SHUT UP AND DO SOMETHING! Media, Shootings and Misinformation

Dan Lothian is tired of the rhetoric every time there’s a school shooting...

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Samuel Zeif speaks during a listening session on school safety with President Trump as Nicole Hockley, parent of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, looks on.

I’m tired of the rhetoric every time there’s a school shooting.  The promises from politicians and gun violence prevention groups ring hollow. “Never again,” they shout from the halls of Congress. “The powerful NRA lobby must be stopped,” they threaten as if that will scare them.  The call for new bans and stricter measures to prevent people with mental illness from getting access to guns grows louder at least for a few weeks.

Then there’s the media. I’m tired of the same stories that roll out of a sad formula as the Boston Globe reported. The headlines raise questions about what parents, teachers and law enforcement knew. They dig up social media postings of a troubled youth surrounded by weapons, and quote friends or classmates who suspected this would happen. Granted, that’s what reporting is all about, but these stories rarely move the needle. They could just as well be swapped out with reports from years ago with the exception of date, state and names of victims and shooter.

It doesn’t help when the non-profit group “Everytown for Gun Safety,” co-founded by Michael Bloomberg spreads dubious numbers about school shootings. The recent violence in Florida was touted as “the 18th school shooting in the U.S. in 2018.” That sounded a bit high to me and of course it was considering the organization counted anytime a gun was fired (intentionally or unintentionally) around a school, whether or not somebody was hurt and whether or not classes were in session. In one case the shooting they counted happened at a school that had been closed down.

I get it, bigger numbers add shock value. That gets attention.  Just maybe somebody will act.  However, it could also become the focus of critics who raise questions and cast doubts about tactics. “Should we believe anything else they say?”

Of course the “18 shootings in 2018” headline went viral. The media repeated it with fervor. Why didn’t someone question those numbers? Thankfully the Washington Post did in an article that left no doubt about the gun safety groups claims. “That number is flat wrong.”

We all want answers. We all want the violence to stop. Too many young innocent lives have been lost. Too many families and communities have been shattered. But let’s all stop promising and start delivering. Let’s stop reporting only when there’s a shooting and launch solution oriented journalism that probes and prods every week not just when there’s breaking news. And let’s all just stick to the facts. Hyping numbers that flirt with the truth aren’t necessary. After all one school shooting is grim enough.