Telling stories

Fort Hood coverage shows media at its best – and mostly worst

Posted by southwrite on November 6, 2009


Image by flickr user: dane brian Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

 When word first came of the shooting at Fort Hood I, like every one else, was transfixed. A new, but somehow very familiar, horror was unfolding. A gunman had opened fire at unarmed military personnel as they prepared for deployment to overseas combat zones.

The news media in the form of cable news did what it does best – and worst – as it reported on every new development both real and rumor. As the causalities and the number of shooters mounted, my emotions went from horror to fear. It had to be another terrorist incident and unbelievably it was taking place on a military base on U.S. soil. This was the safest place a solider could be, we thought. Now another illusion was being shattered and I dreaded what the aftermath might be.

Of course, the media eventually straightened the story out. It was a lone gunman. Another solider being deployed to a foreign war who appeared to have snapped under pressure. That was bad, but maybe not as bad as what we had first thought. A military psychiatrist named Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was solely responsible for the carnage. 

But, once again, the media is reflecting our worst fears. Read the name again – Hasan. Muslim. That quickly ignited another wave of outrage and hysteria. On cable news and the bloggersphere the calls were quick – and predictable. Investigate every Muslim and find out who’s loyal and who’s not urged one Fox News commentator. The usual suspects among our cadre of conservative opinionators are already doing their best to whip up fear and hatred of Muslims and paint Islam as a religion of violence – never mind that most Muslims are as horrified as everyone else.

Whether this incident will lead to heightened discrimination against them remains to be seen.

The coverage of this event, like some many others, now comes fast and furious and to an alarming extend unfiltered. Before the advent of the 24 hour cable news cycle and its attendant Internet coverage (amazingly not that long ago), events like this would have gotten straightened out before they made their way into the daily newspaper and even evening news. The rumors wouldn’t have been passed along without verification and when most people heard (or read) the story it would have already been close to an accurate account.

Reading a story in the newspaper also tended to produce less emotion than watching it unfold minute by painful minute on television.

The coverage illustrates both the good and bad of modern news coverage and how for viewers it is mostly bad. Bad because it traumatizes us and that isn’t likely to change. Neither the cameras nor the public is going to look away.

2 Responses to “Fort Hood coverage shows media at its best – and mostly worst”

  1. Very-well written and insightful article. Thanks for taking the media to task on this one. Still, the media can’t take all the blame; they couldn’t continue to propagandize such horrific events if we, as a nation, wouldn’t so willingly fall for the okey-doke.

    • southwrite said

      Thanks, Nichole. You’re quite right about that — we are willing victims. The media provides what it thinks we want — whether its wall to wall details about horrific events or ridiculous stunts such as the balloon boy.

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