In its reporting on the fatal shooting of two journalists in Virginia, CNN repeatedly and needlessly mentioned the shooter's history of registering gay porn websites as evidence that he was unstable and disturbed.
On August 27, CNN reported that Vester Flanagan II, the man who shot and killed two journalists on live television in Virginia, had set up domain names for several gay porn websites between 2007 and 2008.
CNN made no attempt to explain how the domain names could even be related to the shooting. The domain names were purchased years before Flanagan began working at WDBJ, the station that also employed the journalists he killed. And Flanagan openly identified as gay, so his sexual orientation was already public knowledge.
But throughout the day on August 27, CNN repeated its report about the websites Flanagan registered. During The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin called the report “just another disturbing twist” in the story of the shooting:
At the start of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer teased the report while on-screen text blared the headline, “HISTORY OF INSTABILITY.”
It was CNN's Don Lemon who finally challenged his network's report during an interview with Blitzer, saying, “I don't really see the relevance of it.” He added, “I don't want to gay shame him. There's nothing wrong with being gay”:
Injecting details about Flanagan's unrelated sexual history in reports about the shooting has the effect of associating homosexuality with deviancy, mental instability, and violence in the minds of viewers.
The practice of linking gay sexuality with violent or murderous acts isn't new or accidental. American media have a long, dark history of depicting gay sexuality as intrinsically violent and dangerous, especially when it comes to stories about brutal killings. And associating homosexuality with mental instability is a favorite right-wing tactic.
It's not surprising that fringe conservatives are suggesting that Flanagan's homosexuality is somehow linked to his decision to murder two people.
Without an explanation of how Flanagan's sexual interests are relevant to this week's brutal shooting, CNN reinforced a right-wing trope about homosexuality and violence without adding to its substantive reporting on the shooting.