There were many facets to the coverage of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that took the lives of 17 people. As usual, we start our analysis with President Donald Trump.
Taking on Trump
The media coverage on Trump’s response to the school shooting has largely focused on speculation and criticism around his response to calls for gun control.
In the past, Trump has praised Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, and warned voters during the 2016 presidential election that Hillary Clinton would strip them of their Second Amendment rights, wrote Stephen Collinson for CNN.
Since the shooting, the president and first lady visited a hospital where many of the victims were treated on Friday before Trump visited the Broward County Sheriff’s Department to praise law enforcement officers who responded to the shooting.
My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2018
Trump said on Tuesday that he ordered the Justice Department to propose a rule to ban bump fire stocks, a device that mimics automatic weapons, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that he hasn’t ruled out raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15 style weapon.
In a listening session on Feb. 21 with students, teachers and parents at the White House, Trump promised tougher background checks and mental health screens for gun buyers.
Concerns that Trump, who was supported by the NRA during his campaign, won’t follow through on policy geared toward preventing horrific shootings like the Parkland one are cropping up in news stories.
“On Tuesday, facing rising political heat after the Parkland massacre, Trump, as he often does, blamed his predecessors for a lack of action and said he would be different, despite widespread skepticism among gun control activists about his sincerity and capacity to make the case for change,” CNN’s Collinson wrote.
Media outlets are also covering online outrage at a tweet from the president on the shooting, which he linked to criticism of the FBI for “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion.”
Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Sustained reporting as students speak out
Students across the country are taking a firm and public stance against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting and planning two marches on March 14 and March 24. Their vocal calls for policy changes and organizing have garnered sustained media attention and “a reaction to a mass shooting that we haven’t seen before,” wrote Vox’s Alvin Chang.
“Even in the deadliest or most high-profile shootings, the coverage peaks the day after the shooting, stays relatively high for a day or two — and then fades into the background in a few weeks,” Chang wrote. “The data seems to suggest that hearing these young survivors not only plead for action, but taking action themselves, is keeping this conversation going.”
Many students have called for stricter gun laws and policy changes around gun control, but one Parkland survivor said that the media is “politicizing the tragedy” by linking it to gun control. Some conservative media outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller also criticized the call by students and emphasis in the media for stricter gun laws in the wake of violence happening at schools.
“Most conservative media reject the idea that shootings like the one in Parkland are a gun issue,” read an NPR “All Things Considered” feature. “ The real concern isn’t that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are widely available and can be purchased for less than you would spend on a good bicycle. Instead, they argue that the real crisis involves a breakdown in the fabric of American society, disintegrating families and a lack of Christian values.”
— Vox (@voxdotcom) February 21, 2018
Calling out fake news
Fake news also spread with conspiracy theories appearing on social media, right-wing news sites and YouTube.
A top trending YouTube video perpetuated a false theory that a survivor of the shooting was an actor. YouTube took the video down, but similar videos and content also appeared on Facebook and Google, according to CNBC.
Variety reported that YouTube said in a statement, “This video should never have appeared in Trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward.”
Even conservative Florida Sen. Marco Rubio condemned that story as “the work of a disgusting group of idiots.”
Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 20, 2018
That same 17-year-old student in the YouTube video had previously criticized the president in an interview with four fellow students on Chuck Todd’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“You’re the president,” the student said. “You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you? Children are dying, and their blood is on your hands because of that. Please take action.”
The spread of false claims that students were actors led to the firing of Benjamin Kelly, a district secretary for Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, after he emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter false information, Doug Stanglin and Christal Hayes wrote for USA Today.
Here's the email. I asked for more information to back up the claim and was sent another email that linked to a YouTube conspiracy video. pic.twitter.com/VRSVOcjj3E
— Alex Leary (@learyreports) February 20, 2018
“In certain right-wing corners of the web — and, increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN — the students are being portrayed not as grief-ridden survivors but as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation’s laws,” Michael M. Grynbaum wrote for The New York Times.
There is also the media’s obsession with quantifying the violence.
Soon after the Parkland school shooting, several media outlets, including CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, HuffPost, Time, the BBC, Politico, The Washington Post, ABC and The New York Daily News reported inaccurately that 18 school shootings happened so far this year.
The fake statistics came from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group, which defined a “school shooting” so loosely that its number is misleading.
“Fake stats like that make finding a solution to the real problem of gun violence, which has actually struck American schools at least six times this year, that much harder,” David Mastio wrote for USA Today.
How many school shootings have there been in 2018? The Washington Post counted seven. USA Today recorded six.
Media outlets have focused on the numbers with the recent increase of school shootings in the U.S. Some of those statistics have even made their way into headlines, such as last month’s New York Times headline that read, “School Shooting in Kentucky Was Nation’s 11th of Year. It Was Jan. 23.”
Between parsing Trump’s responses, Parkland students’ mobilization, fake news and inaccurate statistics, the media has, as usual, had its hands full in covering the shooting in a journalistically sound, human manner.