Home / General / Glenn Reynolds demonstrates how to avoid politicizing a tragedy

Glenn Reynolds demonstrates how to avoid politicizing a tragedy


As everyone who pays attention to political blogging knows, tragedies are too tragic to politicize. Discussing gun control in the wake of a tragic shooting is despicable political opportunism. Discussing the discussion of gun control in the wake of a tragic shooting, however, isn’t politically opportunistic because it’s a morally neutral, second-order discussion about a discussion. It’s a meta-discussion about the propriety of having a political discussion in the wake of a tragic shooting, meaning it’s an apolitical discussion whose participants are immune to the charge that they’re violating decorum by politicizing a tragedy. For example, here’s Glenn Reynolds’s first post about Aurora:

A TRULY AWFUL mass shooting in Denver. At the Batman premiere.

UPDATE: More here.

It doesn’t exploit the tragedy by using it to score cheap political points, so no one could accuse him of political opportunism. But here’s his second post on the tragic shooting:

POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM: CNN’s Piers Morgan, First to Use Colorado Tragedy to Assault Second Amendment Rights. I’m sure he won’t be the last.

Others may blame Hollywood. In both cases, it’s a mix of opportunism and a desire not to confront the existence of evil. Well, okay, in Piers Morgan’s case, it’s not much of a mix, really.

UPDATE: Left Blames Aurora Shooting On Rush Limbaugh. Of course they do. Hey, never let a tragedy go to waste, when you might use it to smear an opponent.

Every time something like this happens, they roll out the blood libels.

Because conservative bloggers have established that it’s not political opportunism to discuss political opportunism, this technically doesn’t qualify as an exploitation of the tragic shooting, because pointing out other people’s political opportunism isn’t politically opportunistic—even though the people doing the pointing are ideologically opposed to the people they’re pointing at. Every conservative blogger knows that. Reynold’s next post qualifies as non-opportunistic for the same reason:


Reaction: “Brian Ross must be fired by the end of the day.”

What’s pathetic is that every time, they so clearly want to blame tragedies like this on the Tea Party. I don’t generally like these calls for firings, and Ross was no doubt just reading what a producer sent him, but . . . They know how to be exquisitely sensitive and non-prejudgey when it might be a Muslim or some other protected minority, so maybe the only way to encourage them to show better judgment the rest of the time is to cost some people their jobs. Who was the producer? Meanwhile, I look forward to the libel suit. . . .

UPDATE: ABC News goes into “Damage Control Mode.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Treacher on Twitter: “It’s not even about @BrianRoss. It’s about a subculture with a view of the world in which @BrianRoss’s assumption there is only natural.”

MORE: Here’s an interview with the man ABC News libeled.

MORE STILL: A roundup of “progressive” scapegoating, some of it racist.

STILL MORE: Prof. Stephen Clark writes: “Yes, but ‘subculture’ suggests a smaller group than it actually is. The condescension implicit in these repeated attempts by the likes of Ross is widely shared. And though observed frequently, these acts highlight one of the great cultural divides yet to be fully examined. Academics like Haidt have only scratched the surface by shining a light on the divide.”

There’s nothing politically opportunistic about this post—despite its implicit defense of the Tea Party and explicit criticism of progressive thought. There’s also nothing politically opportunistic about the next post:

RICK MORAN: Why is Brian Ross Still Working for ABC News? “ABC News reporter Brian Ross committed what used to be a fatal mistake to a journalist’s career: He blurted out a wild, unsubstantiated, speculative observation that hadn’t been vetted by anyone and was explosively political at the same time. . . . And what made Ross make a beeline straight for the Tea Party website in the first place?” Reckless disregard?

Or the next one:

MARY KATHARINE HAM: Details about Colorado shooter emerge as ABC apologizes for false Tea Party reporting.

Or the next one:

BUT REMEMBER, THE BIG MEDIA FOLKS ARE “RESPONSIBLE,” NOT LIKE THOSE GRUBBY BLOGGERS: Brian Ross, media malpractice consequences: Falsely accused Tea Party member receiving threats.

Or the next one:

MATT WELCH: Half-Assed Media Speculation About the Batman Shooter.

Or the next one:

THE ANCHORESS WRITES ON THE PRESS’S TOXIC ENTHRALLMENT, and Kevin Drum says it’s “time for Brian Ross to find a new job. I don’t normally call for people’s heads for making a mistake, even a bad one, but this is really beyond the pale. What kind of reporter says something like this on national TV despite knowing full well that he has no idea if he’s pegging the right person? Is there really any good reason Ross should still be employed by ABC News by the close of business today?” Hey, when you’re getting this kind of treatment at Mother Jones. . . .

UPDATE: Colorado Tea Party Member Smeared by ABC’s Brian Ross: “What kind of idiot makes that kind of statement?” First class.

ANOTHER UPDATE: “Breathtakingly reckless.” And that’s from . . . Gawker. “OK then! There’s some guy on the internet with the same name. That is literally all Ross had—no other connection, not one reason to even remotely suspect that it’s the same Holmes. Just that there is a guy with that name, on the internet.” Reckless disregard? If I were the Tea Party Holmes, I’d have my lawyer talking to ABC right now. My terms: Groveling apology to be repeated on at least two national newscasts, plus This Week and all Colorado affiliates. Plus $250K in damages. No apology by tonight, and the demand goes to $5 million. Oh, and guys, be sure to preserve all records, browser histories, etc. for litigation. . . .

And Brian Ross’s track record might support an argument that it’s reckless to have him on the air at all . . .

Or the next one:

PETER WEHNER: Brian Ross and Politicizing The Aurora Massacre.

