Stephen Paddock

Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

When it comes to the big question in Las Vegas, news consumers around the world are still waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.

Journalists want to know what kind of label to pin on the motives of Stephen Paddock, so we can go back to wrestling with theodicy questions like, oh, why so many Democrats voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. Where was God on election day?

Alas, new details in Vegas (Paddock shot a security man before the massacre began?) have only complicated the timeline of this tragedy.

What are journalists supposed to do? Well, this is the rare case when I want to point readers to a think piece during the middle of the week (as opposed to our weekend slots), in part because I get to plug a Poynter.org essay while sitting in the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. I've been here for several days speaking to a circle of international journalists.

The Poynter.org essay is called "The Journalism of Why: How we struggle to answer the hardest question," and it was written by veteran journalist and educator Roy Peter Clark.

Clark starts where I started here at GetReligion, hours after the massacre: With that familiar journalism mantra Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

Who? We got that information pretty quick (unless you're talking about Paddock having help).

What? We got that. When? The massacre timeline is evolving, but we know (or think we know) some of the basics. Where? You get the point. Then Clark notes, quoting one of the journalism scholars who most influenced my academic career:

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Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

All over America, and perhaps the world, people are trying to make sense out of the actions of the mysterious millionaire (we think) gunman Stephen Paddock.

That isn't news. But in a way, the only big news that we have is that there hasn't been any big news since this vision of hell unfolded on the Vegas Strip.

The waiting continues. The one thing mainstream journalists (and their sources) seem to agree on is that the massacre in Las Vegas just doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit into any of our familiar intellectual file folders that we use when tragedy strikes.

Islamic State terrorism? There are debates, but no evidence that has been made public.

Some other form of religious or political fanaticism? Lots of talk, but no evidence.

Massive gambling debts? Ditto. Some kind of mental breakdown, maybe a brain tumor? Maybe science will give us an answer? Maybe chemistry? Paddock was taking Valium, along with legions of other people. So there.

The bottom line: What happens to our minds and hearts if this act turns out to be random and senseless, now that the gunman is dead and cannot explain his actions? What mental file folder do we use then to help us move on, other than the one that says, "Where was God?"

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I defended my statement -- made at the end of my very first Las Vegas massacre post -- that there was a religious element to this event, no matter what. In fact, a massacre with no answer to the "Why?" puzzle is especially troubling, in terms of "theodicy" questions. I said, at that time:

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Still watching the Las Vegas dice: Did Stephen Paddock leave a note? Was he taking Valium?

Still watching the Las Vegas dice: Did Stephen Paddock leave a note? Was he taking Valium?

Still waiting. Still reading.

Still watching, every now and then. And I remain convinced that some kind of religion/beliefs shoe is going to drop in the Las Vegas massacre, no matter that Eric Paddock says about his brother Stephen's lack of political or religious ties that bind.

However, I will add this concern, even if it is only receiving attention on right-wing news sites and in a UK tabloid that is consistently NSW quality.

The question: Did the gunman leave a note behind in his suite at the Mandalay Bay? There is discussion, with a photo, at The Daily Star:

Images have leaked showing Paddock lying dead on the hotel room floor with blood pouring from his mouth. The gunman appears to be wearing a brown shirt, black slacks, loafers and a pair of gloves.
Chillingly, he appears to have left some kind of note on the side table.
Paddock’s motives remain a mystery, with the millionaire property developer having no criminal history. He appears to have checked into the high roller hotel days before in a meticulous plot to kill.
A note left by the gunman may offer clues to his reasons for slaughtering country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.

Readers cannot tell, of course, what kind of information is in the note seen in the photo. It could be Paddock's room-service form, for all journalists know. Still it will be interesting to see if and when this discussion is validated by investigators and, thus, breaks into mainstream media. (I have not visited the world of 24/7 cable news in several hours.)

In most discussions of the "Why?" factor in this story -- click here for a typical list -- it is also clear that reporters are taking seriously some kind of inherited mental illness, in light of the FBI most-wanted list history of Paddock's father.

Several GetReligion readers have asked if investigators are checking medical records, to see if the gunman suffered from a fatal illness or even a brain tumor that might steer him into madness. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has published a story in which sources say Paddock, in June, was given a prescription for Valium, which raises questions about anxiety attacks.

Then there is the Islamic State.

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Roll the 'why?' dice: Waiting, waiting to learn why the Las Vegas gunman did what he did

Roll the 'why?' dice: Waiting, waiting to learn why the Las Vegas gunman did what he did

Right now, I am doing what I assume many of you are doing, especially GetReligion readers who work in news media.

I am reading everything that I can about 64-year-old Stephen Paddock and the massacre in Las Vegas and I'm waiting for the shoe to drop. It's the "why?" shoe, as in "who, what, when, where, why and how?"

As is so often the case, in this sinful and fallen world, the next shoe could have something to do with religion. Islamic State leaders have already done what they do and, in this case, that statement looks even more cynical and senseless than usual. A CBS story noted:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed ... that the man who opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 50 people, was acting on behalf of the group, but offered no evidence. ...
The statement offered no proof of a link with Paddock, nor did it identify him by name.

The next shoe to drop could be political, at which point the political content will take on cultural and perhaps even religious content. Why? Because that's the way things work in culture-wars America.

When you heard that the slaughter was in Vegas, that caused you to ponder one possible set of motives for a shooter. When you heard that the victims were at a country-music show, that triggered another set of assumptions, at least about the people being shot. That appears to have been the case for one lawyer linked to CBS -- Hayley Geftman-Gold (but not tied to the newsroom). In an update, CBS fired her.

“If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing,” wrote Geftman-Gold on Facebook. ... “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country musica fans often are Republican gun toters.”

From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, was Paddock shooting at conservatives? Republicans? He was a gambler, apparently. Had things gone wrong and he was simply shooting at human symbols of Las Vegas? People who stood for America, period? Why?

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