Friday, January 13, 2017

A Viewers Guide to Mass Shootings

There's an old adage that says that it's an ill wind that blows no good. In other words, events have to be pretty terrible if nobody is advantaged.  And so it is with terrorist or mass shooting attacks, where executives at all the major news channels wait impatiently (yet silently) for the next suicide bombing, mass shooting, bomb or runaway truck in order to take advantage of the public's gruesome interest, which can goose ratings by a factor of up to eight.

As in real estate, location, location, location is what counts. The closer to home the attack, the higher the interest and that fact even trumps the number of casualties.
Of course attacks in the United States are number one in ratings, but surprisingly Canada rates highly, even for American networks.
CNN went live with wall to wall coverage of the shooting run of the lone nut case in Ottawa, who led police on a merry chase across Parliament Hill after killing one soldier before being shot to death himself.
As attacks go, it was relatively tiny affair with just one victim, but the coverage was huge!
(By the way, I say the above with respect to the family of the victim, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, whose family certainly view the event differently)

And so North American incidents get huge coverage, Europe second, after which things fade rather quickly. Here is my impromptu list of importance in terms of media attention.

5 Stars; North America
4 Stars;. Western Europe/Australia/New Zealand
3 Stars; Israel/Russia/Turkey/China
2 Stars; India / Africa / Asia
0 Stars; Last and certainly of the least interest to the media is a terrorist act in any Muslim country where there are so many attacks that the media doesn't even consider it news.
In the few days following the Fort Lauderdale attack, over 100 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Muslim countries and not once did North American news channels deem it useful to cut to live reporting.

At any rate, here are things you might consider when tuning into coverage of the next terrorist or mass shooting incident on TV.
News anchors who seem eminently competent, clever and up to date when reading from teleprompters, melt into the blithering idiots that most of them are in real life, when faced with ad-libbing real time events.
I offer for example the dimmest of the dim, Wolf Blitzer of CNN who could probably not compete with high schoolers on Jeopardy.
On his two appearances on that quiz show he made quite the fool of himself unable to answer the simplest of questions. Watch this short video, cringe and remember that he is responsible for analyzing and telling what is going on in a mass shooting situation.

When it comes to providing us we fair and responsible reporting Wolf, along with Anderson Cooper (another Jeopardy failure)  and other talking heads fail miserably, their off the cuff commentary punctuated by wild speculation, false reports and information that turns out to be dead wrong, breaking just about every journalistic and broadcast standard.
For example, the last major mass shooting incident in Fort Lauderdale had every single network telling us that shooter arrived aboard a Canadian flight with a checked hand gun in his luggage.
I almost fell out of my sofa  laughing at the stupidity of the idea. Did anyone at any of the news organizations have a clue about Canadian gun laws?
This false reporting went on for hours, long after Canadian airlines vehemently denied that the shooter arrived on a Canadian flight or had any connection to Canada at all.
This type of nonsense reporting goes on all the time during live coverage of unfolding events, so as an informed viewer, it is prudent to ignore or at least view skeptically what is being said in the heat of the moment.

Inevitably shortly after the shooting incident occurs and after the perpetrator is killed or captured, panicked bystanders will invariably report another sighting of a second or even third fictitious shooter, sending police into a frenzy and news channels into overdrive.
This happens every time, I mean it, every time, despite the fact that in the eight years of the Obama administration where there were about 200 mass shootings where more than four people died, only 13 were terrorist acts with only two of those involving two perpetrators (San Bernadino and the Boston marathon bombing.)
In the Ottawa attack, at least two other shooters were declared, long after the actual killer was taken down. At Dawson college up to five gunmen were reported. Of course there was only one as was the case in Fort Lauderdale and in just about every mass shooting in North America.

For this mistake you might blame panic and frayed nerves and sometimes even the actions of the police themselves. In Montreal's Dawson College attack plain clothed policemen with drawn guns running down the street were quite understandably confused and reported as bad guys.

Israel, much more familiar with terrorism and mass shooting have figured out a solution to the problem.
Plain-clothed police and security officers keep a fold-up hat in their pocket, which in times of need are popped on the head, clearly defining the wearer as good guys.
How's that for a two-dollar solution!

Another thing news coverage won't ever comment upon is the police reaction to the incident or lack thereof.
Now police react in a timely and efficient manner most of the time, but certainly not always. But when police do screw up, the media usually reacts with stony silence, for whatever reason which I cannot fathom.
Take for example the dismal performance of the Orlando police in the mass shooting incident that killed 50 and injured 53 at the Pulse nightclub last June.
In the best take down I've read, it is a humble blogger who best described the Orlando police incompetence or cowardice.
Read the aptly headlined: When seconds counted, the police were only three hours away.

It was the mass shooting at École Polytechnique  in Montreal in 1989 that has become the textbook example of what police should not do in a mass shooting.  Back then, when police arrived on the scene they set up a perimeter, waiting for SWAT to arrive while the killer was calmly shooting his victims inside the school.
It seemed that Orlando police followed that same protocol with disastrous effect.
At least the Montreal police learned their lesson and redeemed themselves at the Dawson college incident, seventeen years later where two passing patrol officers bravely rushed into the school pursued and confronted the shooter, effectively ending the rampage, when the shooter committed suicide rather than face the police. Sadly one student was killed but it was the superb reaction by police which averted a larger disaster.  BRAVO!

For those of you thinking that we amateurs can't judge police actions, I am reminded of the comedian who told a heckler that he didn't need a pilot's license to know that the pilot who crashed his helicopter into a tree, screwed up bigt ime.
A long tradition in mass shootings is the vast over-reaction by police. Long after the scene has been secured, the shooter captured or killed, police continue to lock down the scene for hours with hundreds of heavily armed police sequestering bystanders, an action akin to closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Terrorist versus Nutcase
With every mass shooting, news channels immediately raise the spectre of terrorism simply because it makes for much bigger ratings.
Of the 372 mass shootings (yes, more than one a day) in the United States in 2016, only four can be attributed to terrorism and of those terrorist acts , none included a second perpetrator.
In fact during Obama's entire eight year term only two of the fourteen terrorist acts included a second assailant.
It is important to understand that when an American Christian conducts a mass shooting, terrorism is never suggested, but when a Muslim is the shooter, terrorism and jihad is always evoked, even though motives are sometimes more complicated.
So when you flip the TV on in response to a mass shooting in America, it is safe to assume it is the act of a deranged person and not a terrorist, despite what the news channels are hinting at.

To sum up it might be convenient to remember a few things about mass shootings/ terror attacks.
  1. If the shooting happens in North America, there's a 98% chance it is the act of a deranged individual.
  2. If the shooting happens in North America, reports of mystery second shooters are almost always false. There is about  only about 1 chance in 90 that there is a second shooter.
  3. Terrorists don't generally use guns. Real terrorists go for mass casualties.
  4. Not all Muslim shooters are terrorists, some are just nut cases even when they invoke jihadi language.
  5. The police will always over-react.
  6. Early reports on CNN and other news channels will invariably contain a wealth of false information.
And with that, perhaps you can watch coverage of the next mass shooting with a practised and critical eye.
I would hope that you wouldn't have to put in practice what you might have learned here, but statistics predict that the next mass shooting is due tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. Eye witness reports of the SanBeradino shooting stated that three large men were involved not a tiny woman and her husband (who were executed after a car chase).