The Ugly Mindset That Led Denver Post to Sanitize Arapahoe Shooter’s Political Beliefs
Rothman: Ugly Mindset Led Denver Post to Sanitize Arapahoe Shooter's Political Beliefs
It’s a story that has become sadly familiar to most Americans: A disturbed individual wrestling with the frustrated confusion of youth acts out violently in order to account for perceived insult. This time, the gunman was an Arapahoe High School student and his target, who fortunately escaped, was his debate coach. The shooter did, however, gravely wound a fellow student before taking his own life.
The press and the public regularly take the opportunity of events like these to delve into the psyche of the deranged mass shooter. In spite of the regular admonitions offered by mental health professionals who warn that building cults of personality around shooters can create incentives for other troubled kids to follow in their example, the press cannot help but examine the mind of an enigmatic figure like a mass shooter.
This most recent event is no exception. On Friday, the Denver Post published a piece in which they delved into the shooter’s outspokenness regarding his political beliefs. A number of students talked to the Post about the shooters left-leaning political philosophy, his desire to see stricter federal gun regulations, his regular mockery of Republican officeholders, and his devotion to “Keynesian,” demand-side economics.
The Denver Post saw fit to print all of this, as well as one student who said the shooter identified as a “socialist.” This statement was, however, retroactively deemed by the Post’s editors to have been too inflammatory. The shorthand descriptor was stealth-edited out of the story with no explanation. The shooter evolved from a “very opinionated socialist” to simply “very opinionated.” “Opinionated” about what? Well, the reader is left to put the pieces together himself.
This was not an unsupported bit of reporting. The Associated Press backed up the Post’s findings. “Students said Pierson held communist views and liked to discuss current events and issues, offering his own solutions,” the AP reported. “None said Pierson was bullied for his beliefs.”
When confronted about the decision to stealthily cleanse the piece on this shooter’s politics, Denver Post senior editor Lee Ann Colacioppo revealed a particularly insidious mindset behind the decision: “We decided not to have another student apply a label to the shooter — a label the student likely didn’t even understand,” she wrote.
So, the shooter can have vivid and informed opinions on gun laws, on policy debates in Washington, and on arcane economic theories, but the term “socialist” is far too complex a notion for a high school student to grasp? If Colacioppo thought this admission would shed light on her perfectly defensible logic, she accomplished precisely the opposite effect.
Colacioppo could not possibly believe that the concept of socialism, a philosophy far less complex than monetary theory, truly eluded the subject. But the “socialist” label was more likely to be picked up in conservative blogs and cited by unscrupulous commentators in their ongoing efforts to attack an ideology with which they disagree. This, one suspects, was a more acute factor motivating the Post to alter a source’s quote without explanation.
Of course, it is necessary to state for the record that a deranged lunatic’s political beliefs do not, outside of a declared terrorist action, have anything to do with their murderous actions. It is a sad commentary on modern state of affairs that this assertion must even be clarified. But no one forced the Denver Post to examine the shooter’s political beliefs; they engaged in this process honestly and then, when their editors did not like what they discovered, sanitized their own findings.
Conservatives have largely become inured to the press preemptively attacking their ideology whenever a gunman opens fire on innocents. Ace of Spades blogger Gabriel Malor has demonstrated how, 12 times since 2009, the kneejerk reaction from media figures and politicians is to blame a conservative ideology for incidents of violence. In each and every one of these incidents, the shooter in question had no identifiable right-of-center values of which to speak.
National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke observed that Republicans are now trained in a Pavlovian fashion to crouch defensively every time a shooting incident occurs. They live in terror over an enterprising journalist combing through OpenSecrets.org and discovering that the gunman may have sent a $50 donation to Ron Paul at one point in his life, thereby inviting wall-to-wall coverage of a that dangerous strain of conservatism.
It is not fair to attack conservatism for any shooter’s actions, just as it would be unfair to attack the philosophy of socialism for the actions of the Arapahoe High School shooter. However, the Post’s decision to scrub its own reporting is equally unprincipled and immoral. It is a mentality that stems from the belief that their readers are ill-equipped to responsibly internalize this information without drawing conclusions the editors believe would be inaccurate. They opted to alter the record rather than trust the public.
There are few areas in which journalism is as deeply flawed as coverage of mass violence. The press’ desire to assign an explanation to an inexplicable event too often leads the media to abdicate its role as neutral chronicler of events and to adopt the position of advocate and activist. This case was among the more egregious examples of a media outlet shedding its credibility in service to a narrative. It is an offense the Denver Post needs to be held to account for.
[Photo via denverrelief.com]
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