The tragic shootings in Tuscon, Arizona, have left our country shaken to the core. I sat glued to my television on Saturday afternoon, flipping channels as I soaked up the coverage. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was originally pronounced dead by several media outlets, but she miraculously survived a gunshot to the head by gunman Jared Lee Loughner. Representative Giffords was holding her regular “Congress on Your Corner” with her constituents at a Safeway grocery store. Six were killed and thirteen were wounded on Saturday.
The dead identified by the Pima County sheriff’s office are U.S. District Judge John Roll, sixty-three; Dorothy Murray, seventy-six; Dorwin Stoddard, seventy-six; Christina Greene, nine; Phyllis Scheck, seventy-nine; Gabe Zimmerman, thirty. Ironically, nine-year-old Christina Greene was born on September 11, 2001. She had been excited about the political process since the election of President Obama. Christina was newly elected to her school’s student council. She went with her neighbor to meet Representative Giffords, and to learn more about the political process. Along with Representative Giffords, twelve others are still hospitalized.
The attempted assassination of Representative Giffords is very similar to the Fort Hood, Texas, mass shooting that took place on November 5, 2009. A gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, killed thirteen people and wounded thirty others. Both shooters were struggling with mental issues. Automatic weapons were used both times to shoot innocent individuals. Both men were loners, and many stated they acted weird and express anti-government sentiments prior to the shootings. Thankfully, Jared Lee Loughner was denied acceptance into the army because of drug use, and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, was becoming increasing agitated by an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Both men committed unthinkable acts, but one glaring difference between the two is the how the media has depicted both men. Major Nidal Malik Hasan was called a terrorist from day one. Terrorist experts and military talking heads saturated the networks discussing Hasan minutes after the shootings were reported at Fort Hood. Jared Lee Loughner has been painted as a “troubled youth” who did not get the mental health care he needed. Every mental health care professional, and each parent of a mental patient have discussed mental health care issues while the media has pondered what could have added to his “stressful” life. Not one cable talking head has called him what he is: a deranged terrorist.
According to U.S. law, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” New evidence alleges that Loughner had possibly planned for years to assassinate Gifford. But a whole host of major media outlets seem to disagree.
Cord Jefferson helps us take a look at what other media outlets are reporting and the language that is noticeable absent.
The Wall Street Journal stated Loughner “raged against the government” and “discussed terrorism,” which, when you actually think about it, is a vague, nearly meaningless sentence (since 9/11, everyone has talked about terrorism). In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the main story is that Loughner was denied entry into the military because he failed a drug test, while the only talk of terrorism comes in a confusing quote from a blog posting from Loughner himself: “If you call me a terrorist, then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem.” And, in the Los Angeles Times lead story on Loughner on Tuesday, the word “terror” doesn’t appear once.
Compare this nebulous coverage to that on Nidal Malik Hasan in November 2009. Hasan is Muslim—a fact every news outlet would not let you forget while speculating about his terrorist ties.
Four days after the attack on Fort Hood, the Wall Street Journal published two stories suggesting that Hasan was a terrorist—one of which included the assertion that it was a terrorist act because Hasan spoke Arabic while he shot. The Los Angeles Times spoke to counter-terrorism experts for an article on Hasan. And, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, blogger Kyle Wingfield actually gave credence to a Forbes argument claiming that Hasan “went Muslim.”
Some will argue that Hasan’s terrorist intentions were proved by communications he had with radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, but, in fact, experts who reviewed the pair’s email exchange deemed it totally innocuous.
It should be noted that the FBI Director Robert Mueller has said he’s not ruling out terrorism charges against Loughner, but nothing’s certain yet. In Dubai, Hillary Clinton called Loughner an “extremist,” though, like the media, she stopped short of calling him a terrorist. From the sidelines, the message this sends is pretty obvious and very insidious: When a white man executes a political attack, he’s likely crazy. If he’s black, he’s a dropout from a single-mom home with an incarcerated father. When it’s a Muslim doing the shooting, he’s a terrorist.
Folks must call the Arizona shootings exactly what they are: acts of terrorism. Whether the shooter is white, black, or brown, equal scrutiny should be given to a person who commits crimes of this nature. A person’s religion and the length of his name should not determine how the crime is reported. A terrorist is a terrorist. Because many allow the media to shape their thoughts and drive the conversation, the media helps facilitate racial flames at its leisure. The political pundits are carefully picked for their skills at stroking the audiences depending on what outlet you watch. Dumb pundits are chosen to play down a point, and hateful pundits are picked to create more intolerance. They play us like puppets. People of color must not allow the media to soft ball crimes contributed by white terrorists. White people must see that Jared Lee Loughner is what he is: a terrorist. He should be discussed just like Nidal Malik Hasan or Nene’s son who robbed the corner liquor store. As a country, we should take a serious look at the actions of the media and the political atmosphere that they profit from that may have fueled the actions of a crazed man’s terrorist acts.