April 16, 2007

Taking lazy journalism too far

The gaming bloggers are angry, and for good reason. Cable news pundit Jack Thompson reportedly appeared on Fox News today, blaming the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University on violent video games.

Even as I post this, no one publicly knows who did it, why he did it, or if the guy's even actually a student there. But certainly such premature finger-pointing has to be motivated by one of two things (if not both): a) Thompson's will to exploit a tragedy essentially still unfolding for a personal vendetta against violent games, or b) Fox News Channel's decision to try and pick fights and create controversy rather than just report the facts of the matter.

Aside from the inevitable comparisons to other shooting rampages, such as the 1966 incident at the University of Texas at Austin, or the Columbine school shooting, the news media has nothing more to work with than the occasional first-hand account of students and the facts being presented by school and police authorities. The ongoing news media today has been dominated by local news affiliate video updates, press conferences and speeches by the president and various senators and house members, and updates as the death toll increases throughout the day and new details of the case are revealed.

Clearly Fox was either really stretching for content, or intentionally trying to inject some controversy into the story. Probably the latter. There's no way they'd book Thompson, an outspoken activist against violent games, without knowing exactly what he'd say.

We're used to seeing this Nancy Grace-style fishing for controversy (not to say she's the only one - this could provide a good respite from the depressing news of the day) in the days, weeks and even months following any high-profile incident, and maybe the ratings such fights provide are why cable networks perpetuate the habit and the journalists who work there put up with it. But hours after it happens, surely before many parents even know their child has injured or killed? That's crossing a line.

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