Saturday, June 18, 2016

Has the media become overly self-referential?

Source: Shall Not Be Questioned
In the wake of the Orlando killings and the assassination of Britsh MP Jo Cox, there's been an awful lot of talk in the media (from both pundits and columnists, alike) about labels and lists. Glenn Greenwald—ever the bastion of rationality—is whining about the media not labeling Cox's assassin a "terrorist." And after the Orlando killings, other columnists busied themselves with pieces complaining about the incident being called "the worst mass shooting/killing" in U.S. history by people in the media, or about the lists of mass killings that fail to mention Indian massacres of the 19th century, the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, or the Rosewood Massacre of 1923.

This is what much of the 4th Estate was and is apparently concerned with: using the "right" label and compiling the "correct" list.

Lest dispense with Greenwald and his complaints, first. Newsflash, Glenn: you're a part of the media; call Cox's assassin a terrorist if that is what you think he is, if that is what you believe is the correct label. No one is stopping you. But what exactly is the consequence of other media sites not following your lead (to be sure, some are, both with regard to complaining about this like Greenwald, and with regard to not simply labeling the guy a terrorist)? I, for one, have no issue with the label. I'm not sure it's the best one, though. "Assassin" is better and more accurate, and "terrorist" can be subsumed within it (i.e., any assassination can also be a potential act of terrorism, but not the reverse).

And regardless, where exactly is Greenwald going with this complaint (aside from producing filler)? What's the benefit of convincing all other media sites to call the guy a terrorist? Hey, he's in custody and may still get charged with terrorism, but getting bent out of shape because he's just getting tagged as a murderer and an assassin? I don get it, since it's not like there's been this wave of attacks based on this guy's point of view. Maybe if there had been, I might grok Greenwald's complaint. A little. But right now? It's fairly empty-headed.

As to the issue of mass killings or mass shootings and Orlando being "the worst in U.S. history," the complaints on this are really bumming me out. I know my history and I know all about the Indian massacres of the 19th century, from Wounded Knee to Sand Creek. There's not much to say for many of these massacres; they were horrible, horrible things. Some occurred under the auspices of the U.S., State, or Territorial governments, some didn't. The largest ones, by and large, were military actions to some extent, heinous and unjustified (in my opinion) military actions, but military nonetheless. All of them deserve to be remembered and treated for what they are; as far as massacres go in U.S. history, these dominate any such list.

The Tulsa Race Riot of 192, while not military in the least, was a large scale event involving thousands of people on both "sides." At it's core, I think it best described as an incident wherein a good chunk of Tulsa's white community saw an opportunity to put the black community of the city to the torch, to display their racist points of view for all to see. As such, it has something in common with the Indian massacres (the overt racism), but it is most definitely its own thing. And given that there is no agreement on the number of deaths (estimates run a gamut from thirty to three hundred), it's tough to find a place for this incident in any list. The Rosewood Massacre is not much different, insofar as it was an action of a group of racist whites who put the all-black town of Rosewood, Florida to the torch, killing everyone whom they could in the process. Again, there is a less-than-clear death total, with it ranging from ten to over one hundred. And again, this incident belies placement on any lists, imo. It does require remembrance and acknowledgement, as a matter of course.

So what about the lists of mass shootings and killings that are all over the place, in the wake of Orlando? A simple look at these lists reveals that they are about single-shooter incidents (or in a few cases, a couple of shooters). There's no point in comparing them to Indian massacres or to massive race riots. They are different sorts of things. True enough, there is a common thread of hatred running through almost all of these things (thought the target of the hatred varies greatly), but mass murder (indeed, murder alone) of any sort tends to have that component. And note that what few of the complainers talk about is 9/11, which—as a mass killing—dwarfs all of these other events, from Wounded Knee, to Tulsa, to Orlando. The ones who do reference 9/11 explain it away as not counting because it was "foreign terrorists." For some reason, that's a valid qualifier, but no other ones—that might differentiate the massacres from the mass killings—are.

And that's really the simple line here: massacres versus mass killings. One might say it's pretty awful that we even need to make this distinction, but that can't be helped (as much as I might wish it could be). So given this plethora of horrible moments, what is the problem with a sensible division in this regard? And note too that not all incidents of mass killings (by one or two people) are absolutely known, thus the list of the same is weighted heavily towards more recent years. In contrast, the U.S. Government doesn't go around killing large numbers of Native Americans anymore, to make room room for settlers, new development, or the like. And as bad as race relations can sometimes still get, there's nothing going on approaching Tulsa or Rosewood these days (thank goodness).

The point is, not listing these events from the past—which are very different from single shooter killings, anyway you slice it—isn't an attempt to obscure the past, anymore than it's an attempt to "whitewash" that past (which is the term some dim-witted commentators are actually using). Media sites that highlight Orlando as the "worst mass shooting in U.S. history" aren't doing anything wrong, aren't being dishonest, aren't "whitewashing" the past.

But regardless, let's suppose that they were doing all of this, that past mass killings were being purposefully ignored. Who exactly would this be serving? Let's be honest: the people complaining about this are all on the Left and they have a burr under their saddle about Right-wing people being racists and homophobes. Yet in this case, the Orlando killings were predominantly of gay people at a gay nightclub, and they weren't all white. Even if they were, no one knew the racial breakdown in the beginning, but everyone (in the media) knew the killer was targeting gay people. The "whitewashing" claim just doesn't fit; it's nonsensical.

The whole angle of complaint here is thus nonsensical, insofar as there's no purpose being served that can be reasonably defended. It's an exercise is trying to subvert a tragedy in service to an unrelated agenda, and in my opinion, it's an ugly, ugly thing.

Beyond that, it also represents exactly what the Greenwald bit represents: elements of the media more concerned with navel-gazing than with what is actually going on in the world, with talking about themselves than with saying something meaningful about current events.

And maybe this is partially a consequence of the need to provide filler, to say something every minute of every day, to get those all-important viewers or clicks.

Me, I think it's mostly about just being intellectually lazy.

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