By now we’re familiar with The Error. I’m talking about how NPR (then Reuters, then MSNBC) declared Rep. Gabrielle Giffords dead within hours of the Tucson shootings, then had to retract the report after it turns out they had bad information. Then, of course, had to do the public mea culpa.
Errors happen in journalism. They aren’t our finest hour and certainly aren’t the thing that we aspire to, but we see this stuff happen every so often. Especially in breaking news situations where things are developing and people are emotional, that pull to confirm things quickly and get information out there is strong, and it’s almost an automated process. I remember on 9/11, for instance, how crazy the newsroom was. There is a lot of pressure and people don’t always think straight.
But, I’m not here to beat that dead horse. There’s plenty of coverage if you are interested, and journalism students in particular would do well to absorb this. No, I would rather talk about social media’s role in the way information spread. (more…)
The feedback on my last post has been interesting. Some of it I agree with, some of it I find flat-out puzzling. I opened with an acknowledgment that both sides have heated rhetoric even though I refuse to make them equal, but then I’m accused of being one-sided. I note that I was making no causal claims, then those who want to ignore my larger point about media environments accuse me of making causal claims.
I don’t give up easily, though.
For those of you who missed the point, it’s this: There is no causal link between heated rhetoric and the shootings in Arizona. Frankly, such a connection is nearly impossible in most instances. Media systems are complex. The effect of an individual message often is weak, often imperceptible to the most active of minds. But they are cumulative. No, Palin’s target map didn’t cause the shooting, nor did any rhetoric from anyone on the political spectrum. But that doesn’t make individual messages insignificant even if we can’t measure the effects of one message. They work together to create ecosystems of expression, and those ecosystems have an effect on our sense of community over time.
As a social scientist I deal in statistics, and when I think about the argument against eliminationist rhetoric in political discourse I fall back on the comfort of multiple regression as a framework for thinking about a complex world. (more…)
This is going to be something of a braindump post with hopefully a few salient points. It’s about the Giffords shooting, and to be honest it’s hard to keep my thoughts straight on this thing. I may not have them all straight at this writing, but I’m putting it out here as a starting point. It should be viewed that way, not as a crystalized view of what happened yesterday.
Today, I want to say something about violent rhetoric in our politics and our media. We know little about the alleged shooter and there isn’t much we can say about him other than speculation. What we can account for is ourselves, and our habits, and the people we enable. Which brings us to Sarah Palin and Jesse Kelly.
No, this isn’t Palin’s fault. She did use target symbols on the map of congressional members she was hoping to replace with her candidates in the 2010 election, but a serious mind can’t really believe she was calling for violence. Same goes for Kelly, Giffords’ Republican opponent in the last election who ran ads that used gun rhetoric and called for supporters to make Giffords afraid to leave her house.
So let’s start there. (more…)