Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Newtown Coverage Not the First Amendment’s Finest Hour

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown this past week, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Second Amendment. There has not, unfortunately, been a reevaluation of the role the First Amendment played in the tragedy.  

The media’s coverage of Newtown from the outset was marred by such complete incompetence that it’s almost impossible to keep track of every incorrect detail that on-air personalities told viewers in the first few hours. Initially, Americans were informed: there were two gunmen and that one was still at large; the shooter was a father of one of the students in the school; the father of the shooter was dead; the shooter was named Ryan, not Adam, Lanza; an entire kindergarten class was unaccounted for; it was kindergarteners, not 1st-graders, that were the primary target; the classroom of the shooter’s mother was targeted, and that was where she died. The shooter’s unconfirmed autism diagnosis was discussed by multiple outlets as a possible contributing factor to the shooting, yet what was never mentioned was that those that fall on the autism spectrum are not any more likely to exhibit planned violent tendencies than the average member of the public. 

After the Aurora shootings, Helen Lewis wrote about how the media had failed to follow the advice of forensic psychologists on how to prevent individuals from trying to “best” the latest tragedy. That advice has clearly not been heeded after this latest mass shooting, either. Since the massacre of 20 children and six adults, the coverage on major news outlets has been unrelenting. Six-year-old witnesses were interviewed, grieving family members have been harassed by the press online, outside their homes and even at religious services. The manner in which the shootings have been covered (24/7, wall-to-wall and sensationalist are adjectives that spring to mind) has been criticized by experts concerned about copycats. 

I’m not suggesting that either of these amendments be repealed or curtailed, the First or the Second. If Americans are sincere about preventing another tragedy like Newtown’s, however, we need to have a serious conversation about how responsibly we can and should be exercising these freedoms. In the medical field doctors are told “first, do no harm.” This is an adage that those in the 24/7 news media need to consider adopting moving forward in order to prevent the damage that was done in Newtown last week from happening again.