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There's nothing quite like a horrible tragedy to inspire some horrible journalism.
Today's early-morning shooting at a movie theater in Aurora was by all early, and responsible, accounts, the lone act of suspect James Holmes. Holmes shot dozens of people at the midnight showing of the latest Batman feature, killing 12. Families are grieving, and a community is most certainly reeling, but just those facts are not enough for our navel-gazing 24-hour news cyclists.
Here are three examples of classically bad journalism that this tragedy has so far produced.
1. Getting your facts wrong
Brian Ross of ABC News started a minor shit storm this morning by saying these words on national television:
“There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.”
Through nothing more than a scant investigation (Google search?), Ross tracked down a Jim Holmes who lives in Aurora AND who happens to be a member of the Tea Party, and figured, What the hell? This might be news.
Ross' report (which ABC has since corrected) unsurprisingly and rightly infuriated Tea Partiers and Republicans.
2. Pointless, irresponsible spectating
The Associated Press, looking for the "unique" angle — and possibly trying to get ahead of the debate on the dangers of fictionalized violence — actually dedicated 300 words to the possible link between this random act and the plot of a comic book character.
But there are general parallels to the Colorado shooting, "The Dark Knight" and the comic book character:
— Bruce Wayne's drive to become Batman arose from witnessing the deaths of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, at the hands of small-time criminal Joe Chill, who shot and killed them after they had left a movie theater.
— The Batman video game called "Arkham City" takes place in an abandoned movie theatre (The Monarch, outside of which Bruce Wayne's parents were killed).
— In the first graphic novel of the Dark Knight Returns series (1986), the Joker slaughters the audience of a television talk show.
— In the same book, a man who starts shooting up a porn theater after he being fired from his job.
— "The Dark Knight Rises" features at least two scenes where unsuspecting people are attacked in a public venue: the stock exchange and a football stadium.
This one just reeks of a desperate attempt to "localize" the story, as we in the media like to say.
Reporters at the Gazette headed down to a local theater to talk to moviegoers as they filed into the Batman movie, to ask them about their feelings about a tragedy that, more than likely, has had no real impact on their lives; not surprisingly, the moviegoers said basically that:
Colorado Springs moviegoers continued to see "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie Friday morning despite a deadly shooting at the midnight premiere in Aurora.
Some moviegoers, including Craig Seals, who's visiting the Springs from his hometown of Rapid City, S.D., said they were shocked but were still looking forward to the movie.
Seals, who was seeing the movie at the Cinemark theater northeast of Carefree Circle and Powers Boulevard, said life can be "messy" but that sometimes you have to carry on nonetheless.
Shouldn't journalism leave a person feeling better informed?