Journalism 202: Breaking News Analysis

This post is an assignment for my Journalism 202 class — please keep that in mind when reading. [Current Events]

Last Monday, tragedy unfolded when a distraught shooter — motive still unknown — unleashed a hailstorm of bullets inside the Washington Navy Yard, killing twelve before ending his own life amid a fierce gunfight with authorities.

Naturally, from the moment that the Navy first tweeted about the developing situation, various media agencies were all over it like a pack of hyenas circling a delicious morsel of meat. Although I’m not one to fault newspapers for trying to get some news, it is clear that they made several missteps in attempting to bring the situation to their readers.

The television media made, not one, but two factual errors in their haste to deliver the latest and the newest. Firstly, CBS and NBC — two of the biggest names in television news — both mistakenly identified Rollie Chance as the shooter, when in fact, the actual mastermind behind the shootings was Aaron Alexis. According to the guilty parties, the misidentification came from a dropped ID card that “looked similar” to the gunman’s face.

Seriously?

Another, smaller error was made in the process of identifying the handgun than Alexis used. A small detail, to be sure, but it was still something that the news should have gotten right in the first try. Several media outlets had identified the murderer’s weapon as an AR-15, the oft-commented and culturally dominant weapon often known simply as the “assault rifle”.

Given that political — and national — discourse still hasn’t come to a conclusion on the assault weapons debate, this mistake is not only egregious, it is downright harmful to debate. What this debate needs is not more emotionally-charged pleas from “families of victims”, sudden “gun control advocates” that pop up from nowhere, et cetera. It needs a clean, concise, and well-reasoned argument. Thanks to the Navy Yard shooting, and the press’s misidentification of the shooter’s weaponry, that has become impossible for the time being.

I suppose we’re in for a few more months of emotional rhetoric and tears on national television. Good luck, NRA.

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