Everything was accurate. But none of it was true.
Yes, I stole the title from 1981’s Absence of Malice, but it is accurate. And true.
In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, a very close friend of mine posted an article on how this man was a “self hating homosexual” and used a Gawker article as the reference. Gawker. Granted, not exactly The Onion, or it’s older cousin, the New York Times, but not the greatest source. From the story:
Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App
Mateen, his father explained the next day, had repeatedly been angered by the sight of two men kissing. But according to witnesses, (emphasis mine) Mateen was also a regular at the club and exchanged messages with at least one gay man on a gay dating app…
According to witnesses. To witnesses. The author put this propaganda out less than 48 hours after the attacked ended, while the scene is still being processed, the people shot have not been interviewed, but “the witnesses” are the only thing that mattered. Or put more specifically, the witnesses the author wanted to cite. Well, looks like the “witnesses” got it wrong (emphasis mine):
Since the shooting at an Orlando nightclub last week that left 49 people dead, reports have emerged that gunman Omar Mateen frequented the gay club, used gay dating apps and had gay lovers.
But the FBI has found no evidence so far to support claims by those who say Mateen had gay lovers or communicated on gay dating apps, several law enforcement officials said…
…In seeking to verify the reports, federal agents have culled Mateen's electronic devices, including a laptop computer and cellphone, as well as electronic communications of those who made the claims, law enforcement officials said.
So far, they have found no photographs, no text messages, no smartphone apps, no gay pornography and no cell-tower location data to suggest that Mateen — who was twice married to women and had a young son — conducted a secret gay life, the officials said…
In the immediate hours after Orlando, one news source after another screamed, “The shooter was using an AR-15!” and it could be used for “automatic fire.” From the New York Times:
A firearm that the authorities said was used on Sunday in a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., s a descendant of one of the world’s most widely distributed and familiar infantry weapons, and a type of rifle that has been involved in previous mass shootings in the United States.
Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said the gunman’s weapons included a handgun and an “AR-15-type assault rifle…”
…It fired a small-caliber, high-velocity bullet — a .223 — that was also considered revolutionary. The rifle was capable, via a selector lever, of semiautomatic or automatic fire.
The gun the Orlando shooter used was a Sig Sauer MCX, not an AR-15. That doesn’t change much.
Orlando shooter Omar Mateen used the assault-style rifle Sig Sauer MCX to kill at least 49 people, authorities say. Here's what you need to know about the guns some are calling "the gold standard for mass murder….”
…On Monday night, officials clarified that the rifle Omar Mateen used in the shooting was not an AR-15, but a Sig Sauer MCX rifle.
Not to mention the AR-15 (which stands for ArmaLite Rifle, not “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle”) does not fire fully automatic unless illegally modified. Its cousins, the M-16 or M-4 can fire fully auto (depending on the model), but they are used by military and police.
Sounds to me like people are making conclusions with limited knowledge of the events on the ground, or basic background information. And that is to be excepted.
In the initial investigation of a major event, journalists (snicker) often want to be first, if not true. I’ve often told family and friends that after an incident like this, or an officer involved shooting, do not take the initial reports as gospel, especially of people with an agenda or grudge. See Brian Ross, ABC News, speaking with former Clinton Minister of Propaganda, Clinton Fund donator and ABC New hack George Stephanolpoulos in the minutes after the Tucson, AZ shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords:
Stephanolpoulos: I’m going to go to Brian Ross. You’ve been investigating the background of Jim Holmes here. You found something that might be significant.
Ross: There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.
Stephanolpoulos: Okay, we’ll keep looking at that. Brian Ross, thanks very much.
On August 9, 2016, a large black male robbed a storeowner in Ferguson MO, then attempted to take a police officer’s weapon. After charging the officer, who was half the young man’s size, the officer justifiably shot him. In the immediate aftermath Mike Brown’s criminal partner lied to anyone he could, saying Officer Darren Wilson, “Shot him like a dog…”, as Brown tried to surrender. Three autopsies, numerous investigations by local, state, federal and media agencies, all supported Officer Wilson’s statements. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story. An aside point I’ve made of the Wilson-Brown incident. The over 100 witness who came forward after Brown was shot by a police officer would have never said anything if the “Gentle Giant” had been shot in the middle of the street by another gang banger. But the fact a white cop did the shooting gave them their 15 minutes of fame.
With little evidence of criminal acts, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers with multiple felonies, including murder, after having the reports on the case for less than two days. After blatantly attempting to poison the jury pool with her announcement, while doing excellently in the court of public opinion, she has so far not done well in the court of law. Of three cases, two acquittals and one hung jury.
In the immediate hours after a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a 17-year-old suspended high school kid in Sanford Florida, the media broadcast pictures of the late Treyvon Martin, showing a junior high school football player. For some reason they decided not to publish recent photos available from his Facebook page, showing him smoking pot, using gang signs and playing with a pistol. In the hours of this incident coming on the nation scene, the term “White Hispanic” was coined (never used before or since, to my knowledge) and Zimmerman was only known by a six year old booking photo, not the picture that night showing multiple injuries to his head.
The points of this narrative: One, the national media is not interested in accuracy or truth, but in getting the story out first. Two, it should fit a template, e.g., the nation is racist, law enforcement is prejudiced, and they will frame their narrative accordingly (black male was shot, it was because the “white” Hispanic is racist, there is racism all over the country). Three, the people doing the reporting have little knowledge of the facts they are discussing, such as what is the difference between an AR-15 and M-16, or “automatic fire” and “semi-automatic fire”, and “define what is an assault weapon” (hell, so ignorant they should run for Congress).
Finally, crime investigations and justice are slow, deliberate processes. What is “known” in the immediate passion of the event is often completely wrong at best or a bold faced lie at worst (see “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!). And reporters have little (if any) more access to facts than the general public. They just have a wider broadcast system. The problem is they are often partisan, possess limited knowledge of the subject and don’t have the wisdom to hold back when they don’t know something. The press is the only profession that has defined constitutional protection and has a legitimate purpose, to serve as the “loyal opposition” to the government. It would be nice to see them working like a profession and serving their actual purpose.
Michael A. Thiac is a police patrol sergeant and a retired Army intelligence officer. When not patrolling the streets, he can be found on A Cop’s Watch.