News ghouls hit all the wrong notes

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News ghouls hit all the wrong notes

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By Valerie Syverson, Co-Editor
Thursday, April 19, 2007

As anyone used to following national news knows, there's nothing quite so tailor-made for TV news as a school massacre like last Monday's. All other news is immediately superseded for footage of the scene of the tragedy, speeches from every dignitary that can show up, and, when there's no new footage, endless rounds of analysis from every pundit who isn't already booked somewhere else.

Naturally, opportunities abound for sensationalistic coverage, and to use words like "tragic", "senseless", "horrific" -- all of which, though of course applicable, have been diluted through decades of overuse and sadly no longer register as earnest sentiment. And, of course, there's the framing and the political football, and then the criticism of opponents for using a mass homicide as a football.

Sound familiar? It should -- to anyone else who wasn't living under a rock during the 2001 Littleton shootings.

So the editors of the Tech will, for this writing, refrain from adding one more to the long roster of responses expressing the obviously appropriate sentiments -- sympathy, concern, and grief. If you don't know the sort of thing I mean, you can read Dr. Chameau's article three columns to the right; his statement alone renders it superfluous to say anything of the sort in this space.

Instead, the concern that motivates me is over the way the news media has covered the event and its repercussions. Although the majority of responses have, of course, been those of decent human beings, there is a certain subset of the responses that are rather horrifying. The first that comes to mind is the slew of columnists who have ghoulishly seized upon the opportunity to lambaste their favourite targets, be that violent video games for giving people ideas, atheists for not praying at memorial ceremonies, or foreign nationals for (apparently) existing at all. But, of course, these random hearse-chasing political creeps are just columnists, not Real News.

More problematic are those news outlets which have seized on what, no doubt, they thought was a new and refreshing angle on the story by focusing on the first of his victims. Here we find headlines like "Gunman's Love Spat Sparked Massacre". However, the problem here is that the woman in question was never romantically involved with the murderer -- he just stalked her. That's right, the reporters mistook a stalking victim for a disdainful lover. Of course, there's a bit of overlap between the two as presented in many cultural narratives, but it should be possible to disentangle them in real life. when we can get different people's stories.

The most political spinning, though, has come in the area of gun control. (I assume this is because there's no way to restrict college students' access to violent music and games, so that usually-fruitful bit of blather is verboten.) And in fact, it has become apparent that the gunman got his guns quite legally and aboveboard. The bafflement at this from foreign news outlets is an amusing commentary on how bizarre the U.S. gun culture is from any outside point of view. But the gun rights advocates jumped on the story too; there are those who claim the tragedy would have been averted if more students were packing heat. The debate, of course, rages.

At least we can know that the world is the same old looney bin as always, because the Westboro Baptist Church is going to be picketing the funerals. Why? Unclear; their official releases say something about "the emissary of God's wrath". I assume it's just another chance for them to be on television. But I suppose the news media can rest assured that however inconsiderate, tasteless, and ghoulish they might be, they'll never outdo Fred Phelps.

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Original Source: <a href="http://tech.caltech.edu/TECH/04_19_2007/article13.html"> The California Daily - April 19, 2007</a>

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Valerie Syverson

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2007-06-14

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Sara Hood

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Marissa Cevallos <tech@caltech.edu>
editor-in-chief, The California Daily

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Valerie Syverson, "News ghouls hit all the wrong notes," in The April 16 Archive, Item #522, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/522 (accessed November 27, 2014).