Yesterday, Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple were quick to point out that Fox News reporter Trace Gallagher made a reference to the “ideological bent” of the Capital newspaper, the scene of yesterday’s mass shooting.
Fox News's Trace Gallagher says they checked into Capital Gazette's ideological bent and concluded that it was very much a local newspaper.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) June 28, 2018
This got the attention of several other prominent reporters. CNN’s Jake Tapper responded “Good lord.” Chuck Todd also reacted as if this was a potential problem:
What is that supposed to mean?
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) June 28, 2018
I won’t include tweets from people with 50 followers, but here’s what some of the people responding to Wemple’s tweet took it to mean:
- “Shorter Fox: They deserved it.”
- “Why? Did FOX want to make sure the ‘right’ people got murdered?”
- “Guessing it would have been an ok shooting if they had a liberal bent.”
- “I guess if it were a ‘liberal’ paper the murders would be justified?”
In short, another round of Fox News bashing. But here’s what Gallagher actually said. He was raising and then dismissing this in relation to a possible motive for the shooter:
We checked in earlier, Neil, with the ideological bent of the Capital. Again, it’s one of the oldest papers in the country. It’s owned by the Baltimore Sun. … This newspaper — we kind of looked at the editorial board, who is on it, what topics they cover. It’s very much a local newspaper. They cover the capital, which is a few miles away, the Naval Academy, which is a few miles away, and local elections. For the latest primary, they endorsed a moderate Democrat. So the paper itself [is] very local. Doesn’t really seem to have a major ideological bent — if that plays into the motive at all, we certainly don’t know.
Several hours later, Wemple wrote a tweet clarifying that “news outlets” shouldn’t speculate in the absence of evidence:
How hard is it for news outlets to state this: "We have no idea about the motive" and just leave it at that? Instead of filling the airwaves with idle chatter about what are the *possible* motives?
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) June 28, 2018
He also wrote a story making the same point for the Washington Post. The gist is that it’s irresponsible for news outlets (read: Fox News) to offer idle speculation about motive. That would be fair enough I guess if Fox had been the only outlet speculating. But of course, it wasn’t.
CNN’s Jim Acosta went on air before any motive was known and played audio of reporters shouting questions at the President on the White House lawn. While an image of Trump walking back to the White House rolled on screen, Acosta said, “One question that you heard from one reporter there made a reference to, quote, enemy of the people.” He added, “We should point out we don’t obviously know what the motivation was behind the shooting out in Annapolis but the White House is getting questions about whether the president’s rhetoric is getting out of hand.” Here’s Acosta:
A bit later, CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted a segment with CNN analyst Asha Rangappa who also speculated about motive and a possible connection to the president. “I think it’s worth pointing out that we’ve had a constant rhetoric coming even from the president that the press is the enemy of the people, has been repeated constantly,” she said. She added, “And I think it’s worth noting that if there is a link here…that kind of rhetoric can be very dangerous.” Here’s the clip:
Both CNN and Fox News were doing a bit of speculating yesterday about whether some sort of anti-media ideology was a possible motive for the attack. Neither outlet had any real facts to go on at that point and neither one drew any firm conclusions. But you can still see where each network was leaning. Fox was suggesting that the Capital newspaper seemed like an odd target for an ideologue (and it seems to have been right about that). CNN was suggesting that maybe Trump’s rhetoric played a role in the attack (and it seems to have been wrong about that). But in both cases, it was speculation in advance of facts. It’s certainly reasonable, maybe even advisable, to not speculate like that on national TV. If you want to criticize that in general, so be it.
Here’s what bothers me. One outlet, Fox News, got a slap on the wrist from Buzzfeed, the Washington Post, and several top reporters. It was dragged on Twitter in a way that many people took as suggesting Fox was looking to somehow justify a mass murder. Meanwhile, CNN did exactly the same thing and no one seems to be outraged by it.
So do the reporters involved here really care about idle speculation on TV or do they just care about idle speculation by Fox News? One is a fair point and the other is just an excuse for a partisan attack. Which is it? Today, Wemple has a piece which at least notes that MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace was doing much the same thing, but that didn’t seem to generate much outrage from him or anyone else yesterday.