"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Giving Killers Coverage, Not Platforms”: Perpetuating A Culture In Which Violence Is Rewarded With Notoriety

The stone-faced young man stood on the sidewalk last week near Union Square holding a large, hand-lettered sign on a hot-pink piece of poster board. It read: “I deserve hot blonde women.” I wondered if this could be an ironic piece of feminist political commentary or if it was intended to seem hostile.

In any case, it was clearly inspired by the shooting near the University of California at Santa Barbara about a week before. The killer, Elliot Rodger, set out to target beautiful young women, he said, because they had rejected him sexually.

But it’s a far more extreme kind of “inspiration” that worries Ari Schulman, who thinks and writes about the effect of media coverage of mass shootings. After The Times posted both the 141-page written manifesto and a video statement issued by the California gunman last week, Mr. Schulman wrote to me. He made the case that publishing those statements — which he sees as a form of propaganda — perpetuates a culture in which violence is rewarded with notoriety.

“There’s an unspoken agreement that if you are frustrated and angry, that all you have to do to get your feelings broadcast is to kill a lot of people,” Mr. Schulman, the executive editor of The New Atlantis, a quarterly journal devoted to technology and society, told me in a later interview. He spoke of a “conscious copycat effect” that can be seen in the string of mass killings, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Newtown, Conn.

The media, he says, “have been nearly perfect participants” in the “ritualistic response” that incentivizes these horrific episodes. It’s past time, he believes, to rethink that and to change it.

He was not alone, among Times readers, in considering this question. I heard from a Hunter College professor, Steven M. Gorelick, who wrote that he wondered “what might have gone into the decision by The Times to post the chilling video made by Mr. Rodger before he went on his killing rampage.” He wondered whether this was “a simple case of the public’s right to know, or whether there was any substantive discussion about any kind of possible negative impact that posting the video might have had.”

For most journalists, the instinct to publish what they know — rather than to hold back — is a strong one. Yet nearly every article reflects judgments and decisions about what to use and what not to use.

Unlike many news outlets, The Times did not cast the video and written statements in a sensational light — but it did publish them.

Kelly McBride, who writes about journalism ethics, believes “there’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.” But, she recommended in a piece for, “don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document.”

Mr. Schulman sees a different middle ground, he says. The barrier to publication of these documents and videos should be higher, and the media attention paid to them far less — “maybe no more than a passing mention that it exists.”

And The Times wrote a story last December about people in Colorado who, based on similar thinking, want the media to stop publishing even the names of mass killers. Their idea — more extreme than Mr. Schulman’s proposal — has gained some traction. 

I talked to The Times’s national editor, Alison Mitchell, about the issue. She told me that decisions about whether to use this kind of material are not made lightly.

“In every one of these cases, we think about it. It comes under a lot of discussion, and is not done reflexively,” she said. In this case, the video and manifesto were so integral to understanding the motivation for the crimes, she said, “we would have very consciously not have been telling a big part of the story.”

Times readers “want to see and judge for themselves,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It’s a disservice to try to shield them.”

As a lifelong journalist, my instincts, predictably enough, line up with Ms. Mitchell’s. In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public.

When I started writing this column, I had the notion of leaving out Mr. Rodger’s name. But it proved impossible, just as, however appealing it might be, it would be impossible for news organizations to leave out the names of other mass killers.

I find Mr. Schulman’s reasoning thought provoking, though. Many factors enter into these outbursts of violence: gun availability, mental illness, sometimes misogyny, and more. Media attention is undeniably one of them. And the idea of playing down a killer’s “manifesto” is, at the very least, worth consideration, on a case-by-case basis. We may have no choice but to name the killers, but we are not obligated to provide a platform for every one of their twisted views.


By: Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor, The New York Times, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Does Shinseki’s Resignation Change?”: Disappointing Republican Leaders With Big Plans For This Scandal

One of the more common developments inside the Beltway in recent years is seeing congressional Republicans call for various members of President Obama’s cabinet to resign. It’s become so routine, it’s almost as if GOP lawmakers consider it part of their daily routine: wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, and call for the Secretary of Whatever to step down immediately.

