The Sandy Hook Massacre versus The Dorner Rampage: Corporate Media Double Standard

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It’s no secret that journalists working for the bulk of mainstream news outlets seek to uncover and exploit every facet of gruesome events such as ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner’s apparent rampage or the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown Connecticut. Such routinized reporting typically involves generating grist for the 24 hour news cycle by identifying and maximizing all possible video evidence while interviewing every witness willing to speak before the camera. This is exactly how coverage of the two incidents may be distinguished.

Corporate media coverage of Dorner’s exploits reveals a great deal when compared to reportage of the Sandy Hook tragedy. In the case of Dorner a multitude of interviews emerged of those who encountered–or nearly encountered–the former policeman and soldier. These included “Dan,” the boyfriend of a hotel desk attendant who witnessed Dorner’s odd attempts at avoiding security cameras, auto parts store manager Majid Yahyai whose video surveillance camera recorded Dorner discarding ammunition in a dumpster, Karen and Jim Reynolds who Dorner briefly held hostage, and Dorner carjack victim and Boy Scout leader Rick Heltebrake.[1] Excepting “Dan” each interviewee was clearly identified in accord with proper journalistic norms of attribution.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goa56LuZx7E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Td02PolQmU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rGpnSikBHI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFPxguMW04g

Even a woman matching the description of Dorner’s mother was pursued by broadcast journalists after being encountered and captured on video surveillance at a neighborhood lounge as the manhunt played out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UyYhwyHFfM

Sandy Hook’s Unsung Heroes

Along similar lines two short months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary several hundred students and teaching staff immediately or indirectly (through the school’s intercom system) encountered the attack police maintain was carried out by Adam Lanza. Yet the nation’s press corps that swooped in on Newtown could only manage to produce interview footage with a handful of students, teachers, and parents. Even among these there is confusion and uncertainty in terms of who exactly the individuals were. What mattered more, it seemed, was the extent to which they could be integrated into the broader narrative.

While sometimes amateurish and dubious, the Newtown Bee’s coverage is key since it initially established the narrative tone for ensuing Sandy Hook reportage that informed (or disinformed) national and international audiences.

For example, the Bee carried an excerpt of an interview with Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung on a December 13 post to the paper’s site.[2] “Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung told the Bee that a masked man entered the school with a rifle and started shooting multiple shows [sic] – more than she could count –that went ‘on and on.’”

Upon news of Hochsprung’s demise the story changed, yet the identity of the actual interviewee–if one actually existed–was never revealed and in the revised piece there is no mention of such an interview.[3]

The same may be said for interviews with onlookers and family members the Bee claimed gathered at the crime scene, all of whom remain curiously anonymous in a report.

One young man, in his late teens to early 20s, screamed “Who would do this? What kind of person would do this?” He had a sister in the school, and watched anxiously as class after class left the building. Other parents, some on their own, stood still, hoping for some positive news from the school … One man in the parking lot had a call from one of the teachers inside the building, reporting that the children in her classroom were safe. Others crowded around him, calling out names and hoping for something about their children.[4]

Interviews with other survivors that would have in all likelihood eagerly recounted their valorous acts are also strangely absent from subsequent press coverage. For example, while a Sandy Hook library clerk’s ordeal received national exposure,[5] other library workers, the school’s custodian and cafeteria employees highlighted in the Bee’s aforementioned story[6] are nowhere to be found. “There was the school custodian,” the Bee observed,

bleary-eyed and shaking off expressions of thanks and praise, who, as shots were ringing out, reportedly ran through the school halls making sure classroom doors were locked from the inside … There were the library staffers who heard commotion on the school’s public address system and learned there was a gunman in the building … And two cafeteria workers who heard shots and dropped to the ground, crawling into a utility closet and locking themselves in until help arrived.[7]

As I have suggested above and elsewhere, out of well over one thousand students, parents and school staff a proportionately minute number are interviewed in succeeding coverage of the event while there is virtually no aerial coverage of a mass evacuation or rendezvous at the nearby Sandy Hook Fire Station.

CCTV of Dorner and the Lanzas

In the case of the Chris Dorner affair surveillance videos have emerged verifying several instances of the alleged killer’s existence over a very brief period of time leading up to his demise. He was recorded buying scuba gear, disposing ammo in a dumpster, and attempting to dodge surveillance cameras at a hotel where he lodged. And as noted CBSLA journalists believe they encountered Dorner’s mother at a neighborhood tavern. All of this footage was unhesitatingly reported by news media outlets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHd9USZplZg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoHTw6f0cM4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goa56LuZx7E

Yet in the Newtown event, aside from the lack of video surveillance footage of the shooting scene, no such video has emerged of Nancy or Adam Lanza practicing at gun ranges, purchasing or attempting to purchase weapons, or even carrying out routine errands such as buying gasoline or grocery shopping. Indeed, it is as if Adam Lanza in particular did not exist—an observation actually made by one CNN correspondent in early coverage of the massacre’s aftermath.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVQcf5tfPow

On February 19 the “official” version of the Sandy Hook tragedy will be further ensconced in the public mind through a special PBS-Hartford Courant Frontline collaborative production. In light of what essentially qualifies as state propaganda, understanding how the Newtown tragedy was so obviously misrepresented by the nation’s news media vis-à-vis similar events remains especially important because it provides an indication of not just the mechanics of the media’s manipulation of public will and consciousness, but also how we as a society describe and recollect such dark events.

Setting aside consideration of their spontaneity or design, taken as a whole these occurrences have grave political implications because they are being used by the Obama administration as a rationale to seriously compromise the Second Amendment, much like how the events of September 11, 2001 were utilized by the Bush-Cheney regime to undermine the Fourth Amendment and usher in the costly and interminable “war on terror.”

Notes

[1] See also Mary Beth McDade, “Exclusive: Man Carjacked by Dorner Speaks Out,” KTLA 5, February 13, 2013; Adlolfo Lopez and Robert J. Lopez, “Couple Recounts Harrowing Dorner Ordeal,” Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2013; Steven Luke, R. Stickney and AP, “Video Shows Manhunt Suspect in National City,” NBC 7 San Diego, February 10, 2013; Itaca Milanes, “Hotel Clerk Says Dorner Acted Strangely,” ABC10 News, February 12, 2013.

[2] The layout of the page is disorderly because the original page was removed from the internet. Therefore this page is not able to link to any of the style sheets as well as any images.

[3] “Shooting Reported at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Newtown Bee, December 14, 2012.

[4] “Shootings [sic] Shock the Community;Parents Desperate for Information,” Newtown Bee, December 14, 2012.

[5] Matthew Lysiak and Larry McShane, “Library Clerk at Sandy Hook Elementary School Saves 18 Kids From Demented Gunman,” New York Post, December 15, 2012.

[6] “Shootings Shock the Community.”

[7] John Voket, “Stories of Heroism Emerging From School Shooting Tragedy,” Newtown Bee, December 15, 2012.


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About the author:

James F. Tracy was a tenured Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University from 2002 to 2016. He was fired by FAU ostensibly for violating the university's policies imposed on the free speech rights of faculty. Tracy has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the university, with trial set to begin November 27, 2017. Tracy received his PhD from University of Iowa. His work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. Additional information is available at MemoryHoleBlog.com, TracyLegalDefense.org, and jamesftracy.wordpress.com.

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