July 21 2012
The Shootings in Aurora
Our hearts go out to all who have been affected by the shootings in Colorado.
One cannot fathom the immense suffering of these innocent people whose only sin was seeking some rest and relaxation at the movies.
I am tempted to stop there and not risk politicizing this evil and monstrous act. But the killings already have evoked much commentary, much of it highly offensive.
The worst response was ABC’s Brian Ross, who went on air to suggest that the shooter, James Holmes, might be connected to the Tea Party, based on Ross’s having seen a website owned by a Tea Party member who was also named James Holmes and lived in Aurora, Colo.
"Brian Ross lost big time and so did ABC News,” Jay Rosen, an associate professor at New York University’s school of journalism, told POLITICO. “Ross reacted and went on instinct… So strong was this instinct that it overrode common newsroom sense and any innate sense of caution that might be left in Brian Ross.”
Oh, and it was pretty awful for Tea Party member James Holmes to be fingered as a possible mass murderer on the basis of having a pretty generic name, too. But forget him. To focus the story on how bad this is for Ross is sort of like Bill Clinton’s inadvertently saying that, if the SEAL team going after Osama Bin Laden had failed and been killed, it would have been bad for the president. As for Ross’s gut, there must be a great deal of antipathy towards the Tea Party in it.
Paul Mirengoff addresses Brian Ross’s stunt:
There was a time, I seem to recall, when no one attempted to tie mass murder by random sickos to politics. For example, I don’t remember anyone wondering about the politics of Richard Speck, the killer of Chicago student nurses, or Charles Whitman, the University of Texas shooter.
I don’t know when the turning point occurred. Perhaps it was the Oklahoma City bombing. In any event, the bounce Bill Clinton received following that event meant that, from then on, random killing sprees would always be viewed as candidates for political use.
Today, we saw this sad trend reach new heights when Brian Ross of ABC News attempted to tie the killings in Colorado to the Tea Party, incorrectly suggesting that the killer is a Tea Party activist. It’s difficult to believe that Ross did this in good faith, considering his apparent unwillingness, and that of his network, to recognize that the name of the killer, James Holmes, is quite common. In any case, the error would not have occurred had Ross not correctly perceived that there exists a mass audience hoping to be informed that the murderer was connected to the Tea Party. Absent such an audience, the story would have been duly fact checked.
Although it was predictable that gun control advocates would seize on the murders, it has also been suggested that a law-abiding citizen with a legal concealed weapon might have taken out James Holmes before he inflicted so many casualties.
I have to agree with Mona Charen, who wonders why there is sadness but no anger and charges that both President Obama and Mitt Romney responded weakly:
The responses of both presidential candidates to the horror in Colorado feel weak to me. They are characteristic of our culture, which treats each of these grostesque acts of mass killing as “tragedies.” The proper response to such an atrocity is rage. It wouldn’t be out of place for the president and the man who hopes to replace him to refer to the shooter as a “monster.” We don’t do that. Instead, we focus on “healing.” We’ve become excellently behaved victims.
An authoritative response to the murders came from Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, perhaps the most renowned expert on schizophrenia in the world. Writing in National Review, Dr. Torrey noted:
This incident should not surprise us. Over the past half century, we have emptied out the state psychiatric hospitals but then failed to provide treatment for half of those discharged. They have ended up, in increasing numbers, homeless on the streets, in jails and prisons, in emergency rooms, and committing violent acts, including homicides. Three studies suggest that individuals with untreated severe mental illnesses are responsible for approximately 10 percent of all homicides, and another study suggests they are responsible for more than 10 percent of rampage murders. We are now seeing about two such mass killings associated with mental illness each year.
Treatment should be the operant word for this discussion. There is no evidence whatsoever that people with severe mental illnesses who are receiving treatment are more violent than the general population.
But of course the laws have made it impossible for the families of the severely mentally ill to force them to accept treatment. Mona weighs in on the Torrey post, noting that “the price we are paying now for our excessively libertarian approach [to mental illness] is being paid in blood and misery.”