Media

Reason Writers in USA Today: Matt Welch on Reckless Media Speculation About the Batman Shooter

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Is that THE Brian Ross?

Writing in USA Today, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that media flubs in catastrophe coverage are largely self-inflicted. Excerpt:

The human impulse to make sense out of senseless horror can, when relayed by irresponsible journalists, have lethal consequences for victims of an unfolding catastrophe. Widespread news reports that Hurricane Katrina victims were opening gunfire on rescue helicopters and slitting children's throats in the Superdome slowed evacuation efforts by several crucial days. The stories, reported around the globe, were not true.

Any sudden cataclysm is bound to be shrouded in a factual fog; we can't ask reporters to have X-ray vision. But broadcast outlets especially make a difficult situation worse by trotting out an assembly line of "experts" to openly speculate based on litte or no information. […]

So are we doomed to spread politically inflected lies about every latest tragedy? Counter-intuitively, no. The same social media that enables untruths to travel halfway around the world spent much of Friday smacking down each new clumsy speculation at its source. Perhaps burned by the Loughner excesses, people from all political persuasions urged reportorial and political restraint.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. I wonder what it was like for the Tea Party guy in Colorado who was identified as a potential murderer on what is still, in theory, a major news network?

    But as Sorkin would say, we have the traditional, professional media to protect us from the Internet barbarians who don’t care anything for facts and accuracy.

  2. Not spam!

    I was simply asking what it must have been like for that Colorado Tea Party guy to find that an allegedly major network had suggested he was a mass murderer.

    1. But as Aaron Sorkin points out, the objective news media is under siege from Internet barbarians who care nothing about accuracy.

      1. Back in the old days, falsely accusing somebody of being a mass murderer with absolutely no real evidence to back it up would almost certainly have gotten a person fired from any remotely respectable media outlet.

        But sadly, those days came to an end a while ago. This isn’t even the first time this has happened in our recent history. Remember the anthrax letter mailings that killed a few people shortly after 9/11? Slimeball New York Times editorialist Nicholas Kristof did the exact same thing and falsely accused a guy named Dr. Steven Hatfill of being the murderer based on nothing but the whacky theories of some nutty scientist who apparently had it in for Hatfill.

        Kristof of course is still working at the Times to this day, and so I suspect nothing will likely happen to Ross either. It’s pathetic and disgusting what the so-called “mainstream media” have to come in this country.

        1. I think Ross is gonna get the ax on this one, and I think the producer of the show will as well. The people at ABC have to do everything they can to avoid the (hopefully) pending libel suit and send the responsible people packing in an attempt to at least minimize the public trust fallout that will inevitably occur from it. The best way to do that is to get rid of the offending party and his immediate enabler.

          The networks are getting their clocks cleaned by cable and the internet. This is a chance for at least one of them to publicly do the right thing even if it goes against their personal biases. They can either take this step in the right direction or they can sink further into the mire of irrelevance.

          1. Libertarians don’t believe in Libel.

            It is a self-correcting problem anyway, this guy is going to get fucked in the future because of his low credibility.

            1. I’m not libertarian, although I can certainly play one on TV.

              It’s not as if a libertarian alternative to libel laws was on the books – like a consumer fraud law allowing the media to be prosecuted for fobbing off false news on their readers under the guise of news.

              Such laws would probably be considered violations of the First Amendment.

              So as a practical matter, it’s libel laws or nothing. With that being the choice, I prefer libel laws.

            2. Actually, as a civil offense, I have no problem with it.

              1. Libertarians oppose force and fraud, in general. Libel is a form of fraud.

                1. robc, any comment on the Rothbardian position that you don’t own your reputation, that it is by definition what other people think of you?

          2. The people at ABC have to do everything they can to avoid the (hopefully) pending libel suit

            You have to show damages in a civil suit. There are no damages as the story has been refuted and retracted.

            1. Pain and suffering and loss of business income.

          3. I think Ross is gonna get the ax on this one, and I think the producer of the show will as well.

            You would think so, but I’m not so sure. If I were in charge of either ABC News or the network I would have fired them both yesterday.

  3. Experts on bullshit.

    I think (based on nothing at all) that the killer wanted to be the joker.

