The Media Today

The media today: ‘We’re now ranking church shootings’

November 6, 2017

The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72. The gunman wore tactical clothing and used a military-style rifle. The shooting left 26 people dead. Once again, cable stations and newspaper front pages are filled with reports from a horrific mass shooting in America.

The carnage at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs comes just over a month after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas. CNN’s Saeed Ahmed notes that two of the five deadliest mass shootings in modern American history have occurred in the past 35 days.

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“Mental health is the problem here,” President Trump said from Japan. “This isn’t guns situation. We could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it.” That common refrain—that the hours and days immediately following a mass shooting are not the time to politicize the tragedy—is, of course, an attempt to avoid ever having a serious debate about gun control. “If now is too soon to debate gun control, how long must Americans wait?,” asked The New York Times’s editorial board. In an arrestingly simple demonstration of the timing question, the Times posted clocks counting the days, hours, minutes, and seconds since mass shootings in America stretching back to Sandy Hook in 2012.

On the ground in Texas, a team of reporters from the San Antonio Express-News and mobilized to cover the mass shooting, interviewing people who had seen several generations of their families impacted. National outlets called upon their journalists in the area to provide initial coverage, and flew in anchors to report from the scene.

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In what’s become a disturbing aspect of any major breaking news story, BuzzFeed gathered examples of hoaxes that circulated on the internet as coverage of the shooting unfolded. Google searches for the killer’s name returned a bevy of conspiracy theories and false information, a reminder that the hyperspeed news cycle brings with it loads of misinformation when news breaks.

The Daily Beast’s headline on its main story about the shooting read, “Deadliest Church Shooting in American History Kills at Least 26.” As CJR Senior Editor Cory Schouten noted on Twitter, “We’re now ranking church shootings.”

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Below, more on coverage of another American tragedy.


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.