Speculative and irresponsible journalism

After watching last night’s episode of "Lost" (still one of the best and most groundbreaking shows on TV – so there!), my wife and I tuned in to the local ABC affiliate’s 10 o’clock newscast.  Lead story: as if you thought the story of the Trolley Square shooter would ever just go away (oh, how I wish it would), there’s now a report that several security guards for the LDS Church spotted a man wearing a trenchcoat about the time of Sunday’s (2/11/07) "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

The news reporter quoted several security folks – who wished to remain anonymous, a red flag right there – and an LDS Church spokesperson who stated with relative confidence that the person they saw (in person and on videotape) could very well have been Sulejmen Talovic, the man who killed six people and injured five others in a shooting spree at Trolley Square the very next day.  While the reporter was careful to state at the end of the report that such a relationship was tentative and thus far unsubstantiated, the flavor of the report as a whole was very much along the lines of, "Oh my goodness!  He could have burst into the Conference Center and used his shotgun to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of devout Mormons attending a devotional service!"  Read the original story and/or watch the video at this site if you wish.

We flipped over to the local NBC affiliate, whose network news also featured a piece on Talovic – except this one was dedicated to debunking a few rumors that have cropped up recently about the man and the shooting.  First up: Talovic did not shout "Allah-hu akbar!" ("God is great!") during the rampage.  This was verified by police and several videos of the incident.  Of course, this news came after Rep. Chris Cannon made a royal jerk of himself on Doug Wright’s radio show on KSL by restating that rumor as if it were true. Cannon later retracted his statement without actually denying it could have happened, in true politician form:

The congressman readily acknowledges that the true motivation for this tragic act may never be known, but the mere possibility, raised in reports airing on Fox News and other outlets, that there could be an ideological motive speaks to the point he made on the ‘Doug Wright Show’: That terror and fear know no boundaries and must be confronted wherever they threaten us.

What a twit.  To be fair though, Cannon did amend his earlier statement to throw his full support behind the falsity of the rumor:

Chris’ comment on Doug Wright’s show was part of a broader observation about the need to be aware, both at home and abroad, of ideologies that lead to acts of violence. His reference to the Trolley Square shooting came from seeing a similar reference on Fox News Tuesday. If investigators say the young man made no such statement, Congressman Cannon fully accepts that.

See the Deseret News story here for more information.

The second rumor the news report debunked was that Talovic was not the man security guards spotted at the LDS Conference Center the previous day.  What was simultaneously funny and maddening about this was that the two reports occurred within minutes of each other on different networks.  Naturally, I believe the latter one.  What’s really infuriating is that this type of speculative, alarmist journalism continues to thrive – and it’s not the "liberal media" that’s responsible for promulgating it, either.  When this type of "gee whiz" fluff starts to lead off your newscast, it’s a sure sign the story is running on fumes.  Time to move on.

And while I’m at it, no, Talovic’s rampage does not place Salt Lake City on a peer with other cities and nations that have been buffeted by terrorist activity (as this Deseret News editorial claims), and no, the fact that Talovic was Muslim by birth does not mean the shootings were motivated by religious, neo-Jihadist beliefs.  Again, let’s move on with our lives, people.

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