But as the tide turned quickly against Eric Shinseki at the Department of Veterans Affairs, House Republican leaders bit their tongues this week, refusing to call for his ouster. It became pretty odd – many of Obama’s close Democratic allies demanded the secretary’s resignation, even as John Boehner and Eric Cantor did not.

Was this because GOP leaders wanted to give the White House a break? Um, no. Was it the result of Republicans’ deep respect and admiration for Shinseki, a true patriot? That’s a nice thought, but that’s not what happened, either.

Instead, consider the response to Shinseki’s resignation.

House Speaker John Boehner said Friday that the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki “really changes nothing” to fix systemic problems at the department, calling on President Barack Obama to take further action to address system-wide mismanagement.

“One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over” problems at the VA, he told reporters after President Barack Obama accepted Shinseki’s resignation Friday morning.

As recently as yesterday, the Ohio Republican told reporters, “The question I ask myself: Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? The answer I keep getting is no.”

It’s important to understand Boehner’s likely motivations here.

What Republicans leaders want is to blame President Obama for the controversy. Substantively, that’s not an easy sell – as Mariah Blake makes clear today, much of what plagues the VA started under the Bush/Cheney administration – but there’s an election coming up, and none of the issues GOP officials hoped to run on are going the way Republicans hoped.

What does this have to do with Shinseki’s ouster? Probably everything.

Inside the Beltway, there was an overwhelming demand that Obama “do something” and not let this story linger any longer. Boehner, however, likely wanted the opposite: White House inaction, more delays, and a controversy that lingers indefinitely.

Many on the right may have cheered today’s announcement, but in no way does this advance a partisan goal. The VA system hasn’t been working, so the president is replacing the head of the VA system with someone who’ll hopefully do a better job. This doesn’t help Boehner at all, which is why he was so quick to say the news “really changes nothing” – the Speaker is probably concerned attention will now shift now that the embattled Shinseki is leaving the stage.

And even putting partisan motivations aside, substantively, Boehner arguably has a credible point. The VA mess will be no better this evening than it was this morning. A cabinet secretary is gone, but the problem that forced him out remains.

If the political world decides to move on, it will disappoint Republican leaders with big plans for this scandal, but it will also do a disservice to veterans who continue to wait for a solution.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | John Boehner, Veterans Administration | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dissent And Violence”: Where Terrorists And Assassins Don’t Hide

At the end of last week, I wrote about a report showing how law enforcement authorities reacted to Occupy protests as if they were the advance guard for an al Qaeda invasion of America, on the apparent assumption that unlike non-violent right-wing dissent, non-violent left-wing dissent is likely a prelude to violence and thus must be met with surveillance, infiltration, and ultimately force. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on a case involving the Secret Service that seems to grow from a similar assumption about the connection between dissent and violence.

The case was about an incident in 2004 when President George W. Bush stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Oregon. A crowd quickly formed, with some people cheering Bush and some jeering him. The Secret Service forced both groups away from the location, but let the pro-Bush citizens stay closer than the anti-Bush citizens; the plaintiffs charged that this was impermissible viewpoint discrimination. The Court ruled 9-0 that the Secret Service acted reasonably to protect the president. Having read the decision, I don’t necessarily disagree with their reasoning—a lot of it turned on things like lines of sight to where the president was sitting from different corners in the area. But I’d be shocked if the agents involved weren’t particularly on their guard when the anti-Bush protesters showed up.

What we ought to question is the assumption that there’s any connection at all between the content of a non-violent protest and the potential for premeditated violence, particularly of the really dangerous kind, like terrorist attacks and attempts to assassinate the president. If you have two groups of people yelling at the president, and one group is saying “You’re great!” while the other group says “You suck!”, is there any higher probability that a threat to the president’s life will come from the second group than the first? The answer is, of course not. If someone wanted to assassinate the president, they would have no reason to seek out a bunch of protesters opposing that president to use as a cover. They’d want to get close enough to fire a shot, and it wouldn’t matter what the people among whom they hid would be saying.

That’s true despite whatever intuitive sense one might have that people who are opposed to the president might want to assassinate him. There’s a belief not just that anti-government violence exists on the same spectrum as peaceful protest, but that at any given moment, such violence is a potential outgrowth of such protest. And more: that people planning violence will incorporate peaceful protest into their plans.

