The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.
C. Wenk, a reader in Alexandria, Va., criticized “an egregious rush to judgment in the Times coverage of the Arizona shooting, specifically aimed at linking the shooting to various conservative or Republican political rhetoric.”
A second reader, Kevin O’Donnell of Greenbrae, Calif., saw it as a case of The Times jumping too quickly: “I understand the larger point about coarse speech raising the potential for violence. By offering that debate within hours of events, doesn’t The Times risk starting at the conclusion end of the argument?”
The Times had a lot of company, as news organizations, commentators and political figures shouldered into an unruly scrum battling over whether the political environment was to blame. Meanwhile, opportunities were missed to pick up on evidence — quite apparent as early as that first day — that Jared Lee Loughner, who is charged with the shootings, had a mental disorder and might not have been motivated by politics at all.
So why does a story get framed this way? Journalism educators characterize this kind of framing as a storytelling habit — one of relating new facts to an existing storyline — and also as a reflex of news organizations that are built to handle some topics well, and others less well.
Still, I think the intense focus on political conflict — not just by The Times — detracted from what has emerged as the salient story line, that of a mentally ill individual with lawful access to a gun.
Whether covering the basic facts of a breaking story or identifying more complex themes, the takeaway is that time is often the enemy. Sometimes the best weapon against it is to ignore it, and use a moment to consider the alternatives.
(Read full story at NYT)