Saturday, December 15, 2012

Compare the latest to a past mass shooting

Originally posted January 16, 2011

Tucson aftermath: Let's take some cues from 1966

It's been more than a week. It's time to roll back the scope and scale of coverage in Tucson. There is no on-going national crisis there unless you count attempts to manufacture one.

The event in Tucson was horrific. But it certainly seems to have been the isolated work of one man. Let's take a cue from history, and begin to move on.

Consider how America handled the Texas Bell Tower massacre in 1966.

The death toll was much higher. So was the number of wounded.

And  there's startling contrast in how leaders and media reacted in 1966 compared to the inflammatory rhetoric of the past eight days.

The archive of a national weekly news magazine may help us gain perspective.

In sorting out the details of the Bell Tower event, Time magazine's August 12, 1966 cover story focused on the gunman, and didn't try to herd us to political action. Nor was it filled with politicians trying to shape the event in support of their personal or partisan agenda.

Once the event was over and the gunman dead, it was clear the crisis aspect concluded.

Sure, there was discussion and debate after the event in 1966.  Some of it focused on gun control. And, like today, some of it focused on handling suspected psychotics. Time's cover story devoted a paragraph to some of the proposals, but news coverage didn't fall into the role of  cheerleader. "There was a spate of ideas, some hasty and ill conceived," according to Time.

Following the cover story, Time readers offered reaction and opinion, but the letters published are focused on policy, without a tone of personal vilification.

Back then, we seemed more able to identify the bloodshed as the work of madman. And didn't try to smear political opponents near and far with emotional attacks framed with the blood of victims.

For the most part, life was allowed to resume a course toward normalcy after the Bell Tower massacre. We weren't fed polling updates telling how politicians gained or lost popularity pegged to their response. America in 1966 likely would have been horrified at the suggestion politicians crafted responses or sought or received personal gain from such events.

Let's take some cues from 1966. We can't dwell on Tucson forever. Some additional aftermath coverage is warranted, but it's also time we move to keep things in perspective.

Today, we have real issues begging for attention. If we want to accomplish something, let's target a failing, increasingly centralized, public education system, or come to grips with the disaster in progress known as the federal debt.

Don't count on politicians or the media to direct discussion back to key issues. Events of the past week show political leaders often take the path of least resistance, speak before they think, and are prone to distraction rather than staying on target.

As for the media, it is no longer the watchdog it once was. It has become more focused on covering events or personalities than it is on connecting dots and covering issues. Many media simply seek a platform that yields ratings.

It's up to all of us to become our own watchdogs, to be aware of what's going on, to immerse ourselves in a knowledge of "boring stuff" like government finance, budget reports and legislative proposals. We must then make decision makers aware that we're aware and expect them to act in our best interests. Otherwise, they may simply look for the next diversion to play on our emotions rather than begin work to fix what really needs fixing.

This is not to say we shouldn't continue to keep those recovering in Tucson in our thoughts and prayers. Many there undoubtedly continue to wrestle with personal crises over what this tragedy has brought to their individual lives.

But as for a national focus, let's get back on target and move forward.

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