This story first appeared in the July 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Another day, another gun massacre in America. And another chance for television news media to commit its usual fail when it comes to any gun atrocity.
It took several hours for cable news even to react to the horrific June 17 church shooting in Charleston, S.C. Fox News continued airing a taped interview with Donald Trump. CNN carried on with its international simulcast feed. MSNBC stuck with reruns.
Actor Rob Lowe led the social media fury that erupted over this snail-like response to a devastating domestic terror attack by suspect Dylann Roof. Yet I wasn’t remotely surprised.
Having spent four years at CNN, I know how reluctant cable news is to report any gun-related stories unless the death toll is on a massive scale like a Newtown or Aurora. “Americans are bored with shootings; there are just so many of them,” one producer once told me bluntly.
The U.S. print media is just as culpable. When a 15-year-old student in Washington gunned down five of his friends in a high school cafeteria a few months ago, the news didn’t even make the front page of almost any major American newspaper. If it had occurred in countries like Britain, Australia or Germany, such an incident would have dominated the news for weeks. But in America, gun violence apathy reigns.
I watched a lot of cable news following the Charleston shooting, and viewers could be forgiven for forgetting that an actual firearm had been used in the attack, such was the reluctance to reopen the debate yet again. This was about race, mental health, prescription drugs, terror, even religion — Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy actually urged viewers to ignore any suggestions this was a race attack and focus instead on “hostility towards Christians” — indeed, ANYTHING but guns.
Fox News stars excelled at attacking anyone who dared demand new gun control laws for “politicizing” the tragedy, a familiar tactic deployed by the NRA to shut down any sensible dialogue about guns in the wake of all mass shootings.
Even Jon Stewart has given up. His no-joke monologue about the Charleston atrocity was widely lauded for its brilliance. But he barely mentioned the word “gun.” Instead, his focus was on racism. That, clearly, was a very important part of the story. But a racist without a gun can’t shoot anyone.
The real scandal is how a mentally unstable 21-year-old kid with pending felony charges, who posted copious violent, racist threats online, was able to acquire a gun — although I would argue that an even bigger scandal is America’s collective refusal to do anything to stop these outrages from happening again and again. And for that, I blame the pitifully supine media almost as much as I blame the cowardly politicians.
On June 21, Taylor Swift managed to effect an immediate, hugely significant change in Apple’s music payment policy with one post on her Tumblr page. Imagine the impact if every major TV, print and digital media entity demanded action from Congress on gun control? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” said the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke.
The greatest evil in America right now is the gun. More than 100,000 people a year are hit by gunfire in this country, of whom 32,000 die. When will “good men” (and good women!) in the media stop doing nothing?