Newsrooms across America were abuzz on Saturday morning when the story of a fatal shooting at a Columbia, Md., shopping mall hit the wire.
“[B]odies fell as a familiar tragedy – homicidal lunacy in a crowded public place – brought terror to a suburban Maryland shopping complex,” wrote a team of Washington Post reporters hopefully.
I use the word “hopefully” because the reporters use the word “familiar.” What the reporters were hopeful about is that the shooting would prove to be as “familiar” as they said it was.
In newsroom speak, “familiar” means a shooter who is white and male and, ideally, linked to a cause that might somehow be called “right-wing.”
Although no mass shooting in memory fits this pattern – all recent shooters have been avowed leftists or certifiable lunatics – the media have collectively willed the stereotype into existence.
Ideally, too, “familiar” means the shooter used some kind of gun that could be described as “automatic,” “semi-automatic,” or, even better, “an assault rifle.”
Had the story proved to be seriously “familiar,” President Obama might have been able to exploit it in his State of the Union address just three days later, much as he exploited the Sandy Hook school shooting in last year’s address.
Unfortunately for the Post and the president, the story proved familiar in the old-fashioned way, not the way they hoped.
For starters, the shooter had the nerve to use a shotgun. In the retelling, even Democrats approve of shotguns. In one famed image, now photoshopped in a thousand mischievous ways, Obama actually brandishes a shotgun to shoot (at) skeet.
The media took another body blow when the shooter’s name was revealed – Darion Marcus Aguilar. An Hispanic last name immediately stripped the story of much of its news value.
Indeed, had George Zimmerman gone by his mother’s last name – Meza – or had he gone by the first name of the uncle after whom he was named – Jorge – we never would have heard the name “Trayvon Martin.”
The media had to be a little relieved that the shooter’s first name was “Darion.” This American-sounding name meant that he was likely born here.
Had the shooter been an illegal alien, the media would have had to work overtime to deep six this news much as they did the news of Chandra Levy’s killer.
Never heard of Ingmar Guandique, one of MS-13’s finest? How about that? Has there ever been this celebrated a murder mystery whose resolution was so deeply buried?
Before Aguilar’s image surfaced, there was surely hope in our newsrooms that maybe Aguilar, like Zimmerman, was a “white-Hispanic,” maybe even a crazed right-wing Cuban.
No, from the looks of things, Aguilar actually appeared to be an African-American. Good gosh! This story was about to vanish quicker than you can say “Aaron Alexis.” (Look that one up.)
Although the evidence is not yet conclusive, it appears certain that the shooting was not the Columbine-style mass shooting that the media first reported.
In fact, of the five injured in the shooting, four were hurt trying to escape the mall, and one was hit by a stray shotgun pellet.
The two who were killed, a 21-year-old mother named Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson, both white, worked at the same store. It appears that Aguilar came to the mall because that is where he knew he could find the pair.
The police have been coy about releasing the contents of Aguilar’s journal or assigning a motive, but disheartened would-be lover sounds much more credible than crazed mass murderer, and this, my friends at the Post, is the most “familiar” story of all.
The failure of the shooting to fit into the hoped-for media paradigm was evident in the president’s State of the Union speech.
“State of the Union 2014: Gun control mostly vanishes from speech,” read the Politico headline. “In a year’s time,” wrote Reid Epstein in his opening sentence, “President Barack Obama’s fight for gun control went from his emotional State of the Union conclusion to barely mentioned at all.”
Here is hoping Obama does not get as impatient waiting for would-be shooters as he does with Congress.
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