The local Pittsburgh press this weekend was bubbling with reports about how the shooter was a fan of fringe, online conspiracies, and was afraid Obama was going to take away his guns.
Richard Andrew Poplawski was a young man convinced the nation was secretly controlled by a cabal that would eradicate freedom of speech, take away his guns and use the military to enslave the citizenry.
He slept with a gun under his pillow in a basement room filled with firearms and ammunition, convinced that Jews controlled the media and President Obama was scheming to take away his arsenal, friends and relatives said Saturday...[A friend] said Poplawski usually was affable and kind, but grew angry recently over fears Obama would outlaw guns.
The local AP dispatch:
Police Chief Nate Harper said the motive for the shooting isn't clear, but friends said the gunman recently had been upset about losing his job and feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.
But readers of the Times have been left clueless about whether radical rhetoric from the right about Obama might have prompted Poplawski to ambush three officers and murder them outside his apartment. In fact, in its lone dispatch on the shooting, the Times announced, "No one could explain why [Poplawski] did what he did on Saturday."
We're not sure that's accurate.
We're learning more and more about the killer who called cops to his apartment in order to execute them on Saturday morning. We're learning that Richard Andrew Poplawski was a right-wing conspiracy nut who was convinced the new Democratic administration was going to take away the guns of Americans.
We've also learned, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that Poplawski was an avid fan of conspiracist and radical talk show host Alex Jones. A "freak" was how the conservative blog Little Green Footballs described Jones today.
From the Post-Gazette:
Believing most media were covering up important events, Mr. Poplawski turned to a far-right conspiracy Web site run by Alex Jones, a self-described documentarian with roots going back to the extremist militia movement of the early 1990s.
Who's been mainstreaming the "freak" Alex Jones in recent days? Who's been embracing his conspiratorial rants and giving them a platform and legitimacy? Fox News, course.
Click here to watch FoxNews.com intro its webcast segment about "what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away." And watch the Fox host introduce the "the one, the only, the great Alex Jones." The radio nut then launches into talk of the "New World Order" a "global government." Listen as Jones warns the Fox News audience about the Obama "agenda" for "gun confiscation." And watch the Fox News online host tell Jones it's been "a pleasure" listening to his rhetoric.
Fox News has been playing with radical fire in recent weeks and months. But can it contain the bonfire? Naturally, that doesn't stop Newsbusters from whining about the consequences and insisting that the GOP Noise Machine has no responsibility for the extraordinary hate it's been pushing since January.
UPDATE: Again, even Little Green Footballs is appalled:
Wow. Racists, 9/11 truthers, and conspiracy theorists, all brought to you by Fox News.
Featuring "the great Alex Jones."
What the hell is wrong with Fox News?
UPDATE: During his webcast on FoxNews.com, Alex Jones also notes with pride how FNC's Glenn Beck has recently been warning about the emerging New World Order on the air, just like Jones.
A few weeks ago, I asked "Is there any major-newspaper reporter who is more consistently wrong than Andrew Malcolm?"
On Friday, the former press secretary to Laura Bush added to his growing reputation for being not only wrong, but obnoxiously wrong.
Malcolm wrote a blog post making fun of New York Governor David Paterson's statement about the Binghamton shootings that day. Malcolm twice referred to Paterson's statement as "strange" and poked fun at Paterson for purportedly forgetting "something called 9/11" when he referred to the shootings as "the worst tragedy and senseless crime in the history of this state."
But Andrew Malcolm was wrong. Again. Paterson had said "in the history of this city," not "state."
Maybe in the future, Malcolm should take a moment or two to find out if he has any idea what he's talking about before he jumps at the opportunity to make fun of people who are reponding the massacre of 13 innocent people?
Politico, on the Obamas' trip to Europe:
And it was clear at some point that Michelle Obama could do no wrong. Take her meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.
She not only touched the Queen. She rubbed her back gently at one point - a breach of traditional royal protocol - yet nobody seemed to care. The London tabs that feasted for days on Obama's gift of DVDs to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave her a pass, as did Buckingham Palace. The Queen's arm-in-arm exchange with Obama "was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection," the Palace said. Case closed.
