The School Massacre: Rinse, Add Water, And Repeat

PAT PILCHER sets his sights on American media for not doing its job and getting stuck into the real issues around gun control.

 

After the latest mass shooting in Florida, it’s somewhat disheartening to see the same old tired tropes being wheeled out a media that should know better. As usual, the US media are adding confusion to the issue rather than generating informed debate.

The latest mass shooting took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen kids never made it home from school on Valentine’s Day. The grief and pain of parents, family and friends will take a very long time to heal, if ever.

If the shooting wasn’t shocking enough, the media circus that followed it has left many stunned.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that the media has become complacent about what they get served up as news reports. Given the role media plays in shaping public opinion, its woeful performance around this horrific situation should be a huge concern.

Here’s a potted summary of what happened:

Day 1 – Reports of a shooting massacre emerge on US TV channels, which gets followed by online updates and print.

Day 2 – A Presidential speech goes to air about how dreadful the shooting is. It’s peppered with empty statement about prayers for the victims and their families. No mention gets made of a need for gun law reform in the US.

Day 3 – Pundits are followed by yet more pundits on TV, newspapers and radio. Each offers opinions, many backed by little in the way of verifiable fact. The media unquestioningly presents this as expert opinion.

Several things leap out with this media cycle:

1) We should get angry that mass shootings get treated as a routine story. That mass shootings seem to be a weekly fixture in US society is a huge issue. Something is really seriously wrong. This fact isn’t talked about in any meaningful way.

2) Trump offering prayers is about as effective as a fart in a tornado. He could choose to talk about gun law reform but offered prayers. Not helpful. And then later, came up with the astonishing, sick idea that teachers become weapons experts and arm themselves.

3) The blame-game. It is incredible just how easy it is for PR from the gun lobby to throw spanners into the media machine from behind the scenes. Derailing debate around gun law reform seems to be as easy as getting a so-called expert to give pro gun opinions and to cast doubt on calls for gun reforms. This has diverted post-shooting media coverage away from discussion around changes to gun laws to finger pointing and blame. Now it seems that the big topic of discussion is mental illness and firearms. In another 60 or so days more kids will die. The media circus will continue. Rinse, add water and repeat. Sigh.

The failure of media to do their bit around this issue is obvious when you consider the role of media in a functioning (or in America’s case, a dysfunctional) democracy.

The media is often referred to as the Fourth Estate. This refers to its indirect but significant influence on wider society. The term Fourth Estate is an add-on to an even older concept of the Three Estates of the realm. These consisted of the church/clergy, nobility, and commoners. Edmund Burke coined the term in a parliamentary debate back in 1787.

Any newsroom editor who is good at their job should grow a pair and call out the NRA for its frankly shocking rhetoric. Offering prayers is a nice sentiment but it changes nothing. With mass shootings happening on average every 60 days in the USA, I’d be sending my kids to school in body armour and breaking out in a cold sweat until they got home. That’s no way to live.

By now you’d think the media would see how futile finger pointing and the blame game thing is. Debating mental health and firearms won’t stop mass shootings happening. Yet over the last week this debate has dominated media conversation. The sheep-like thoughtlessness of this is woeful. Now is the time to ignore the noise and to focus on generating real debate about what needs to change with firearm laws, and then following it up with some much-needed action.

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