The Consequences of Lazy Journalism

by Amaury Nora

I don’t know about you, but it feels like the Virginia Tech massacre that took place on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA has left people emotionally drained. I know that I am. This is now being considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history and as it stands, Cho Seung-hui killed 32 people and injuring at least 30 others before turning the gun on himself.

It was also reported that the Virginia Tech massacre resembles another campus shooting that occurred in Austin, TX, where Charles Joseph Whitman, the Texas Tower sniper, fired 150 high-powered rounds of ammunition from the University of Texas Tower killing 16 people and wounding nearly 50 people. Until now, UT shooting was considered the deadliest campus shooting in US history. It has even surpassed the Luby’s massacre of 1991, in which twenty-four people were killed.

x-posted on Para Justicia y Libertad

All this news can be found on almost any blog and news website. As more and more news emerges, there are several disturbing facts that happen to be over looked, but reveal a lot about how this country handles a crisis.

Playing the “Blame the Immigrant” Game: Inaccurate media reports
Once it was reported that the shooter was an Asian immigrant, Asians have suddenly become the latest media topic. However, there is more than scapegoat one particular group; during the chaos, there was a troubling sign from the media in trying to link an individual act with something larger. Soon after the story broke, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed initially reported (which is no longer online) that the shooter was not only a Chinese immigrant but also a possible terrorist. The original link to that story has been updated with the correct information; however, the original report can still be viewed in its entirety on the pro-gun community forum named The Firing Line. Sneed wrote:

Authorities were investigating whether the gunman who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history was a Chinese man who arrived in the United States last year on a student visa.

The 24-year-old man arrived in San Francisco on United Airlines on Aug. 7 on a visa issued in Shanghai, the source said. Investigators have not linked him to any terrorist groups, the source said.

In an apparent effort to be on top of the story, it was immediately picked up and cited by other corporate media, such as FOX News, MSNBC, and ABC News. A screen shot of the article can be found on the blog, Letters from China.

Even worse, one of the most unfortunate media debacles over the VA Tech shootings was the false accusations levied against Wayne Chiang, a Chinese-American who happens to collect guns and who also attends VT who also recently broke up with his girlfriend. Without waiting for the details from the local authority and going on a unfounded and stereotype-based “tip,” Fox News reporters Geraldo Rivera and Megyn Kelly (video) insisted that Wayne Chiang “might have been the perpetrator” as Fox News not only were searching for his residence but also kept broadcasting his pictures from his Facebook page all over the airwaves.

… on the Fox Network, Geraldo Rivera broadcast Chiang’s Facebook page – though not his name – stating, “people might suspect that this might have been the perpetrator.” Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly then explained how, upon discovery of Chiang’s profile, the channel searched for him.

Sadly, Chiang was not only a victim of profiling, but also a victim of the old stereotype that “all Asians look the same.” Or, as he put it, was “five for five.” According Chiang, he was forced to go public after an Internet lynch mob targeted Chaing throughout the day with “numerous death threats, slanderous accusations, and ….. [a] barrage of [phone] calls.” By the end, his site had over 166,000 page views and on Tuesday, he had over 333,000 people visit his site. On the day of the massacre, his site was quickly filled with hate-filled comments such as: “so u are the asisan that shot up the school. i hate u and your people.” (note: comments are closed now)

In an interview with ABC, Chiang said: “Right now pretty much the internet thinks it is me … I am just interested in trying to clear my name.” One would think that once the gunman was properly identified this was an open and shut case in the court of public opinion, no debate, time to move on, unfortunately, this is not the case for Chaing. According to Chiang’s latest entry, he is still being “misidentified” as the shooter.

But Chiang wasn’t the only one who discovered how effective the internet can be in spreading unstoppable slurs and libel, At one point mechanical engineering student James Jay Kim also was “outed” as the killer. Kim was originally named in a Facebook discussion, which was later mention on the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. The page was removed an hour later.

James Jay Kim was named in a Facebook discussion between students when one user asked the question: ‘Does anyone know who the shooter is?’ Kim’s name was posted in a reply, with other participants claiming they had been told by sources at the university that it was ‘definitely’ him.

It is not surprising for people to overreact in a time of crises; sometimes people may mishear or misinterpret information they may have heard. However, I don’t think that person misheard the news they were told from their inside sources from the university. The picture below is an AP photo taken by The Roanoke Times Alan Kim, the caption states: “An unidentified man is restrained during a manhunt on the Virginia Tech campus.” Unfortunately, it remains unclear who that person was and if he actually played a role in the shooting or if that person is actually James Jay Kim. These are questions we may never know or find out.