"Breach of traditional royal protocol," eh? Buckingham Palace seems to disagree - in the very statement Politico quoted:
A Buckingham Palace spokesman who asked not to be identified because of palace policy said he could not remember the last time the queen had displayed such public affection with a first lady or dignitary.
"It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection," he said. "We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen."
And while Politico says "nobody seemed to care," that is, unfortunately, not true. The American media cared far too much. CNN, for example, treated video of the half-hug like Oliver Stone treated the Zapruder Film, playing it over and over in slow-motion:
There was lots of chatter this week surrounding Mark Bowden's piece in Vanity Fair. It's a rather epic take-down of the Times' beleaguered publisher; the daunting task he faces trying to save the legendary daily, as well as the many, many well-chronicled missteps Sulzberger's made at the helm of the newspaper empire. (Judy Miller, Jayson Blair, etc.) They're mistakes that have only been exacerbated by the daily's increasingly thin financial footing. The Vanity Fair take-away is that Sulzberger, the latest in a line of Sulzberger men to steer the newspaper, is in over his head.
Most of us senior citizens of Mediaworld—that is, people out of the "desirable" 18-to-29 demo—have a love-hate relationship with the Times, much as we do with our own families. It drives us crazy on a daily basis but we wouldn't want to live without it and prefer not to imagine a world in which we might have to.
I remember as a young media reporter being told by my boss, on a very cold January day in 1992, to go up to the New York Times to cover a press conference announcing Arthur Sulzberger's promotion to publisher. It wasn't a press conference in the traditional sense. Instead, a couple dozen reporters were ushered into the Times' august, wood paneled boardroom where we sat around an epically long conference table surrounded by portraits of long-gone Sulzbergers who had run the newspaper since Arthur's great-grandfather saved it from the brink of bankruptcy by purchasing it for $75,000 in 1896.
At the head of the dark wooden table that day, the boyish looking Sulzberger (aka "Pinch") and his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (aka "Punch"), fielded questions about the carefully orchestrated plans of succession. The sense of history was palpable. And the power the two men enjoyed, as the stewards of the Times in the pre-Internet world of 1992, really could not be overstated.
For me, covering the event was like being ushered into the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, or being waved backstage at a Springsteen show. I certainly revered the newspaper growing up. In fact, I had been completely stunned just two years earlier when the Times published an unsolicited Op-ed column I had written up on my typewriter and mailed in to W. 43rd Street. (Or maybe I hand-delivered it?) It was about the press coverage of the U.S. invasion of Panama. (Hint: I didn't think it was very good.) I'm not sure why I ever thought the Times would publish it, but a few days later as I sat at my $16,000-a-year job, two years out of college, I got a call from an assistant on the Times' editorial page informing me the paper was going to run the column.
I didn't even tell anyone prior to publication because I wasn't really sure it was going to happen. But I sure remember, to this day, walking to my local subway station, buying the Times and reading my column, which was placed right beneath Russell Baker's. Friends and family were fairly flabbergasted, since I'd never really been published anywhere before the Times column ran. And I remember my boss had a sort of stunned look on his face when he saw the Op-ed page that day. (Not that it helped; a few weeks later I was out of a job.)
All of which is a rather round-about and self-involved way of say that watching Sulzberger's woes mount is depressing, especially for fans of the newspaper and for people who've had a small, up-close taste of the Times' mystique over years.
As in Michelle Obama's fashion "showdown" with France's First Lady Carla Sarkozy.
The phrase appeared everywhere in the press, but what does it even mean? Were journalists expecting a West Side Story-type dance-off in front of the Palais Rohan in Strasbourg, where the two first ladies met? And does it strike anyone else as slightly sexist, as in the two fashionable, and powerful, women were going to rumble (i.e. engage in a cat fight) over who had the nicest wardrobe?
