As I write, the teenager claimed to have perpetrated the Boston bombings is either being killed or being arrested by policemen. I can’t tell, because the journalists conducting the “live” news don’t seem to have a sodding clue. I might as well be listening to them in Spanish.
Posters on Reddit are facing justified criticism for fingering innocent men as suspects in the bombings. What might be overlooked, though, is the fact that it was not excitable netizens that splashed a 17-year-old track athlete across their front page but professional journalists of The New York Post. It was Gawker, Fox and CNN that published images of Ryan Lanza, who was innocently busing home as his brother stood accused of massacring children at Sandy Hook. It was ABC that linked Jim Holmes, a Colorado native who happened to be a member of the Tea Party Patriots, to the Aurora shoots that the police would attribute to a very different James Holmes.
This is not to absolve presumptuous investigooglers but to observe that the mainstream media has long been leading this pack of news-hungry hounds. This wreaks terrible effects on the emotions of the innocent yet accused, of course, and I expect it to have more destructive effects in time. What if a Bay Stater with a lot of testosterone and little intelligence had looked up from their paper or iPhone to see young Salah Barhoum jogging down the street, or if a headstrong Connecticuter had been eyeing the news while on the bus with Ryan Lanza? Someone is liable to be identified as the perpetrator of this or that atrocity and then face a beating or outright execution from vigilantes as they go about their business.
The frenzies of news updates that follow these events are bad for all of us. I kept tabs on Twitter as shots rang through Sandy Hook, and studied it as carnage was erupting in Aurora. What took place in those events? I’m damned if I know, and I suspect I’m not the only one. The media, both old and new, whips up a storm of facts, rumours and downright lies and then blows us to the site of its next tempest as the debris begins to settle. We are left unsure of what took place, still less of why, and remain dazed, giddy, and excitable – in no mood for reflection.
Rolling news has not merely affected the manner in which we observe events, but the types of events we observe. Why have we been so consumed by news of shootings in Connecticut, Colorado and Pretoria? They were almost wholly irrelevant to us. This is not to claim that they are uninteresting, or that one should not take an interest in them, but that we are being conditioned into following events according to their ability to generate rapid and sensational developments: the 20/20 cricket games to the slower, more complex and yet often more significant progression of events elsewhere. This could make us more impatient, more ignorant and, considering the grim nature of these spectacles, more insecure.
As I have been writing, the police have arrested the teenager. I hope it can be determined whether he is guilty, and, if so, why and how he managed to commit the act. To this end, I hope that people will be calm and patient enough to reflect on such inquiries, and their implications, with appropriate care. We need silence. We need space.