First off, I learned that I got off track on the way to making my point in Monday’s post. I was unhappy, but not surprised, that speculation about political influence as a motivation in the Tucson shootings was at the top of the agenda for every broadcast and cable network last weekend.
I think it is both natural and appropriate for us to wonder why someone would shoot 19 people in a grocery store parking lot, and it is a valuable service when journalists report what they’ve learned in their investigation. But it is irresponsible and inflammatory of you, Mr. Fourth Estate, to let us listen to your imagination while you work.
It is said that there are two things you don’t want to see being made: sausage and legislation; journalism makes it three things. If you don’t know something, say you don’t know—don’t then list all the speculative and unsubstantiated possibilities and rumors as if they all deserve equal and serious consideration…and certainly not at the point in time when you don’t even know the suspect’s name!
But, we need to say something to fill up the air time…no, you don’t. When you’re finished reporting what you know, stop talking—go to a commercial; go back to regular programming and break back in to recap or when you have something new to report. That need to fill time is one of the root causes of the decline in your standards and, as a result, the decline in the trust people put in you and your work.
Second, the capacity of the human body to withstand injury is just stunning. A bullet fired from close range forced its way through Gabrielle Giffords’ head from front to back, and although in critical condition a week later she is making a miraculous recovery—moving her extremities, responding to commands, and today the doctors removed her breathing tube.
Third, you can’t outsmart crazy. It seems clear that Jared Loughner didn’t open fire on the congresswoman and the crowd because of any perceived encouragement in the political speech of an elected official or candidate for office, or from radio or television entertainers; he’s mentally disturbed. We could debate whether Arizona’s gun control laws made it too easy for a mentally disturbed man to legally acquire a gun, or whether people who knew Loughner should have tried, or tried harder, to get him help for his mental illness, but people (crazy and otherwise) can get guns no matter what the law allows, and we don’t lock people up because of what we think they might do.
Last, we got off to a good start on a reasonably serious discussion about just what the hell it is that has people in this country so polarized about almost everything. I’ll pick it up there next time.