That assumption leads to things like the Department of Defense spying on Quaker anti-war protesters during the Iraq war. Think about how nuts that is. The anti-terrorism officials whom we charge with our safety actually seemed to believe that al Qaeda would send a cell to America with plans to launch a major attack, and instruct them: “The week before zero hour, make sure you go to an anti-war rally. Make a sign that says ‘Bush Is the Real Terrorist.’ That will lay the groundwork for the explosion.”

Again, this case about the Secret Service was probably rightly decided, but the belief that terrorism, bombings, assassinations, and/or general violent mayhem are the potential result of every left-wing protest is absolutely common among law enforcement authorities at every level of government. It isn’t just factually wrong, it’s actually dangerous—to the people who end up having their rights violated, and to the country’s safety.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 29, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Public Safety | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Misogyny Crosses Lines Of Race And Culture”: Elliot Rodger’s Half-White Male Privilege

The widespread recognition that Elliot Rodger’s killing spree was the tragic result of misogyny and male entitlement has been a little bit surprising, and encouraging. Why, then, has it been so hard to get his race right?

From the left, headlines (including on Salon) have labeled him “white,” though most stories at least nodded to his Asian heritage (his mother was ethnic Chinese Malaysian). Chauncey DeVega’s fascinating piece on Rodger’s crime as evidence of “aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome,” a malady that includes other white male mass killers from Columbine’s Eric Klebold to Newtown’s Adam Lanza, didn’t mention his status as half-Asian.

When commentators noted the omission, DeVega (whose work I admire) doubled down in a follow-up piece,“Yes, Elliot Rodger is white!” He argued that Rodger “constructed an identity for himself as ‘Eurasian’ and proceeded to internalize American society’s cues and lessons about power, privilege, race, and gender. He then lived out his own particular understanding of what it means to be white and male in the United States.”

Not that I have a lot of sympathy for Rodger, but it twists his already twisted story to label him simply white.

Predictably, the right is having a lot of fun with progressives’ calling Rodger white, because denying Rodger whiteness gives them another reason to deny white male privilege entirely. Meanwhile, the wingnut white supremacists over at the New Observer are calling the Isla Vista killings an anti-white “hate crime,” ignoring that its first three victims were Rodger’s three male roommates, who were of Asian descent. It won’t be long until Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity join that party.

Why is it so hard to recognize Rodger as of mixed racial descent? It certainly doesn’t negate the role white entitlement and privilege played in his “syndrome.” Rodger is at least partly a victim of the ideology of white supremacy, as well as its violent enforcer. He struggled with his status as half-Asian, writing “I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian.”

Elsewhere he explains:

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them.

He dyed his hair blond, trying to fit in, but the dye job left him with blond tips and black roots, a sad metaphor for a racial mixture he couldn’t accept.

Merely labeling Rodger white, and his problem one of “white privilege,” also obscures the role of class in heightening his toxic sense of entitlement. He wondered: Why would “an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am descended from British aristocracy.” He believed his aristocratic background, his gorgeous home, his Armani shirts, Hugo Boss shoes, and shiny BMW – not just his race — entitled him to blond women. He even had a narcissistic mantra he said to himself to boost his confidence: “I am the image of beauty and supremacy.”

Of course he saw a racial hierarchy where he, being half-white, is near the very top of the pyramid, below white men but, as half Asian, still above every other race and racial mix. He degrades “full Asian” men as “disgusting” and mocks them for not being half-white like him. Then he’s aghast when he sees “this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage … How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?” Every attempt to “explain” his isolation and loneliness unravels. There is only one explanation: the evil of beautiful, blond white girls.

Asian and mixed-race writers and scholars are beginning to chafe at the erasure of Rodger’s multiracial heritage. “His anti-Asian self-hate,” Sam Louie writes, “was evident when he wrote of his two Asian roommates. ‘These were the biggest nerds I had ever seen, and they were both very ugly with annoying voices.’” Calling them “repulsive” and “idiots,” Rodger even suggests in his manifesto that their race played a role in their murder. “If they were pleasant to live with, I would regret having to kill them, but due to their behavior I now had no regrets about such a prospect. In fact, I’d even enjoy stabbing them both to death while they slept.”

