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Rushing to Judgment on Aurora

The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

Let’s be clear that at the time of the broadcast as well as at the moment this piece is being written, the motivation for this crime has yet to be discovered. That was also true in January 2011 when a deranged gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But that didn’t stop much of the media from broadcasting incorrect assumptions about the perpetrator being part of the Tea Party or acting out what he thought was its ideology. Indeed, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has continued to feed that libel even though it was almost immediately debunked.

We may expect that no matter what the story about the shooter turns out to be, gun control advocates will exploit this tragedy. We don’t know if restrictions on gun ownership would have made this event less likely, but it is also true that the majority of Americans are not likely to change their minds about maintaining their Second Amendment rights. If the atrocity in Aurora turns out to be motivated by something other than the madness of the killer, it will compound the tragedy. But the effort to push the narrative in that direction on the basis of a name without any research or legwork to back it up is outrageous and, ABC has belatedly apologized for the gaffe on its website. That otherwise respected members of the journalistic establishment have no shame about doing so tells us a lot more about them and liberal media bias than it does about the Aurora killings or violence in general.


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