Jan 14: Arizona shooting : media, misinformation and mental illness – a volatile mix.

Listen to the entire program here:

Last Saturday, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded, 6 others were killed, including nine year old Christina-Taylor Green, and many others were wounded. A lone gunman, Jared Loughner, has been charged with the crime. The news media has been deluged with commentary in the US, while in Canada, with strict gun laws, especially on handguns, and where assassinations of politicians is rare, we are fairly complacent that such a thing could not happen here.

 

Victims killed in shooting outside a Tucson, Arizona Safeway store (clockwise from top-left): 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, U.S. District Judge John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman

 

 

However, in December, we commemorated the 1989 Montreal massacre in which 14 women were murdered by Marc Lepine, a disaffected young man who blamed women for his inability to succeed in life. The idea of using guns to settle grievances is not alien to this country and we need to pay attention to what is happening in North American society as a whole. Much is already being said about the nature of political language in the US, the role of the media and especially media personalities like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and the like. On top of this is the reality of working class despair in the US and Canada so the question must be asked: Why did Jared Loughner, 22, take a loaded gun to a political event and use it to kill? Is he just crazy? Or did political rhetoric influence him? Do words matter and how can people discern the ideology of the rhetoric: that is, who is saying what and for what purpose?

Consider this: a friend of Loughner described how Loughner went to a 2007 event that Gabrielle Giffords was at. Loughner asked Giffords, what is government if words have no meaning? He complained that his question was not answered and most people would not be surprised, for his was a question for a research paper in university. It occurred to me that he asked a pertinent question that no politician would really be able to answer in a few short moments.

We don’t know what Loughner watched and listened to in the media and bits and pieces of his life are coming to light. It seems that overall he is being treated as a madman, a lone killer. But what if he represents a cross-section of society of angry and frustrated people who only rely on the mainstream media for information they need to make sense of the world they are in? A mainstream media that is a hodge-podge of a vast array of commercial TV,  with hosts ranting and raving about communists in in American political life, reality shows, and talk shows that pander to base emotions with little or no thoughtful analysis of the world.

With political debate in the US amounts to crosshairs on a map, and comments like “don’t retreat, reload”, how can rational questions be formulated let alone answered?  Loughner committed a heinous crime and there can be no justification for it. However, there is a reason for what he did and the reasons seem to go deep into the culture of the US with its history of using violence to solve problems.

I talked with Professor Jim Wittebols, who teaches political science and communication studies at the University of Windsor, to get an understanding of the situation in the US. In the interview we referred to a report entitled Misinformation and the 2010 Election: A Study of the US Electorate

Also, to understand the political situation in Arizona, I found this article by Joel Olson to be helpful.

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