In the New Republic, Hua Hsu wondered why the media was so quick to label Rodger “the white guy killer” and ignore his Asian heritage. “Perhaps, in this reading, he was not a benefactor of ‘white privilege and entitlement’ but someone vexed by its seeming elusiveness.”

“The media, as usual, has oversimplified his identity and experience of race in typically binary terms, which miss the complex nuances and grey areas of that identity and experience,” University of California, Santa Barbara, sociology professor G. Reginald Daniel told me via email. (Daniel is also the editor in chief of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies.) “My feeling is that some of his many issues are related in part to his struggles with or questions about how ‘white’ he was or was not allowed or perceived to be.”

This is not to suggest that mixed-race people suffer from emotional problems (aside from the fact that all humans do). That’s a danger, because people of mixed racial descent have long been stigmatized as unhappy or somehow lacking, going back to the awful “tragic mulatto” stereotype. “He had some really serious and deeply clinical mental anguish beyond these concerns [of identity],” writes Daniel, who has long argued against notions (found among people of all races) that all mixed-race Americans are somehow troubled or racially untethered.

The Rodger coverage underscores that our traditional American black-white, victim-victimizer view of  American race relations is failing us in a world where Asians are the fastest-growing “minority” and Latinos the largest. Dismissing Rodger as white implies that Asians can’t be racist on their own, that it was only his white half that made him hate black people and Mexicans. Labeling him Asian, or making the preposterous suggestion that he committed an anti-white hate crime, ignores that he was both the prisoner of white entitlement and supremacy as well as its avatar.

To suggest that other races and other cultures don’t treat women as property is to miss how prevalent that attitude is. Sadly, misogyny and male entitlement come in every color and culture.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Mass Shootings, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“McConnell’s Obamacare Policy”: Repeal It, Then Immediately Reinstate The Whole Damn Thing

I think there’s one way, and only one way, to interpret Mitch McConnell’s position on the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky, and last night the Washington Post’s fact checker confirmed it. McConnell wants to repeal the Medicaid expansion (along with the rest of Obamacare) and then let the people who run the state of Kentucky (i.e. people other than him) decide whether to reinstate it, and pay for it out of state coffers.

That’s a difficult position to support, which explains why his campaign obscures it behind a bunch of rambling designed to convince people (including very politically savvy people) that McConnell has come around to supporting the Medicaid expansion.

But it’s actually identical to his position on Kynect—the state’s health insurance exchange—and perhaps he’ll apply it to other integral parts of Obamacare as well. As a general matter it amounts to arguing that Obamacare should be repealed, and then reinstated in full at the state level. But that’s a total fantasy.

When Obamacare is repealed, the funding Kynect relies upon, as well as the health plans and rules that make it a popular and widely used portal, will disappear as well. No biggie, says McConnell. Once they’re gone, the state can decide whether it wants to reinstitute those things on its own.

But of course, as with Medicaid expansion, it’s almost impossible to imagine states riding to the rescue of those harmed by Obamacare’s repeal. Running the exchange is fairly expensive on its own, but its costs would dwarfed by the resources required to recreate the actual market Obamacare has created in Kentucky. Remember, Kentucky flirted with creating Obamacare’s coverage guarantee without creating any incentives for everyone to purchase insurance. No mandate, no subsidies. And the system predictably collapsed. But it’s unlikely that Kentucky could afford to reinstate ACA-style subsidies on its own. And without them, the plans will be too expensive to justify a mandate. And so under McConnell’s policy, Kentucky’s newly insured would be left with nothing.

The idea that ACA politics are gruesome for Democrats is so deeply ingrained in the national media’s belief system that it won’t be shaken loose by McConnell’s dissembling alone. But if it were true, why would Republicans across the country be hiding their true views about Obamacare behind the word “fix”? Why would any Republicans, let alone the Senate GOP leader, be saying they want to get rid of everything Obamacare does except the things it does in their own states?


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 30, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: