Guns Trump Everything, Including Journalism

capital shooting

It’s Friday. There have been 28,420 incidents of gun violence so far this year in the US.

1,135 of those have happened since last week.

Yesterday saw the 154th mass shooting—of four or more human victims—so far this year, and the year is marking its 180th day.

Those numbers were reported early Friday morning by CNN. So you can expect they have grown now, as you are reading this.

That snapshot of sad statistics should be shocking. But we have, as a society, grown numb to them. Or perhaps our collective excuse should be that we are simply to distracted by the endless avalanche of Chicken Little factoids to be able to focus on any one thing for very long.

After all, we see the numbers of gun violence incidents now, only because it’s just after the latest publicized mass shooting. And this time, it’s the one that was the deadliest day for journalists in America since 9-11—Thursday, June 28, 2018.

On that day—yesterday— in addition to the armed robberies and use of guns in domestic violence and dumbass turf confrontations among gangs? There was a mass murder of five people, three of them reporters, one an assistant editor, one an ad sales woman, who were murdered by one nut with a gun in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.

It’s one thing to question and criticize corporate control of what is allowed to be news. And with that, it’s an overarching thing to voice concern over what is allowed to be covered by the corporate masters who gain message-management hegemony.

But when a local newspaper that specializes in news of its hometown—the tiny state capital of Maryland—becomes the place of the latest massacre; the place of the one-thousand, one-hundred, thirty-fifth scene of American gun violence since last week; the scene of the twenty-eight-thousand, four-hundred-twentieth episode of gun violence so far this year in the US; at some point, there must be a time to call a full stop when we are left with the same set of questions that arise each and every time.

How does this happen, and keep happening, in the United States of America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, the only place on Earth where gun murders and maimings and assaults exceed the death tolls of all the world’s active war zones combined?

After the Las Vegas music festival massacre? After Sandy Hook and UVA and Parkland and March for Our Lives, and kids getting killed just because they went to school that day?

How is it possible that political campaign contributions from the NRA can prevent our lawmakers from responding to overwhelming collective will as repeatedly and consistently expressed in major polls? Why will our lawmakers not put a stop to angry, disaffected, dangerous people buying guns—even, as we have repeatedly seen, arsenals of guns and armories of ammo—that enable the latest massacres and guarantee more to come?

And now, added to the endless and unanswered litany of those grotesquely usual and always freshly agonizing questions? Because we have never resolved any of that? Now, to the few minutes of horror in Maryland, we must add new questions, specific to journalism and its role in society.

Is the recent and rampant vitriol directed at the press, flippantly tweeted from high places and prominent voices, capable of being a trigger for the murder of journalists?

At the same time, is an endless narrative of transference to avoid being identified, being culpable, and having responsibility for public perception, complete with an agenda of “this, not that,” set by the corporate masters of megagiant media, responsible for loss of credibility that erodes public respect for the work of ALL journalists, and ultimately, comprises a threat to their safety? Yes, we must ask if corporate control of mainstream media is not just a threat to journalism, but a threat to journalists.

That should all share immediacy. But it won’t. More likely, corporate media will allow only part of the set of questions. So we may see an exclusive focus on part of what we ask here. To wit:

Is a bullying, bloviating, con man in high public office a threat to the safety of journalists, especially those who follow the ethics of their profession and question and investigate and call to account?

Are endless distractions on the part of the powerful—including invention and contravention of facts not in evidence, creation of scapegoats, and wholesale dismissal and vilification of anyone who asks questions—a threat to the pursuit of journalism and the safety of journalists?

That needs a broad analysis, beyond the obvious.

Is taking issue with the lack of veracity of a powerful individual, institution, or corporation something we should accept as justification for retaliation?

Suddenly, that question, too, is part of the dialog we must have. Because the practice of journalism now includes an alarming array of threats to the public interest. Among these:

  • value-laden opinions from cult-of-personality talking heads whose daily presence on the small screen supersedes the news they are supposed to present
  • embedded deployments into illegal wars that must not be criticized lest these reporters lose their career-making special access.
  • a paradigm wherein the preconceived agenda has primacy, so that lifelong Republicans who voice anti-Trump sentiments are elevated to the MSNBC pantheon in spite of their loyalty to corporate interests that poison the planet and screw American workers and civil rights
  • a covalent paradigm where any sign of criticism of corporate masters is a career-ending faux pas
  • an administration aberration that holds any sign of criticism from reporters embedded in the White House press room will bring ham-handed advocacy for violence against reporters

All these things are unprecedented in modern times. Obviously, they have no place in our society, or in any society that claims to be civilized.

And there’s very telling here—a general statement like the last sentence gains more acceptance than the specifics that precede it. Just as it will give some heartburn to cite the fact that the US Constitution establishes freedom of the press as the only non-governmental profession named and given specific rights in that document.

Selectively citing the Founders is popular with the pro-gun crowd. We can counter in many ways. Today we’ll ask what they think of the Constitution giving status to the press as what has come to be regarded as the fourth estate. But we cannot get caught up in the easy diversion of a philosophical argument on the verge of considering a new Supreme Court pick.

The murders of five people in a local newspaper office in Maryland should challenge all of us with the same urgency, the same immediate relevancy for our future, as the murders of students who were doing their jobs by going to school. Because as long as we allow bought-and-paid-for politicians to protect an arrogant notion of gun ownership as transcending all else, we fail to protect everything and everyone we claim to hold sacred.

And, since Thursday in Maryland, each working journalist — including this one — must reckon with renewed awareness that words in the public discourse might get me killed.

Larry Wines is editor of the Acoustic Americana Music Guide, and a former newspaper political columnist.

Originally published in LA Progressive

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