Since the media never apologized for misleading the public that day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao criticized the media the next day and said “that it is was a terrible mistake and a violation of professional ethics to publish reports before checking the facts.”

What is unfortunate about the aftermath of this tragedy is not that it further proves that this county is xenophobic, but the sloppy reporting actually had consequences. Because of Sneed’s column, a host of international websites carried the story with such headlines “Chinese student suspected of Virginia massacre,” which actually caused a near panic in China. When the report turned out to be incorrect, Sneed’s article was removed and updated, however, Sneed, without apologizing, provided a weak excuse for her reckless reporting.

Sneed’s online report Monday afternoon stated the initial investigation led law enforcement authorities to a preliminary suspect, who was a man from China.

Details and a description of the preliminary suspect accompanied reports available to law enforcement agencies via a national network checking on possible terrorist activities.

Sneed was not the only who tried to cover up their mess after causing a stir. According to a post on Sepia Mutiny, right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel reported that the shooter might be a “Paki” Muslim and according to Media Matters, she also claimed it was part of “a coordinated terrorist attack.”

The Virginia Tech campus has a very large Muslim community, many of which are from Pakistan (per terrorism investigator Bill Warner).

Pakis are considered “Asian.”

Even if it does not turn out that the shooter is Muslim, this is a demonstration to Muslim jihadists all over that it is extremely easy to shoot and kill multiple American college students.

Unsurprisingly, Schlussel also deleted her post from her blog, stating she was “spending too much time monitoring the slimy comments from the Nazi-infested Media Matters for America cretins.”

This is a disturbing trend among white media pundits in an effort to steer an entire population into thinking that one individual represents a whole community, even to the point of personifying a whole nation. They have no problem conjuring up bogeymen out of thin air, creating enemies out of lies and manipulations. To them, it is all about the rates and the first to provide a juicy gossip regardless if they ruined the lives and careers of honorable men and women; or create division and animosity between citizens. And when they’re caught, it has become second nature to amend their information in real time to cover up their sloppy tracks.

It is not surprising to see the political and media establishment responding to the Virginia Tech massacre as it does to every significant event of social malaise, with a combination of denial and self-delusion. It will be business as usual where a large majority of our society will never talk about the dirty little secret of assimilation or the myth of America’s model minority and how it does not always prevent racial alienation, rage, or depression.

Once, in English class, the teacher had the students read aloud, and when it was Cho’s turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled. Finally, after the teacher threatened him with an F for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.

“As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Go back to China,'” Davids said.

“There were just some people who were really mean to him and they would push him down and laugh at him,” Roberts said. “He didn’t speak English really well and they would really make fun of him.”

Given that the model minority myth elevates Asians over minority groups, we can expect to see Cho dissected as an anomaly among South Koreans who “are not prone” to violence. But one thing for sure, this tragedy will only add fuel to the heated immigration debate and the need to increase deportation.

4 replies »

  1. Fear does this to a culture – encourages an us and them mentality, pressures outgroups, etc. Can be racial or it can even be people who are just “different.” Given that we just observed the anniversary of Columbine, I’m reminded how the press went after “goths” in the aftermath of those shootings, completely failing to do even the minutest bit of research into what goth was all about. And never mind that the killers WEREN’T goths.

    I heard within minutes that the VT shooter was “Asian” my initial response was what you’d expect – here we go again.

    Nice take – thanks for making the time to drill the detail here.

  2. This is terrific, thoughtful commentary. In the bulletin-laden first hours after the killings, the first identifying factor I saw about the shooter was that he was an Asian male. I thought that was irresponsible. Your paragraph about the disturbing trend among white media pundits is as fine a commentary about the media and stereotyping as I’ve read in a long time.

  3. Sam – isn’t it interesting how the manipulators of fear use it to direct people into different ways. I am glad you mentioned the goths because it was easy to focus one segment of society and deliver a message that if you do not conform to the norms of society, you will be suspect number one, which we can continue the misperceptions when it come to white people, such as the old stereotype that Southern whites are white supremacist or non-educated white trash hillbillies who refuse to get over the South

  4. felixwas – thank you! For me, I just find it hard to believe that the media are unaware on how such nuances can have an effect. That is what I find so troubling.