic circumstances” rather than an “intentional” shot. (Eyewitnesses suggested that Israeli soldiers targeted Abu Akleh; a CNN investigation backed up their account.)
- Last month, BuzzFeed reported, based on leaked audio from internal meetings, that China-based employees of TikTok’s parent company have accessed nonpublic data belonging to US users, despite the company’s repeated claims to the contrary. Nine Republican senators subsequently wrote to TikTok to express concern; last week, TikTok’s CEO responded, confirming BuzzFeed’s story while trying to offer assurances about data security. An FCC commissioner, meanwhile, said TikTok should be removed from US app stores. On Sunday, he went on CNN, followed by a TikTok executive.
- Writing for The Objective, Simon Galperin—who last year criticized the Knight Foundation, a prolific nonprofit funder of media initiatives, for platforming “right-wing extremism”—took the group to task again after it emerged that it will host a conversation between Tucker Carlson, of Fox, and Semafor’s Ben Smith. The foundation, Galperin writes, has taken “no visible steps” to address the concerns he laid out last year.
- In media jobs news, Felicia Sonmez spoke publicly for the first time since she was fired by the Washington Post, revealing that she’s working with the paper’s union to fight for her job back. Elsewhere, Lynne Terry will lead the Oregon Capital Chronicle, succeeding Les Zaitz, its founding editor. And Robert Feder, who has covered Chicago media for forty-two years, is taking a step back from the beat—though he isn’t retiring just yet.
- Last month, the Austin Chronicle, an alt-weekly, was widely criticized after its website hosted a sponsored post advertising mail-order brides from Asia. The Chronicle initially took down the ad and pledged not to host any like it in the future, saying that it did not align with its “mission as a progressive newspaper.” Now the paper has placed a moratorium on all sponsored content as it works on “more strenuous policies.” NBC has more.
- Yesterday, El Confidencial, a newspaper in Spain, reported that the country’s soccer federation investigated a journalist after details of controversial talks to take a cup competition to Saudi Arabia leaked to the press. The federation denied probing journalists but acknowledged that it had investigated the leak among its own staff, and claimed that it has been the target of a media campaign. The AP has more.
- Fans of Liverpool soccer club, in the UK, have long boycotted The Sun, a right-wing tabloid, after it falsely blamed supporters for a stadium crush that killed ninety-seven people in 1989. Last week, Victoria Newton, The Sun’s current editor, who is from Liverpool, revealed that members of her family were present at the stadium, and called the paper’s coverage “the biggest mistake in tabloid history.” Press Gazette has more.
- Recently, Le Point, a French magazine, retracted a story claiming that two left-wing lawmakers exploited an undocumented domestic worker after it turned out to be based on fake evidence. Last week, the author of the story claimed that a police officer and a political rival of one of the lawmakers may have conspired to trick him into publishing it. The two lawmakers have filed a fraud case; prosecutors are now investigating.
- And to mark July 4, Noah Zucker, of PhillyVoice, shared the story of how a local German-language newspaper, the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, may have been the first news outlet to republish the Declaration of Independence in 1776—narrowly beating the Pennsylvania Evening Post, which has often been regarded as the first. “At the time,” Zucker reports, “about a third of Pennsylvanians spoke German.”
ICYMI: Tech platforms, data, and the aftermath of Roe v. WadeJon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.