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 Gabby 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 13 wounded on Saturday.
The dead identified by the Pima County sheriff's office are: U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Dorthy Murray, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; Christina Greene, 9; Phyllis Scheck, 79; Gabe Zimmerman, 30. Ironically, 9 year old Christina Greene was born on September 11, 2001. She was 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 Rep Giffords’ to learn more about the political process. Along with Rep. Giffords, 12 others are still hospitalized.
The attempted assignation of the 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 13 people and wounded 30 others. Both shooters were struggling with mental issues. Automatic weapons were used to shoot innocent individuals. Both men were loners and many stated they acted weird and express anti-government sentiments. 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 he needed. Every mental health care professional and parents of mental patients have discussed mental healthcare 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 the United States Law Code, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” New evidence alleges that Loughner 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 e-mail 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, and 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.