Coverage of shooters varies by race, religion 7 December 2015

Media coverage of mass shootings often uses subjective language based on race and religion.

Lauren Rogers
Student Writer

Recently, it seems that every few days or so a certain genre of headline haunts the front page of every major paper and the news ticker at the bottom of every major news station’s screen: a mass shooting somewhere in the US. Then the next few days consist of near constant investigation and commentary until, gradually, the wound fades and is ultimately overshadowed by the next one. This kind of event has become so frequent that, since I began writing this article about the shooting in Colorado Springs, there was another, larger, mass shooting in San Bernardino.

Although the scale and resulting coverage and analysis of the attacks differed, both attacks share a common factor. The perpetrators had religious motives.

Robert Dear’s motivation behind his attack was just as religious as that of Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, but while all fingers point towards Islam as a major influence in San Bernardino, Christianity receives little to no major criticism in the case of Colorado Springs.

Most of the coverage of the Planned Parenthood attack involved the media calling the mental health of shooter, Robert Dear, into question. House Speaker Paul Ryan made a widely-reported statement that “The common theme with these types of shootings is mental illness.”

If that’s the case, then the mental health of the San Bernardino shooters should be receiving more recognition than their potential association with ISIS, as was the case for Robert Dear and his ties to the Army of God, a domestic Christian terrorist organization.

Although the Army of God is nearly nonexistent compared to ISIS, they too are a religious terrorist group that has performed a plethora of disgusting acts. The Army of God has previously conducted kidnappings, as well as bombings at abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham in the name of Christianity. An anonymous person reported to the New York Times that, during an extensive conversation in 2009, Dear had praised the Army of God’s violent actions, saying that they were “heroes” and that people who attacked abortion providers were doing “God’s work.”

Just as Muslims worldwide condemn extremists for violence that is unrepresentative of Islam, Christians denounce the validity of the actions of groups like the Army of God and the Lord’s Resistance Army. However, there is very little exposure in the mass media of these examples of extremism when compared to the provocative coverage of terrorism in the name of Islam.

Almost immediately after the San Bernardino attackers were identified and linked to Islam, the media became abuzz with theories that they were associated with ISIS. As of now, the FBI is investigating this potential link. Whether or not it’s true, the media jumped on this information to publish sensationalist headlines, such as Thursday’s front page of the New York Post, featuring the words “Muslim Killers” in bold white, covering nearly half the page.

Not only is that just an awful example of a headline that, taken out of context, could mean something completely different, but the original headline was supposed to be completely different. “Murder Mission,” the original title, changed as soon as The Post discovered the religion of the two shooters, in order to elicit a more powerful reaction.

Actions like this one result in poll results like those in the Public Policy Polling report earlier this year, that 30 percent of Iowa GOP members believe that Islam should be illegal in the United States. This number is accompanied by 21 percent of Iowa GOP members who are not sure if Islam should be legal or not, leaving only 49 percent actively believing Islam should be legal. Public Policy Polling also found similar numbers in North Carolina, with only 40 percent of Republicans responding that they believe Islam should be legal.

In a nation with freedom of religion looped into our first amendment, it’s beyond pathetic that statistics like this exist, but, unfortunately, when taking into account the way the media portrays Muslims, it’s easy to see where they come from.