There has been a whole lot of foolish talk in the wake of the Newtown massacre. The massacre seems to have “liberated” a segment of the literati/chattering classes to spout the wildest nonsense.
by James Taranto
If hypocrisy were an intoxicating spirit, Andrew Rosenthal would be a master distiller. On Friday, we noticed this tweetfrom Rosenthal, the New York Times’s editorial page editor, which he posted at 1:42 p.m.: “Sickeningly quick. RT @BryanJFischer Shooters attack an elementary school in CT – another ‘gun-free zone.’ Makes children sitting ducks.”
We tended to agree with Rosenthal that Fischer, an official of the American Family Association who is a frequent contributor to this column, should have been more circumspect. The point about gun-free zones is a pertinent one, but the immediate aftermath of a horrific massacre is not the time to be picking arguments about divisive political issues. That’s why our Friday column was about other topics.
But there would be no such circumspection from Rosenthal and the Times. By 4:47 p.m., he was pounding the table: “Bloomberg wonders, http://bit.ly/VG0shC, and so do we, http://nyti.ms/U0QUkP, when it WILL be time to do something about gun violence.” [.......]
David Frum was even quicker than the Times. Friday morning he tweeted: “Shooting at CT elementary school. Obviously, we need to lower the age limit for concealed carry so toddlers can defend themselves.” The sour sarcasm was especially out of place, and the comment was a bizarre non sequitur. We’ve never heard of a school without adults.
Frum’s tweet drew many responses from people who found it offensive. In the afternoon he answered them unrepentantly in a Daily Beast essay. He explained that his “first reaction” to the shooting “was anger,” which he “ventilated.” But note that he directed his anger at people who had committed no wrongful acts but merely disagreed with him:
I’ll accept no lectures about “sensitivity” on days of tragedy like today from people who work the other 364 days of the year against any attempt to prevent such tragedies.
It’s bad enough to have a gun lobby. It’s the last straw when that lobby also sets up itself as the civility police. It may not be politically possible to do anything about the prevalence of weapons of mass murder. But it damn well ought to be possible to complain about them–and about the people who condone them.
Of course you can complain about them. And they can complain about you, which is all they did. You can complain back, as you did, and so on and so on. It’s all part of the glorious free marketplace of ideas, albeit not its finest product. But the notion that your complaining is constructive while your detractors’ complaining is murderous is delusionary.
Consider Frum’s reference to the “gun lobby.” The term usually calls to mind the National Rifle Association, but the NRA–unlike Fischer, Rosenthal, Bloomberg and Frum–had the tact to withhold comment in the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut attack. Frum’s detractors were no “lobby,” just individuals who disagreed with his views and found his manner disagreeable. Stigmatizing one’s opponents as a “lobby” is a tactic with an ugly recent history; as Frum himself observed about another practitioner, “[his] core argument is that he and his small-band of like-minded allies are entitled to prevail overtop the preferences of the great majority of Americans.”
A central reason these gun debates tend to be futile is that gun owners and gun-rights supporters think advocates of gun control will not settle for reasonable restrictions but want to deprive them of their constitutional rights altogether. They are right to think so, and Frum’s essay illustrates the point.
He notes, as we did Wednesday, that the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week struck down Illinois’s absolute ban on carrying concealed weapons. What he doesn’t mention is that the court stayed its order for 180 days to give state lawmakers time to craft a new law that passes constitutional muster. This would seem an excellent opportunity for advocates of reasonable gun regulations to weigh in on just what they might look like. For Frum, it was just a reminder that those who disagree with him are contemptible: “The [decision] moved me to revisit some writing I did this summer about the folly of imagining that law-abiding citizens make themselves more safe by owning weapons.”
Many of the voices demanding stricter gun control, like Frum, openly scoff at the Second Amendment. Others simply ignore it. Very few acknowledge the need to respect Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms. To be sure, President Obama has done so on occasion, but not only his detractors suspect him of insincerity. Here is David Remnick, an Obama hagiographer, writing at The New Yorker’s website Friday:
Remnick is ignorant about Laurence Tribe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong about Obama.
Maybe there would be fewer mass shootings if there were no Second Amendment. But the same can be said of the First. A Washington Post story over the weekend crystallizes the point. Here are the opening paragraphs:
“He will long be remembered.” That suggests a fairly simple answer to the vexing question of why people do things like this: They do it for recognition. Given the media frenzies that followed Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and the rest, they have every confidence of getting it.
To suggest such a banal motive is neither to diminish the evil of the crime nor to deny that the killer was mentally ill. [.......]
One might object that the killer in this case, as they often do, took his own life and thus is not around to “enjoy” his recognition. But the human desire for recognition consists in substantial part of projecting beyond one’s own death. Whose dreams of fame would not be crushed by the assurance that one would be forgotten immediately after dying?
Our point here is that the medium is the motive: If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media can be counted on to give extensive attention to their horrific deeds. They are, after all, newsworthy, and they do raise important questions of public concern, not only about the availability of weapons and the vulnerability of “gun-free zones” but also about the treatment of mental illness.
We journalists often proclaim high-mindedly that the public has a right to know–and we’re right. But as in the Garden of Eden, knowledge is dangerous. An industry devoted to serving the public’s right to know gives twisted and evil men the means of becoming known.
This problem is not obviously amenable to a solution, and it certainly is not amenable to a legal one. A regime of media regulation that would be both effective at preventing mass shootings and consistent with the American Constitution is no easier to imagine than a regime of gun regulation that would meet the same criteria.
The Times’s Saturday editorial, before getting to the inevitable antigun talking points, hinted at this moral ambiguity of journalism:
People will want to know about the killer in Newtown, Conn. His background and his supposed motives. Did he show signs of violence? But what actually matters are the children. What are their names? What did they dream of becoming? Did they enjoy finger painting? Or tee ball?
“What actually matters are the children.” A lovely thought, an empty piety. The children had “news value” only because they came to a horrible end. Had they been left alone to grow up, it’s unlikely any of them would ever have come to the attention of the Times editorial page. The editorial omits the murderer’s name–perhaps a deliberate gesture, and if so, a futile one. Even if you don’t know his name, you know who he is.
Committing journalism is not a wrongful act, and often it is a noble one. But all of us who, in the course of making a living at it, help publicize these horrific acts are in a small way implicated in enabling them. Perhaps those who scapegoat gun-rights supporters do so because they have too much pride to contemplate their own fallen nature.
Read the rest – The Medium is the Motive