Disappointing media coverage of UCC tragedy

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

On the morning of October 1st, tragedy hit the Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Douglas County, Oregon. A 26-year old student came to school that day and killed a teacher and eight fellow students, wounded several more and then killed himself after exchanging gunfire with police.

Less than five hours later President Obama went on national television and called for more gun control. The vast majority of the media did not criticize the president for openly politicizing the tragedy so soon. Instead, they focused on his “frustration” and on his “emotional” reaction.

Almost no one in the media called out the president for his selective concern. On the same day he addressed the nation on the UCC tragedy, Obama could have said “For the second straight weekend, more than 50 people were shot in Chicago. In just the past two weekends, 13 have been killed and 98 have been wounded. More than 2,300 have been shooting victims in Chicago since the start of the year.” But he didn’t. When addressing the nation he made no mention of the city where he and Michelle had been raising their daughters before he was elected president – no mention of the city where his former chief of staff is now mayor. A city with some of the tightest gun control laws in the country.

Then on the day before the president visited Roseburg the Washington Post ran an article with the headline “Obama weighs expanding background checks through executive authority.”

As I’ve written about previously, the Washington Post article is full of ignorant and misleading reporting. Most notably, the reporter neglects to mention that Oregon already has background checks on all gun purchases when writing about Obama being spurred by the Oregon shooting to take new executive action on background checks. Background checks that didn’t stop the killer at UCC. The ATF has reported those guns were purchased legally from federal firearms dealers, which always requires a background check.

Given that, how can the president justify using Oregon as a basis for his case? That’s some pretty critical and relevant information omitted by the reporter.

The reporter goes on to make the same mistake when reporting on former congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly. They had recently been promoting expanded background checks at the White House. The reporter neglects to mention that Giffords’ attacker passed a background check.

Here in Oregon, The Oregonian ran an article titled “Where do Americans die by gunfire” with an interactive map using data from the CDC. It is an example of very deceitful reporting. To have any validity, the map would have needed to exclude suicides – the majority of the gun deaths in the mapped data.

As the Washington Post recently noted “studies have shown little connection between suicides and access to guns. A 2004 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that ‘some gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population.’ Japan, for instance, has among the world’s most-restrictive gun-control regimes — and yet also has among the world’s highest suicide rates, almost double the U.S. suicide rate.”

Including suicides in gun death numbers is very deceptive and harmful to the public discourse.

Although overall the media coverage of the UCC tragedy was disappointing, there was some noted improvement in the willingness to cover the mental health aspects of these types of tragedies. That includes a fairly balanced column in the Salem Statesman Journal.

As a nation, if we’re going to make progress toward ending tragedies like UCC then it’s going to take a vibrant and unbiased fourth estate who do actual reporting instead of hawking an agenda.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com