Friday, July 20, 2012

"The Worst Mass Shooting in US History"

Update: This is the CNN homepage on Saturday afternoon at 2:30

It's late, so I'll make this quick:

I really wish that all of these news outlets would stop calling today's mass murder in Colorado the "worst mass shooting in US history." It is not. It may be "the worst mass shooting involving a single shooter or pair of shooters since World War II," but US history does not begin in 1945.

The criterion being used by CNN seems to be the total number of people shot (killed + wounded), thus elevating today's events over more deadly shootings like Columbine and the Virginia Tech massacre in service of whipping up ratings. I suppose they can use whatever criteria they want, but calling it the "worst mass shooting in US history" is inaccurate and misleading.

I suppose that you could make the case that mass shootings by soldiers should not count, even if they are shooting civilian strikers, children, or prisoners of war. But still, today's shooting is not even the worst incident of civilian-on-civilian gun violence in American history — more than 100 people were killed in the Colfax Massacre of 1873. I suppose you can quibble about whether people shot with a cannon are victims of "shootings," but these are all firearm deaths.

I find many things troubling about this framing, but here are the big three:
  • It erases state violence against civilians. The worst mass shootings have been perpetrated by groups of heavily armed men in officially sanctioned killings of civilians.
  • It erases violence against Native Americans and African Americans. Most of those military massacres targeted people of color. Not that white civilians didn't massacre their black neighbors with great vigor (again, I direct you to the Colfax Massacre).
  • It makes it sound like America is getting more violent over time. Not true. Don't let people think the past was all petticoats and flag waving. The violence of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was horrific.
So please, ABC, add some qualifiers into your sensational reports.


Roy said...

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

I second that.

Paul said...

This claim of the Colorado Theatre shooting being the "worst mass shooting" is simply not true. What about the McDonald's Mass shooting in San Ysidro, California (near San Diego)? 21 killed including 5 children. This massacre involved one shooter, James Huberty.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...


You're right, of course. In order to make the story more sensational, CNN, ABC, and other media outlets are finding creative ways to break out the superlatives. In this case, more people were actually shot (at least 70) than in San Ysidro (about 40) or Virginia Tech (about 50), even though the latter two were much deadlier.

The point being that this "worst shooting" language is both a crass ratings grab and an act of politically charged historical amnesia.