And did we mention the phrase was everywhere in the serious press?:
--"The meeting between Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Sarkozy may not have been the showdown that fashion bloggers expected." (NYT)
--"Michelle's style showdown in France." (WashTimes headline)
--"A First Lady Style Showdown Not Exactly" (WSJ headline)
In general, there's nothing wrong with discussing or writing about what the first lady wears, or noting that her fashion choices are being widely commented on. But that kind of water cooler talk shouldn't be dressed up as news, as it clearly was this week. (A week in which the press, following the Obamas overseas, wallowed in trivia.)
The examples are endless, but here's just one. On Anderson Cooper 360 Friday night, the CNN program offered up an "Up Close" (i.e. in-depth) segment about Michelle Obama's meeting with France's first lady. After detailing which designer each woman wore on Friday, the CNN reporter announced that they were "choices that say a lot about who these first ladies of fashion are." [Emphasis added.]
Don't the choices simply say a lot about who the women's favorite designers are? On no, according to CNN's news report, the fashion choices represented much, much more:
It's no surprise the clothes Mrs. Obama and Madame Sarkozy choose become messages in themselves.
Please. I understand that fashion is more than just the clothes people wear, and that it can reflect a culture and a personality. I realize that fashion is an art form. And that's what culture critics are for; to mine that territory. But that's not what the press did this week. The 'serious' press, anxious to latch onto a conveyor belt of easy stories, pretended the reason Michelle Obama's wardrobe deserved so much press attention was because the topic's so important. That it's newsworthy.
The sad news from Binghamton, New York, has once again turned the media's attention to the scene of a gun-fueled mass killing. But once again, the rampage coverage seems to be context-free, in that the press rarely connects the most current killing spree with all the ones before it, or steps back to wonder what is going on nationwide.
As I recently wrote:
The press now covers shooting sprees the way it covers killer tornadoes: They're one-day stories, they're acts of nature, and all people can do is try to stay out of the way.
The fact is, the shooting in Binghamton is the third killing spree this week. Nearly 30 Americans have been shot dead from mass murder rampages in the last six days. But the press pretends each bloody incident is completely isolated. They're not. There have been at least two dozen mass murders in the last 25 months. Here's a look at some of the U.S. shooting rampages that have unfolded in just the last 30 days:
April 3: Reports indicate a gunman Jiverly Voong backed up his car to the door of the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York, in order to make sure people could not escape when he walked in the front door, killed the receptionist and then went from room to room assassinating as many as people as he could. The gunman, wearing a bullet-proof vest and a satchel of ammunition, later killed himself. Fourteen dead, four wounded.
March 29: In the upscale Santa Clara, California, neighborhood, Devan Kalathat shot and killed two of his children, three other relatives and then himself. Six dead, one injured.
March 29: Heavily armed suspect Robert Stewart, entered a local retirement home in Carthage, North Carolina, and began randomly shooting patients and employees with his high-powered rifle. Eight dead and three wounded.
March 15: A Miami man, Guillermo Lopez, barged into a birthday thrown for his ex-wife's boyfriend. An argument erupted. Lopez cornered some party goers in the back yard and opened fire, killing four people, including his ex-wife. Lopez drove to his home, set his pick-up truck on fire, and killed himself. Five dead.
March 10: Firing more than 200 rounds from two assault rifles, a shotgun and a handgun, Michael McClendon went on a two-hour killing spree in south Alabama, killing family members, strangers, and then himself. Eleven dead, seven wounded.
March 5: Ex-con Davon Crawford killed his new wife, his wife's sister, and her sister's three small children during a killing spree in downtown Cleveland. Days later Crawford killed himself. Six dead.
In the new Vanity Fair, James Wolcott wonders why the age of change doesn't apply to the Beltway pundit class:
Every time political analysts Dick Morris, Bob Beckel, and Karl Rove surface on Fox News like plump juicy roasters, I think, Shouldn't they be floating on a barge somewhere, bound for obscurity? Why's Pat Buchanan still hanging around? On CNN's political panels Jeffrey Toobin appears to be the only intellectually adept non-android. With Barack Obama as president and the super-happening Michelle Obama as First Lady, you would think a new tone, a new tune, a kicky new jazzitude, would have entered Washington discourse, but it remains a landlocked island unto itself, held captive by its tribal fevers.
Go read the whole thing. It's classic Wolcott.