In the wake of Friday's shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., there seem to be two major media streams going when it comes to the gunman and any link that he has to the "why?" factor in this story.
The last two front pages of The New York Times are a perfect place to see what I'm talking about.
First is the stream that focuses on actual facts known about Robert L. Deal Jr., the man accused of killing three people and wounding nine in Colorado's second-largest city.
Yes, there is some religion in there if you dig deep. For example, Sunday's Times delved into Deal's bizarre personal history but found no institutional links between him and either organized religion or the pro-life movement.
Readers did learn a few details about Deal's religious background, as the Times quoted Deal's former wife, Pamela Ross (no relation to this writer):
Mr. Dear was raised as a Baptist, Ms. Ross said in an interview in Goose Creek, S.C., where she now lives. He was religious but not a regular churchgoer, a believer but not one to harp on religion. “He believed wholeheartedly in the Bible,” she said. “That’s what he always said; he read it cover to cover to cover.” But he was not fixated on it, she added.
Later in the story, religion figured tangentially as the newspaper recounted Deal's interesting, to say the least, Internet postings:
He seemed to have a separate life online. An online personals ad seeking women in North Carolina interested in bondage and sadomasochistic sex showed a picture that appeared to be Mr. Dear and used an online pseudonym associated with him. The same user also appeared to have turned to online message boards to seek companions in the Asheville area with whom he could smoke marijuana.
On Cannabis.com, the writer said in December 2005: “AIDS, hurricanes, we are in the end times. Accept the LORD JESUS while you can.”
The second media stream? That one uses a framing device that says Deal acted because of the content of anti-abortion activism, whether he had any links to that movement at all.
In these stories, and there are lots of them out there, the actual facts about the gunman seem almost irrelevant.
WASHINGTON — Even as the authorities say they remain uncertain what precisely led a gunman to attack a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs on Friday, a comment attributed to the suspect by a senior law enforcement official — “no more baby parts” — fed directly into an already high-pitched controversy over Planned Parenthood and its practices.
The phrase was an eerie echo of language used by politicians here and in many state capitals since an anti-abortion group began releasing its undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing possible donations of fetal tissue for medical research.
Congressional supporters and opponents of Planned Parenthood were uncharacteristically subdued over the weekend as they awaited more information about the shooting, which killed three people and wounded nine, so it was unclear how the episode might affect Congress’s year-end agenda after lawmakers return on Monday from their holiday recess. But considering the extent to which Planned Parenthood has fomented political passions on both the left and the right in Washington, that restraint seems unlikely to hold.
Which stream is the more journalistically responsible one? (Is either?) Is there a way to do justice to both of these, to listen to both sides when it comes to talking about cause and effect?
Personally, I tire of reading about crazed killers who go on shooting rampages. I understand why some victims' relatives wish the media would stop naming mass murderers and making them infamous. At the same time, I identify with the strong arguments for naming the shooter and reporting responsibly on his crimes.
As for whether every abortion opponent should be held accountable for a lone gunman who acts -- as it seems at this point -- alone, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher makes these excellent observations at The American Conservative:
Here are a handful of things that we ought to be able to agree on:
ISIS does not render the entire Islamic religion evil
• The Unabomber does not taint the entire environmental movement
• The Weather Underground’s terrorism did not invalidate the anti-Vietnam War movement’s claims
• A paranoid lunatic with a record of hating indiscriminately and behaving violently shooting up an abortion clinic is not the fault of the pro-life movement
• The New Atheists cannot be fairly blamed for Larry Gene Ashbrook, a violent paranoiac who, in 1999, shot and killed seven Texas Baptists while spouting hateful rhetoric about Christians
Your turn, GetReligion readers: Are you seeing the two streams that I pinpointed? What advice would you offer to journalists covering this story? What questions would you like to see answered in ongoing coverage?