The Media Rhetoric of a Mass Shooting

Via Gawker
Via Gawker

The San Bernardino shooting yesterday became the 355th mass shooting in the United States this year. As we enter the second day of news coverage about this horrific event, the typical narrative surrounding a mass shooting is significantly different than the coverage of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting, the Umpqua Community College shooting, the Charleston church shooting . (How depressing is it that we know exactly how the standard media narrative following a mass shooting the U.S. will play out?)

But pay attention to how the media will frame the San Bernardino shooting. As more information comes to light about the shooters, we will dealing with a completely different story. I was watching CNN last night just as Don Lemon and co. became convinced it wasn’t just another mass shooting but rather an act of terrorism. Following the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, this rhetorical shift is dangerous.

Whatever the reasons behind the shooting, two contradictory perspectives cannot be effectively balanced in the media. There can be no nuanced discussions about any of the many issues that come into play (gun control, mental health, anti-terrorism) when a mass shooting happens. 

It’s either an act of terrorism or just another mass shooting. It’s just another mass shooting followed by a call for more gun control but never a prolonged discussion about mental health in the United States. The Colorado Springs shooting last week can be another mass shooting but it has nothing to do with the right’s attacks against Planned Parenthood. The Charleston shooting was just another mass shooting but not the act of a white supremacist.

The result: public fear and in the case of the San Bernardino shooting, an anti-Muslim rhetoric that will only harm innocent people.

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