Monday, October 23, 2017

Reporting on Mass Shootings: More Than Violence

Michaela Leach
John Locher - Debris left at the scene after the Las Vegas hooting

On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire over a Las Vegas concert venue, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. After committing the deadliest mass shooting in United States' history, Paddock turned the gun on himself in his Mandalay Bay hotel room, where authorities found him dead.

In the hours and days following the tragedy, both local and national media was in a frenzy. Once accurate facts were obtained, the media began profiling the man behind the gun, Stephen Paddock. Stephen Paddock was a retired white male, aged 64. Several media outlets described him as a man who enjoyed country music and gambling, a light description that others who have committed mass shootings would not receive.

The Washington Post published an article titled "Las Vegas Shooter Liked Gambling, Country Music" on October 2, just hours after Paddock inhumanely killed nearly 60 people. The article was later edited and is now titled "Who is Las Vegas Shooter Stephen Paddock" after receiving negative feedback for humanizing a man that was a nuisance to society.

The light in which the media portrays white killers is far different than the light that it portrays killers that are Muslim or killers of color. For example, in an article that profiled Omar Mateen, the man behind the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub in June of 2016, he was portrayed much differently.

To compare, in the article that profiled Stephen Paddock, his race was not mentioned. In the article that profiled Omar Mateen, it was almost immediately mentioned that he was of Afghan descent. Furthermore, in the profile of Paddock, it was mentioned that there was "nothing in his past that would suggest violence." In the profile of Mateen, previous acts of violence were described, including testimonies from his ex-wife explaining that he beat her during their marriage. It was also stated that Mateen could have had "radical influences" and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.

Facts such as the ones included in the profile of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen are certainly important to report. However, the problem lies within the way that white mass shooters are portrayed. White killers are humanized; they are never referred to as terrorists; they are considered "lone wolves."

The term lone wolf is used so frequently in reports of deadly violence executed by white males, that it has almost lost its meaning. To be described as a lone wolf in a situation such as this means, to have acted in full independence from one's race or religious affiliation. When a person of Muslim descent commits an act similar to Paddock, his or her entire religion is blamed. Similarly, when a person of color commits a violent act, his or her entire race is at fault.

Today, just three weeks following the Las Vegas shooting, the media coverage has died down. No new action has been taken and no new policies have been suggested. This may have been a different story had the person behind the gun been of a different race. Stephen Paddock is a mass shooter of equal evil as others who have committed similar violent crimes, and deserved to be portrayed in the same light, despite the inherited privilege he receives from being white. 

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