Or the next one:


Or the next one:

YOU KNOW, MAYBE IT IS RECKLESS DISREGARD JUST PUTTING BRIAN ROSS ON THE AIR: I had forgotten this libel case involving Brian Ross until reader Rich Andrews sent the link. Key bit:

Judge Crocker said Wednesday that he was convinced the NBC News reporters, Brian Ross and Ira Silverman, had ”serious subjective doubts as to the truth of the broadcasts” but went ahead anyway.

Frankly, at this point, just hiring the guy should send your libel insurance carriers into a frenzy. And would you want to be deposed about why you went ahead and hired him, after such a record of untrustworthiness? . . .

UPDATE: How bad is Brian Ross? Even Wonkette is calling for him to be fired:

Jesus fucking Christ on a hotplate. Brian Ross and his BLOTTER INVESTIGATIVE TEAM googled for a few minutes and didn’t bother trying to confirm anything and wow, huh, look at that, he was wrong. . . .

Tea Party people on the Internet are furious over this, and they have every right to be, because it’s an egregious, early error that will color the impressions of people no matter how frequently or aggressively it’s retracted. Can Brian Ross! Put him in the goddamn street. He is constantly wrong, at reporting on national television.

Would you write a libel policy for an outlet that employed him?


MORE: Is ABC News’ Brian Ross Trustworthy? No. Next question?

STILL MORE: Reader Chad Hunter points out that the libel verdict was overturned. “In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that there was insufficient evidence to show that NBC News reporters had either deliberately lied or recklessly disregarded the truth, the legal standard that applies when libel suits are brought by public figures.” Hmm. Some people would nonetheless be chastened by such an experience. Ross not so much, apparently.

Or the next one:

UM, NOT LYING? The Difference Between A Network Reporter And A Blogger.

Or the next one:

JOURNALISM PROF. JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Slow to learn: Lesson for journos in Brian Ross’ egregious error on ABC.

Brian Ross’ appalling error linking the Tea Party movement to the suspected Batman-movie shooter in Colorado demonstrates anew how slow journalists can be in grasping an elementary lesson of disaster coverage: Resist temptation to report more than you can immediately verify.

In the hours just after a disaster, journalists tend to be especially prone to error and imprecision, as Ross, the chief investigative correspondents for ABC News, amply demonstrated in declaring today on Good Morning America:

“There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the 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,” Ross added, “but it is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo.”

The suspect arrested in the shootings early today at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, is named James Holmes. But he is not the “Jim Holmes” to whom Ross referred, and the suspected killer has no known connections to the grassroots Tea Party movement, which advocates restraints in government spending. . . . Whatever the reason, his error on a television program that attracts 4.5 million viewers was inexcusable — and eminently preventable.

In the swirling uncertainty that invariably marks the hours after a disaster, journalists are well-served to show deliberation and restraint, to be mindful that error and distortion often blight the first reports of dramatic events.

Plus, the emptiness of ABC’s apology.

Or the next one:

JAMES TARANTO: With Extreme Prejudice: How ABC News “investigates” a horrific crime.

At this point it’s been twenty four hours since Glenn Reynolds learned about the tragic shooting. During those twenty four hours, he wrote fourteen posts and thirteen updates about the tragic shooting. Despite the fact that thirteen of the posts and twelve of the updates concern Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party, Glenn Reynolds believes that none of those thirteen posts or twelve updates exploit the tragic shooting because he’s only discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself. That warrants repeating:

Even though Glenn Reynolds writes thirteen posts and twelve updates about Brian Ross in the twenty four hours following the tragic shooting, he believes he is not being politically opportunistic because he’s discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself. This is because Glenn Reynolds is using Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party, not the tragic shooting itself, to further a campaign to have Brian Ross fired for his remarks about the Tea Party. This is not political opportunism, even if it’s meant to prevent political opponents of the Tea Party from saying anything about guns or gun control in the hours after a tragic shooting, because Glenn Reynolds is discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself.

Only—no. The evidence above speaks for itself. Glenn Reynolds clearly exploited Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party as a means of forwarding his anti-gun control position. His belief—shared by many conservative bloggers—that second-order exploitations of a tragedy don’t qualify as exploitative is simply wrong. So too is his belief—again shared by many conservative bloggers—that one oppositional political remark about a tragedy grants them license to write endlessly about that remark without having to worry about appearing politically opportunistic. Any statement made in the furtherance of a political agenda qualifies as a a political statement, and given both the content and volume of Reynolds’ posts and updates in the wake of the tragic shooting, it’s fair to say that not only has Reynolds politicized this tragedy, he’s done so in a manner that deserves scorn.

He should be embarrassed by his response to this tragedy, not because it’s political—politicizing a tragedy isn’t inherently despicable—but because of the breathlessness of the exploitation. He clearly enjoys having the opportunity to exploit a tragedy to further his political agenda, because he believes himself shielded against moral scolds by his sophistic insistence that discussing a discussion isn’t political. It is. What makes him despicable isn’t his incorrect belief that he’s operating apolitically so much as the self-satisfied smirk on his face when he claims he is.

UPDATE: His latest update requires me to ask: Has any man ever been so doggedly committed to the cause of self-satire?

REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS OF this month’s massacre in Chicago. “A mass murder like Aurora, Colorado, naturally grabs the headlines and attention, as it should. A presidential recognition of the murders is appropriate. Yet more than twice as many people have been murdered this month in the president’s hometown of Chicago than were killed in the Aurora shooting. They are just statistics for whom there will be no presidential visits or flags flown at half staff.”

Well, since Chicago already has very strict gun control, these deaths can’t be turned to political use.

No, I think not.


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