The Spectacle Blog

Arizona Shootings: ‘It Was a Colossal Failure of Journalism’

By on 1.9.11 | 9:24AM

That quote, from a commenter at my personal blog, described the effort of several news organizations to fabricate a connection between Jared Loughner's murderous rampage and the Tea Party and/or Sarah Palin.

Less than four hours transpired between the time the shootings occurred in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store and the time the Associated Press identified 22-year-old Loughner as the suspect. The first AP bulletin to identify him misspelled his name "Laughner," and another couple of hours passed while reporters, bloggers and amateur newshounds corrected the spelling and began to assemble enough background on Loughner to get some idea of what inspired this crime.

Jared Loughner is crazy.

That simple four-word sentence adequately summarizes Loughner's apparent motives. However, in the five or six hours between the shooting -- in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was among a dozen people wounded, and six people including a federal judge were killed -- some reporters apparently felt obligated to fill the information void with reporting that fed into a frenzy of political speculation.

Yes, it is a fact that Giffords was one of the Democrats on a "target" list of incumbents whom Sarah Palin opposed in the recent mid-term election. Yes, it is a fact that the election between Giffords and Republican Jesse Kelly was hotly contested, with Giffords winning by fewer than 4,000 votes. Yes, it is a fact that Kelly was supported by the Tea Party movement. Yes, it is a fact that immigration is a major political issue in Arizona.

All of those facts that were fed into online reports and TV news coverage were indisputably true. And all of those facts, it seems, were irrelevant to Loughner's bloody crime.

There is no evidence that Loughner was a Sarah Palin fan. There is no evidence that he was associated with the Tea Party or that he was concerned with immigration. Instead, there is a steadily growing heap of evidence that Jared Loughner was suffering from a mental illness, quite possibly paranoid schizophrenia.

One of Loughner's classmates in high school and community college, Caitie Parker, voided much of the baseless media speculation with a few Twitter messages Saturday afternoon. Parker, herself a liberal, said Loughner was "a really good friend," whom she described as having been "left wing," "a political radical" and "quite liberal" when she knew him, although she lost touch with him after 2007 when he "became very reclusive." Loughner was a "loner" and a "pot head," Parker said in a Twitter colloquy with Anthony De Rosa of Reuters.

There was clear evidence that Loughner's mental condition was deteriorating. "He disrupted class frequently with nonsensical outbursts," said one student who had attended a pre-algebra class at Pima Community College with Loughner. In mid-December, Loughner wrote on his MySpace page, "I don't feel good: I'm ready to kill a police officer!"

In his recent online activity -- including a series of YouTube video texts transcribed by conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston -- Loughner unloaded paranoid gibberish about brainwashing and "mind control." Loughner listed Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto among his favorite books. At one point in his ravings, apparently in reference to the "In God We Trust" motto on U.S. currency, he exclaimed: "No! I won't trust in God!"

None of this lines up with the early reporting on the Tucson shooting which heavily implied that Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot because of political activity of Palin and the Tea Party. And yet none of the news organizations that fed that frenzy of speculation has apologized for their irresponsible reporting.

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