Media showing surprising restraint on Dorner's politics

Christopher Dorner remains on the loose this weekend, the subject of one of the most intense manhunts of this generation. And the media is covering the story wall to wall with regular updates, interviews with his former friends and public advisories. One of the most important things that all of these talking heads want you to remember is that the now vanished maniac may have very powerful weapons. It’s an important piece of information to be sure, particularly for residents in the affected area. But with many hours of the news cycle to fill and so much background information on the suspect to cover, it still feels as if there’s something missing, doesn’t it?

At Mediaite, Noah Rothman has spotted the discontinuity.

Alleged Los Angeles shooter Christopher Jordan Dorner, influenced by left-leaning media coverage of gun crime in the wake of the Newtown shootings, has virtually paralyzed the City of Angels. Floyd Lee Corkins, a gunman incensed by anti-gay marriage bias after reading articles by the liberal advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center, took a firearm into the Family Research Council’s headquarters with the intention of killing “as many as possible.” He hoped to smash Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the faces of as many corpses as he could. These shooters were clearly moved by left-wing media, and we should thank every benevolent force in the universe that they were. Had either shooter possessed even a tenuous link to a conservative group, a media-driven hysteria about the malevolent influence of right-wing broadcasters and commentators would be gripping the nation today. Fortunately, when a crazed shooter’s ideology is explicitly and demonstrably left-wing, the media displays admirable restraint about linking a gunman’s politics to their acts of violence.

Motive matters, both in a court of law and in the process which law enforcement employs when tracking down a killer. But in terms of responsibility, I tend to be more in line with Charles Cooke at National Review, who notes that the final responsibility lies with the criminal, not with the media environment they’ve been soaking in. But he also manages to sympathize with those who are quick to note the double standard in play.

That notwithstanding, one can sympathize with the conservatives who jumped at the opportunity to exact revenge on the media, whose complicity in a series of previous rushes to blame “right wing” rhetoric for the actions of killers such as Timothy McVeigh and Jared Loughner — and tendency to presume without evidence that violence must be motivated by phantom “tea party” connections — has been nothing short of shameful. While deploring the tendency of revenge to legitimize the very position that is being criticized, sucking all parties into a useless battle of tu quoque, one can at least forgive the sentiment.

Putting this tendency to one side, there is one area in which vexed conservatives are absolutely correct. There is a whole world of difference between reporting the details of a killer’s manifesto, and accepting the killer’s conceits.

Cooke is correct. In a free society, people have to accept (and assign) responsibility for the actions of the individual to the bad actor in question. If we are to accept that seeing or hearing “bad things” is somehow an excuse for criminal behavior, then the entire battle for responsible citizenship is already lost. We may as well just start banning the production of Grand Theft Auto and confiscating all the DVDs of the Die Hard trilogy if those are accepted as reasonable excuses for mayhem.

But it would be nice, just this one time, to see a bit of that famous “fair and balanced” requirement for professional journalism in this case. Unfortunately, because of the nature of Dorner’s preferences, the fact that he has guns is suddenly far more important than any formative influences which might have helped lead him to this riotous behavior.