    The stupid and politicized speculation is the second worst things about events like this. THere is nothing to b learned and no lesson. People just do crazy shit sometimes.

    1. Does he really look like a guy with a plan? You know what he is? He’s a dog chasing cars. He wouldn’t know what to do with one if he caught it! You know, he just…does things.

  4. “ABC aside, we’re mostly avoiding dopey ‘which ideology do we blame’ stuff.”

    You could see the glass as half full, in that only one of the “major” broadcasters insinuated than an innocent but politically-inconvenient person was a murderer, or you could see the glass as half-empty in that *even one* of the “major” broadcasters did this in response to a fairly nonpolitical murder.

    1. That, of course, didn’t prevent Diamond Dave Weigel from engaging in rank speculation, though:

      The only time Americans ever talk about gun laws or the effects of gun laws is after tragedies. We learn whether Concealed Carry Laws would have prevented various crimes, like in April, when an off-duty security guard stopped a killer cold with his CCW in an Aurora church. We learn their limitations — like in this case, where an armed citizen in a dark, smoke-filled theater might have ended up shooting the wrong people by accident.

      Really? We learned that, Dave? How?

  5. Widespread news reports that Hurricane Katrina victims were opening gunfire on rescue helicopters and slitting children’s throats in the Superdome slowed evacuation efforts by several crucial days.

    On top of everything else, how that it was so easy for journalists to believe that bullshit was not grounds for screaming racism is beyond me.

    There are no responsible journalists, let’s face it. There are only those few who are able to keep their own unrecognized biases in check while flapping their gums on air or tapping on their keyboards. (And usually those are the ones not on Twitter, the Great Character Revealer.)

  6. Great editorial, Matt. Too bad USA Today readers operate on about a 5th Grade level mentally, meaning this is way over their collective heads.

    Suggestion: next time, either make sure something written for adults gets put in an adult newspaper or make sure you replace words like “cataclysm” and “Counter-intuitively” with words they can understand.

    1. “Cataclysm” replaced with “bad thingee”. “Counter-intuitively” replaced with “nuh-uh”.

      1. But “bad thingee” and “nuh-uh” contain letters, and you have to be able to read them. Those people he was addressing can’t actually read and write — they just smash their fists against their keyboards until things appear in the text boxes. “Oooohhh ooo ooo oooo” mean “I’ve written something!” in Dumbfuckistani.

    2. And don’t forget to include a pie chart with bright colors.

    3. Needz moar picturez!!!

      / USA Today reader

    4. nice comment on the USA Today page as well, sloop.

  7. OT (but if the media weren’t such statist bootlickers it would be major news): This is some seriously scary shit right here. The next brick in the wall, if you will.

    1. Dunphy’s gonna be flyin’ one over your house with a banner that says, “Polls show that a majority of Americans respect cops, bigot!”

      Ha ha…

      1. LOL. You know that he did invent the drone years ago in Hawai’i, right? It was between his rock stardom and his reign as the world champion big wave surfer.

    2. The real purpose of the media is to distract the serfs while top men steal their freedom and money.

  8. “Widespread news reports that Hurricane Katrina victims were opening gunfire on rescue helicopters.”

    Why the fucking shit would they do that? How could this have been considered believable to any degree? Did their bullshit detectors suck particularly bad that day?

    1. Opening fire on the cops forcibly disarming them would have been a whole different story. Cue righteous fury and indignation from Tony and the other invertebrates.

    2. It’s not whether or not they believe it, dude. It’s whether or not they can get a camera crew and a reporter to the scene to talk about it. It’s about drawing in the viewers, and if it bleeds, it leads.

      1. The thing that puzzles me is that it would draw in viewers — and why would anybody watching these reports believe that the victims of a natural disaster would shoot at rescue vehicles?

        1. I don’t know. But the viewers are out there. Why else did 20/20 run, not one, but two different specials last night on the Aurora shootings (a hour at 10/9c and thirty minutes at 11:30/10:30c)?

          1. Yeah. It’s amazing that people buy into this shit. At this point, you could probably submit 60 minutes worth of footage of a steaming pile of manure, and if someone agreed to air it, you’d have plenty of viewers.

