Another day, another gunman, another mass shooting. Once again, when government authorities consistently declined to discuss possible motives, it was hard not to assume that the religion shoe was going to drop, sooner or later.
By this morning, journalists have had quite a bit of time to look for witnesses and to sift through social-media looking for clues and quotes. At this point, it's almost like journalists in key newsrooms were not covering the same tragedy.
Let's look in New York City, for example. That did The New York Times have to say about the religion angle? The world's most powerful newspaper opened with the basic facts and then, five paragraphs in, added:
Law enforcement officials identified the gunman Thursday night as Chris Harper Mercer, and said he had three weapons, at least one of them a long gun and the other ones handguns. It was not clear whether he fired them all. The officials said the man lived in the Roseburg area.
They said one witness had told them that Mr. Mercer had asked about people’s religions before he began firing. “He appears to be an angry young man who was very filled with hate,” one law enforcement official said. Investigators are poring over what one official described as “hateful” writings by Mr. Mercer.
Did he ask anything specific, when it came to religion?
Were members of one faith, or those with no faith, more at risk than others? And those "hateful" writings -- on social media, perhaps -- were about what?
Writing for a radically different audience than the Times, The New York Post went straight to the point with the religion angle bannered on its website a few hours after the massacre (and thus, at The Drudge Report as well). The most recent version of that story now states, drawing on material from news and social media:
A gunman singled out Christians, telling them they would see God in “one second,” during a rampage at an Oregon college Thursday that left at least nine innocent people dead and several more wounded, survivors and authorities said.
“[He started] asking people one by one what their religion was. ‘Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them, and if you’re a Christian stand up. And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.’ And then he shot and killed them,” Stacy Boylen, whose daughter was wounded at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., told CNN.
A twitter user named @bodhilooney,” who said her grandmother was at the scene of the carnage, tweeted that if victims said they were Christian “then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”
The current Post summary story also featured the religion angle up top:
Chris Harper-Mercer, the gunman who went on Thursday’s rampage at an Oregon college, idolized the Nazis and the IRA, despised organized religion -- and talked of how killing could bring a person fame. ...
A profile on an online dating site, Spiritual Passions, shows Harper-Mercer “doesn’t like organized religion, and identified as a “conservative Republican.”
As always, in a story that will appear on page one in every small and mid-sized newspaper in America, it is important to check out the basic report from the Associated Press.
A vague religion angle made it to the top of the story, but the AP website's up-to-date report does not contain the word "Christian" or any specific quotes about religion-based executions. The AP also avoided any mention of the gunman's social-media statements about organized religion and race.
CNN, however, ran the specifics. So did The Washington Post, in the story that currently tops its website, with this inside headline: "Oregon shooter said to have singled out Christians for killing in ‘horrific act of cowardice.' "
The coverage in the nearby Portland Oregonian is, of course, wall to wall and quite complex. In the current lead story, the gunman's motives were first linked to racial issues, and then to religion. The crucial question: How to respond to the explosion of social-media statements that the mixed-race gunman was a "Black Lives Matter" protestor?
The Oregonian did not avoid the topic, but took a cautious approach to that incendiary material.
Federal authorities descended on Roseburg as social media rumors spread of a hate-based motive behind Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.
Oregon's top federal prosecutor said he and other government officials have heard the same rumors that the public has about the shooter issuing "some sort of race-related manifesto" before the crime.
By late afternoon, there were 10 confirmed deaths. ...
An 18-year-old student at the school, Kortney Moore, told a Roseburg newspaper that the shooter asked students to state their religion before opening fire.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the gunman's links to Great Britain turned this into a story with semi-local hooks. The Guardian played the story somewhat low-key, with lots of political language, but did include the apparently controversial word "Christians."
As always, The Daily Mail was as blunt as possible. Contrast this copy with that of, say, The New York Times.
As I said, a radically different paper with radically different readers. Readers with radically different views of the elements of the story that matter the most?
The Oregon college gunman who murdered at least ten people was today named as Chris Harper-Mercer -- a 26-year-old with links to Britain who celebrated other mass murderers and said: 'The more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight'.
The killer, who said he idolized the IRA and Nazis, yesterday walked into Umpqua Community College in Roseburg wearing body armour and carrying three handguns and a rifle before shooting dead students.
Witnesses said he had made his victims stand-up at gunpoint and say if they were Christian before telling them: 'Good, you'll see God in a second' and shooting them. Survivors only saved their own lives by playing dead.
IMAGES: From social media. The collage was part of The Daily Mail online coverage, collecting images from the alleged gunman's online pages.