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Editorial: Talking Points

It is time to have The Conversation. For some reason, right after a horrendous mass killing never seems the right time—it’s too close, people say, too emotional and raw. But time passes and the next football game is on or the laundry needs doing or we have to look for a job, and we don’t have The Conversation.

The time is now, and the media must be a part of it. Social media already is. But we must proceed with thoughtful dialogue well beyond those first news cycles when all instincts are to capitalize on viewer interest. The media must lead that interest toward a national conversation about violence across all arenas of our society—what contributes to it, glorifies it and promotes it.

Yes, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. The First Amendment also protects the right to free speech, a point we make on this page regularly and with as much passion as defenders of the Second Amendment make theirs. But free speech has limits. Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is not protected, for example. Why shouldn’t the Second Amendment have limits, as well, that could reduce the chances for opening fire in a crowded theater, school or post office?

Rumblings on the Hill suggested the immediate reaction would likely focus on video games (the shooter was a fan, though so are millions of others) and guns (the shooter’s mother collected them). But that doesn’t mean there won’t be discussions, as there must be, about all the factors in our society that make our entertainment culture so different from, say, 20 years ago. It would be easy for TV to heave a sigh of partial relief that the klieg light will probably be on video games, or that a more obvious connection would be the availability of automatic weapons. But the conversation needs to include everyone, either leading or following.

The conversation will happen, though whether it translates into legislation or regulation is another issue. But the media should help moderate the conversation with analysis and continuing coverage that does not stop when the news cycle turns. We were disappointed that so many industry leaders we contacted last week didn’t want to touch this subject, as one put it, “with a 10-foot pole.” It’s a natural reflex. But if the media does not lead the conversation, it could follow Washington to the woodshed. Attention must continue to be paid to the combination of anger, illness and guns and what we can do, together and without playing the blame game, to reduce it.

A second point: A conversation is also needed about the details various news media got so wrong in reporting the story: The wrong shooter, that the mother was a teacher, that handguns were used, that the mother was shot at the school… the litany could easily continue. “Unconfirmed reports” should be stricken from the news vocabulary unless the phrase is used to dispel them. Confirm, then report, not the other way around.

Granted, it was partly police confusion, and the shock of a scene so horrifi c it seemed unreal, that led to some misreporting. But rampant errors carry grave risks. Will the media become the fabled “boy who cried wolf” next time? And what of the misrepresented “wolf” that was branded a mass murderer of children?

Let’s apply the lesson we learned from the fables that guided us as kids, the ones that teach through something that smacks of horror and unreality. Those stories often begin “Once upon a time.” And the time for this conversation is now.