            1. “The #1 movie in America was called Ass. And that’s all it was for 90 minutes. It won eight Oscars that year, including best screenplay.”

              1. I’d watch it. And I’d like it!

              2. Jezebel would obviously identify the manure as a symbol of patriarchal hegemony and sue the studio for crimes against humanity.

              3. “There was a time when reading wasn’t just for fags. And neither was writing. People wrote books and movies. Movies with stories, that made you care about whose ass it was and why it was farting. And I believe that time can come again!”

              4. Michelle Jenneke cast and wins Best Actress?

              5. “There was a time when reading wasn’t just for fags. And neither was writing. People wrote books and movies. Movies with stories, that made you care about whose ass it was and why it was farting. And I believe that time can come again! “

          2. Soccer moms now grandmas clinging to their expired ‘assault’ weapons ban and old news media.

            1. And if you have ever wondered what became of that demographic of the ’92 soccor mom who carried the election for Bill Clinton, I have one word, Mary.

            2. +1

        2. and why would anybody watching these reports believe that the victims of a natural disaster would shoot at rescue vehicles?

          Because they’re violent, mindless animals.

          / legacy media

      2. And if it’s not bleeding, time to whip out the ketchup.

    1. Fafa Fooey!

      1. One of Stern’s best kamakazi kallers ever.

  9. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum chimed in with a more conservative question: “Did pot trigger [the Gabrielle] Giffords shooting?”

    That would be a progressive question Matt.

    Last (and every) time I checked , one of the basic tenets of conservatism is to hold individuals responsible for their own actions.

    1. And to *conserve* the progressive bans on marijuana.

    2. Conservatism doesn’t mean shit anymore.

      1. Sure it does. It has 2 meanings.

        1) Not Team BLUE.
        2) Racist, homophobe, uneducated, misogynist, redneck.

        The end.

        1. 1) Not Team BLUE.
          2) Racist, homophobe, uneducated, misogynist, redneck.

          Technically a libertarian can be all that….

          And if you know about Che then you know a communist can fit that as well.

      2. Either way, it sure isn’t represented by neocons like David Frum.

        When will Reason stop using the meathead who wants universal healthcare as a spookesman for the right.

        1. When the right shows that it’s actually serious about not wanting universal healthcare rather than simply opposing Team BLUE.

          At this point, Team RED fucking LOVES Obamacare, because now they have the opportunity to fuck with it and not have get a political black eye. SCOTUS gave them just the cover they were looking for.

          You seem to forget that Team RED is every bit as statist as Team BLUE. Anything that seems to the contrary is like a mirage.

          1. In some ways TEAM BLUE has a better record then TEAM RED.

            Not Obama of course…but Clinton, Carter and JFK did cut government in meaningful ways.

            Aside from Nixon ending the draft and Bush 2 cutting taxes i can’t think of what Nixon Reagen Bush and bush 2 did to actually cut…

            1. JFK who allowed federal workers to unionize. JFK who not only signed the Single Convention narcotics treaty but reappointed Harry J Anslinger to the federal Bureau of Narcotics even though Anslinger was at mandatory retirement age and didn’t really want to continue at the job, that JFK?

  10. When movie theaters and other ‘public accommodations’ have signs us declaring ‘gun free zones’ are they not inferring that they are taking on the responsibility of protecting you in an exchange for your disarmament? A case should be brought against the theater challenging just that, it should be assumed that if you make such demands on the public you have an extra duty to protect those now entrusted in your care.

    1. Excellent point that will be lost on, well, everybody.

      … Hobbit

  11. Was Holmes on any psychotropic medications?

    1. Jared Loughner was a heavy pot smoker. But we know that smoking pot never did anything bad to anyone.

    2. Reportedly, the word is no. But given the amount of planning this guy apparently put into this, I would rule out a drug-induced cause, and also would rule out those mental illnesses that would be responsive to major psychotropic meds.

    3. Probably not, but maybe he should have been.

  12. As Slate politics-and-media observer David Weigel pointed out on Twitter, “ABC aside, we’re mostly avoiding dopey ‘which ideology do we blame’ stuff.”

    Instead we get wild speculation about what would have happened if some of the movie goers were armed.

    Of all people why quote Weigel on this?

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