More Missing Media Context After Another Gun Rampage

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

On Sunday, a white supremacist opened fire on worshipers at a Wisconsin Sikh temple with a Springfield 9mm semiautomatic handgun, killing six . Following the shooting, which the government is investigating as an act of domestic terrorism, ATF Special Agent Bernard Zapor appeared on CNN. During a discussion about gun control, Zapor pointed out, "This is a major social issue for this country."


It's impossible to argue with Zapor's conclusion, considering the Sikh temple rampage came just two weeks after a gunman armed himself with a Smith & Wesson M&P15 and shot 70 moviegoers in Aurora, CO. Gun saturation and gun violence is unquestionably a major social issue for this country.

So why isn't it covered that way by the news media?

It's true that the terror unleashed at the Wisconsin temple generated, momentarily at least, big headlines. The shooting was covered as a crime issue though, not a larger social one. And yes, several news outlets did good work detailing the disturbing, hardcore neo-Nazi world the shooter came from, as well as his proud association with white supremacist groups.

But what's been lacking is the broader context regarding the connectivity surrounding the rampages and how these are not actually "random" events. These are events that happen with stunning regularity in America, and they're events that are fueled by an abundance of firearms. Indeed, the fact that these two recent massacres unfolded so close to each other isn't even unusual; a similarly deadly shooting tandem occurred ten months ago: 

  • Oct 12, 2011: Eight people were killed in a mass shooting at a Seal Beach, CA, nail salon.
  • Oct. 5, 2011: A disgruntled worker opened fire at a Northern California cement plant killing three and wounding seven.

One week after the Aurora massacre, I noted that the larger context about gun violence in America had been missing from the deluge or news coverage. It's a pattern that has persisted for years, as the country has absorbed one gun massacre after another.

Unfortunately, with the temple shooting, the same media deficiencies have applied.  For instance, the telling statistics regarding the massive toll gun violence takes in America each year (30,000 killed; 70,000 wounded) were once again virtually absent from the news coverage. So was the discussion of gun control.  (Though there were some welcomes exceptions.)

In addition, the press has done a poor job focusing on the political ramifications of this rampage. And specifically, how the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 had issued a report warning about the exact type of lone wolf, right-wing hate attack that unfolded last week in Wisconsin. The report at the time was widely condemned by Republican politicians as well as the pro-gun, far-right media, to the point where DHS director Janet Napolitano withdrew the findings. 

The 2009 intelligence assessment warned how "the economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment" of former members of the military, which "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

In fact, the shooter in the Sikh temple shooting, Wade Michael Page, was a former soldier (although not a combat one) who migrated into the world to radical, racist hate groups. He was practically a poster boy for the type of homegrown, right-wing triggerman the DHS tried to warn law enforcement about in 2009; a warning that was drowned out by partisan condemnations.

Indeed, coming less than 90 days after Obama had been sworn into office, the unrestrained DHS-inspired freak-out represented an early warning of how the right-wing media was going to operate under a Democratic administration, and that lacking fair play or common sense would become a hallmark of the movement and its shrieking claims about a new Democratic administration committed to seizing liberties and criminalizing dissent in America: 

*Limbaugh: "[Y]ou have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama Department of Homeland Security portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than Al Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong-Il."

*Hannity: "Now if you disagree with that liberal path that President Obama's taken the country down, you may soon catch the attention of the Department of Homeland Security

And just this spring, Fox contributor Laura Ingraham resurrected the smear that the Obama administration had issued an "edict" in 2009 "brand[ing]" returning military veterans as "potential threats to the United States."

But the salient report, and the feverishly political response to it, has received little press attention in the wake of the Wisconsin temple massacre; an act of terror that was foreshadowed by the DHS. According to a Nexis search, one New York Times news article this week set aside a few paragraphs to the report, and so did pieces published by the McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post and as Reuters. But very little else.

James Rainey's article in the Los Angeles Times and Jonathan Capehart's opinion piece at were among the few mainstream media efforts dedicated entirely to connecting the dots between the Sikh shooting and the 2009 controversy, according to a Nexis search. (Bloggers gave the topic far more attention online. So did Wired.)

On television, the DHS report, and its significance to the temple massacre, was mentioned just a handful of times this week.

The fact that that three years ago the government tried to issue a warning about the exact type of domestic terrorism that was carried in Wisconsin, only to be condemned by the conservative movement, should have been key to the sikh temple coverage.

But the media continue to struggle to put regular gun rampages in their proper, frightening context.

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