Yesterday afternoon brought the horrible news about a mass shooting in Arizona. One of the more interesting media topics to debate in coming days will likely be the misinformation that came out immediately after the shooting. Namely, most media outlets (but not the Associated Press, to their credit) reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been killed in the shooting.
She has, in fact, survived the shooting and doctors are hopeful about her condition. Some media critics seemed to be quite upset about that misinformation. I am reminded -- for the thousandth time -- how important it is to wait for accurate information and how important it is to avoid rushes to judgment.
Some 18 people were shot, six were killed. Police arrested Jared Lee Loughner and say there's another person of interest they're seeking. I think that relates to questions about how the shooter made it to the site of the shooting.
Rep. Giffords, who the Sheriff of Pima County says was the target, is a blue dog Democrat. She's known for having friends across the political spectrum. She was in the news this week for her efforts to cut Congressional pay. She is married to an active duty Navy Captain (who is an astronaut) and has two step-children.
While some people have attempted and will continue to attempt to make sense of this attempted assassination, my review of the alleged shooter's YouTube videos indicate that he is clearly dealing with serious mental illness. You can check out his politically incoherent -- and generally less-than-coherent -- ramblings here. I'd classify his politics as "potentially paranoid schizophrenic." He does list Mein Kampf among his favorite books. Which brings us to our first potential religion angle.
Rep. Giffords is Jewish. Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman, in fact. You can read about her religious life in this touching vows column in the New York Times about her recent marriage. There is no suggestion that the alleged shooter's alleged love of Mein Kampf is related to the shooting, but there's not a lot of evidence about motive period at this point. One of the victims, a staffer of Giffords, was Jewish.
Another early religion angle comes from one of the victims of the shooting. News reports indicate U.S. District Judge John M. Roll had just left mass when he stopped by the Congressional meet-and-greet Rep. Giffords was hosting at a Safeway. His death means that federal charges could be brought against the shooter, and the penalty for killing a federal judge can include the death penalty.
GetReligion's Bobby Ross reports on two other victims. Dorwan Stoddard, a member of the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, was killed in the shooting. His wife Mavy was shot but survived. A different media outlet reported that Stoddard was the pastor of the church, although the church website does not list him as such. I checked with Bobby and confirmed he is not a pastor. The Stoddards were in charge of the benevolence committee. Yet another reminder about how quickly misinformation spreads.
I watched the alleged shooter's YouTube videos, from which I mostly took that he was mentally ill. He seemed to also have some hatred of America (he posted a video of someone, possibly himself, burning an American flag) and made comments critical of religion.
This New York Times profile of Jared Loughner by Eric Lipton, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane is headlined "Arizona Suspect's Online Trail Offers Hints of Alienation." The article is really well done and does a great job of explaining why people think mental instability was a major contributing factor to the day's carnage. Rather than force the story into a particular narrative, it allows different people to give different views of his state:
Mr. Loughner grew up in Tucson, attended public schools and was an unremarkable student at Mountain View High School, said Ali Freedman, a classmate.
"He was just a normal, nice person," Ms. Freedman said, adding that she had not been in contact with him since about 2007.
Sara Due, however, took advanced poetry writing with Mr. Loughner at Pima Community College in spring 2010 and said that "he creeped my classmates and I out."
"He always had a smirk/weird smile on his face," she said in a Facebook message. "I just remember the comments he used to make about poems other kids would write. Just seemed a little off."
Another former high school classmate said that Mr. Loughner's politics were left of center, and that he may have met Representative Giffords, who was shot in the head outside the Safeway supermarket, sometime before the attack.
"As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy," the former classmate, Caitie Parker, wrote in a series of Twitter feeds Saturday. "I haven't seen him since '07 though. He became very reclusive."
"He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in '07, asked her a question & he told me she was 'stupid & unintelligent,'" she wrote.
There have been almost no facts revealed about the shooter or his potential motivations. This story did a good job of providing information and giving a feel for the suspect with those limitations.
While the story did mention much of his internet-based ramblings, it didn't mention much about his views on religion. One of the three videos he posted dealt with his views that he was able to control all religion "by being the mind controller." Here a different video's reference to religion is mentioned:
One of his videos also suggests that he may have applied to join the Army at a recruiting station in Phoenix. It says he received a miniature Bible before taking tests there, and that he did not write a belief on his application form, so a recruiter wrote "none."
Army officials said Saturday night that he had tried to enlist but had been rejected for military service. Privacy rules prevented them from disclosing the reason.
His YouTube page also listed a series of favorite books. Some were novels about political dystopias -- "Animal Farm" by George Orwell, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, and "We the Living" by Ayn Rand.
Others were about falling into fantasy worlds -- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll; "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum; "Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie; and "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift.
Still others were a range of political tracts: "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx, "Mein Kampf" by Adolph Hitler, "The Republic" and "Meno" by Plato.
This KTLA profile is not bad. And while the top of this Associated Press story seems downright irresponsible in its attempts to force a particular political narrative -- one that doesn't seem to match the few facts on the ground -- it did make some mention of the suspect's religious views:
High school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, said Loughner seemed to be "floating through life" and "doing his own thing."
"Sometimes religion was brought up or drugs. He smoked pot, I don't know how regularly. And he wasn't too keen on religion, from what I could tell," Wiens said.
I have to note how weird it was to keep hearing the broadcasters say "There is no indication this is a terrorist attack." Really? When you attempt to kill a politician and take out dozens of innocent bystanders, that's not a terrorist attack? It seems to me that what the journalists meant was "There is no indication that this man is motivated by Muslim extremism." It's a good reminder of why it's important to not use "terrorist" as a euphemism or otherwise confuse the issues or downplay when religion plays a role in a given terror attack.
Please keep any comments focused on journalism.