Point: Cut the Media Some Slack

There was no double standard in the Las Vegas shooting coverage
By: Chris Shea

Illustrator: Olivia Novotny

As the nation continues reeling from the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, some people argue that there is a double standard in how the media covered the event. More specifically, how the media portrayed the shooter, Stephen Paddock, after leaving 58 dead and 546 injured at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

The main complaint is how many major outlets “humanized” Paddock by portraying his violent act as an anomaly, labeling him as a “lone wolf” who did not fit the average profile of a mass shooter, rather than a domestic terrorist, which is typically the case with how the media portrays most white mass shooters.

Paddock definitely committed atrocious acts that were both unlawful and intimidating to the public, but we still do not know what his main motivations were.

After most mass shootings, a shooter’s reasons usually become clear after a couple of days. Normally some sort of manifesto is left, but Paddock flew under the radar. He avoided interaction with many people around him. All we really know is the little information we have from Paddock’s family and his girlfriend: He liked to gamble.

Authorities don’t know all that much, even after looking through Paddock’s computers and cell phones. Because his interaction with others around him was so low, it will still be a while until law enforcement can deduce why he did what he did. If Paddock was taken into custody, then we probably would not have this problem. But because he took his own life before police could arrest him, we are stuck wondering.

At the end of the day, this is simply editorial judgment on behalf of news outlets. Reporters themselves did an excellent job covering this tragic event. Journalists did essential work telling stories of survivors, first responders, and ordinary people who thought they would be attending a normal country music festival that day but ended up saving lives.

When you work in a 24-hour news cycle, any information is helpful, especially when you are on deadline.

If there were any information on Paddock’s motives and the media were to blatantly ignore it, then this type of coverage would definitely fit the double standard we typically see in how the media portrays white mass shooters, as opposed to shooters of color. Usually with non-white shooters, attention is brought to the past offenses of the shooter, possible motives are speculated, and the shooting is immediately labeled as an act of terror.  With white shooters, normally mental health is brought up, or the fact the shooter was a “lone wolf.” In Paddock’s case, all we know is that he acted alone and lived a reclusive life.

What Paddock did certainly fits the definition of domestic terrorism—there’s no doubt about that. But there’s no need to criticize how the media portrayed him. At the end of the day, it’s editorial judgment that determines what descriptive terms go into a story, and that judgment was right for all that was known of Paddock was that he was reclusive.

Counterpoint: Worst Mass Shooting in History

By: Morgan Benth

The number of times the headline “Worst Mass Shooting in History” has occurred during our lifetime is overwhelmingly disheartening. Although the media’s reporting is essential for informing the public, a substantial amount of its focus continues to be centered on the single perpetrator rather than the victims; this then puts an emphasis on the killer’s infamy while merely looping together all the victims into a single group.

Repeatedly covering information about shooters may pose an issue if potential perpetrators decide to emulate those who came before them—that can happen when shooters are constantly being discussed and their faces are repeatedly shown in the media. If those who hope to copycat the actions of a mass shooter cannot identify with one because their lives are not being sensationalized in the media, then these tragedies may be less likely to occur.

This concept is called contagion, and studies have shown that school shootings and other mass shootings are more likely to occur within 13 days of reports about a similar incident. That yields a dangerously small timeframe in which an even larger shooting could occur from someone seeking the same kind of infamy.

It is clear that the news media must still provide reports on these devastating events, but they need to do so with caution. Far too often journalists break ethical rules and impede on the lives of the traumatized and the grieving in search of new facts. Putting a camera and a microphone in someone’s face directly after they, or a loved one, experienced a near-death situation is incredibly inhumane.

Reporters also frequently show bias toward the average white male. In light of the Las Vegas shooting, many news outlets humanized the killer by depicting him as a local man and a “lone wolf” who lived a quiet life and enjoyed country music and gambling. The media rarely labels those who commit these tragedies for what they are: domestic terrorists. Instead his life is normalized in many reports to create the idea that mass shootings and the white men who carry them out do not coincide with the culture of gun violence and white privilege. In situations where the shooter is nonwhite, the media is quick to draw attention to their past offenses, possible motives, and label it as an act of terrorism, but the systemic thought that a white man does not fit the mold for a mass shooter is racism in action.

The sensationalism of mass shooters in the media is at the core of the problem perpetuating these disasters as well as media’s complacency of the privilege white shooters have over African-Americans, Muslim, or other ethnic groups. The media’s job is to inform the public, but that comes with a large responsibility to ensure that reporting makes unbiased judgments and does not continue this stream of tragedies.