the frequency a kenny chung blog

Gay Pride Rainbow Balloons Adorning a Storefront in Manhattan
A NYC storefront decked out with rainbow balloons for Pride Month
(taken by Instagram user lovekinsdesigns)

Pride Month 2018 has now come and gone, and I think it’s safe to say that public support for the LGBTQIA+ community is at an all-time high. But being the skeptic that I am, I’ve begun to view the mainstreaming of this movement through a more cynical perspective. In order to better understand where this feeling stems from, please bear with me as I recount two anecdotes:

1) The Prideful Gym Bro
A few weeks ago, I forgot to charge my workout headphones and as a result, was forced to listen to top 40 music blared over the gym speakers along with the ambient conversations of fellow sports club patrons. It was the week before the Manhattan Pride parade, and I overheard a “bro” telling his workout partner that he was planning on going to the parade because his friends (a straight couple) were allies, and invited him last year with the promise of a lot of single straight women that he could hit on.

2) Hateful Accusations
My group of friends and I were at a backyard bar in Gowanus on the same day as the Brooklyn Pride parade. We were having normal conversation over cigars within earshot of a presumably gay twosome (one man and one woman) who had just left the parade. Halfway into our stay, the bartender came to the yard and informed us there was a complaint against us for using homophobic slurs. We had said no such things, and figured the two individuals were upset that the wind was carrying some smoke into their general direction, so they made up an accusation to the bartender. They ended up leaving and we had several follow-up conversations with the bartender, where she wrote off the incident as an inconsequential misunderstanding, albeit likely purposeful. I’d been wearing my pride rainbow watch band all month (see below), which lent much-needed credence to our side of the story. But I couldn’t help but think about how easily we could’ve been labeled bigots otherwise.

Baudrillard’s Simulation

On reflection, these incidents brought to mind a YouTube video about the hidden brilliance of the Comedy Central show Nathan For You (stick with me on this one). In the video essay, user Full Fat Videos explains that one of the most unique storytelling aspects of Nathan Fielder’s reality show is that the people being “pranked” never find out (until the show is aired); to them, the simulation is effectively the same as if it were real, citing French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s idea of simulation (this ELI5 reddit thread explains it in simple terms). The unwitting participants are subject to carefully fabricated scenarios meant to simulate real life (albeit, in a highly exaggerated manner), and as long as the facade is maintained, it makes no practical difference to their experience vs. if the scenarios were genuine (or to any observers not in on the joke).

So why am I writing about all this on a marketing/advertising blog?

Bear with me again.

Walking around Manhattan last month, I saw many businesses and companies temporarily adopting rainbow palettes. This includes places where I’ve worked – my past two ad agencies are very progressive (which is par for the course for most New York companies with a heavy makeup of creative liberal millennials), and have participated in initiatives supporting the community. Some genuine, some seemingly for virtue signaling purposes.

All of these instances are symbols, as described by Baudrillard. The rainbow flags and integration of associated colors are shorthand for corporate support of the movement, but their exaggeration and constant exposure through mass media may have morphed their original meaning(s).

Similar to the Nathan For You example, what if companies are feigning pride simply because they feel they’re supposed to? If people never find out that the brands are being disingenuous, does it make a difference to observers?

If 1,000 gym bros only attend the parade for ulterior motives (unbeknownst to other participants), does it matter if their presence at the event ends up bolstering attendance and makes it appear that more people support the cause?

On the other hand, if all symbols eventually extend beyond their original meanings, then I could very well have been wearing my pride watch band not because I support the LGBTQIA+ community, but because they’re the colors du jour (for the record, this is not the case). Or even worse, through the eyes of the complainers, I wear the colors so I cannot be accused of hateful speech (also not the case). I think both perspectives are ridiculous, but plausible if everything’s truly a simulation divorced from their original meanings.

Does any of this matter?

Do the ends justify the means, or are the ends in of themselves the only thing that matters? If PR teams feel pressured into launching pride adjacent campaigns and their efforts spread awareness and evangelism, would it matter if they aren’t congruent with actual company values? Over time, doesn’t leveraging the symbolism of LGBTQIA+ turn a company into a de facto ally in the eyes of the public? As a corollary, if a company is effusively pro-LGBTQIA+ but doesn’t do any tangible CSR initiatives to that end, is it truly an ally or an ally in name only?

Taking this a step further – if politicians and policy makers change their minds on issues to reflect evolving public opinion, does it matter why they changed their stance?

For instance, when President Obama was first campaigning in 2008, he very publicly stated that he believed marriage was between a man and woman. Over time, he softened that stance to be more inclusive, and it was under his tenure (and Supreme Court appointments) that same-sex marriage was declared a constitutional right.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Obama in 2015 still believed gay marriage shouldn’t have been allowed. If he were publicly pressured into adopting a stance to the contrary, which led to a ruling that benefited the gay community, would it matter why he “flip-flopped”?

It’s hard to say, and I certainly do not have a definitive answer.

But in general, I think it would benefit everyone to be more critical of brands using pride month (or any other social movement) as a marketing tool, lest we all get lost in the simulation. Take a look at what tangible things those brands are doing to benefit the community, and suss out shallow lip service.

And before I wrap up, here’s a wonderful image that succinctly sums up my cynicism:

A post shared by Yarzus (@jickityjarz) on

Google offices
Photo credit

The internet has been abuzz the past week over a 10-page anti-diversity “manifesto” written by recently terminated Google employee James Damore. On the surface, the uproar seems reasonable, but I’m going to argue that it’s for the wrong reasons.

I’ve ruminated on whether or not to address this topic, because it’s clear that the writer’s firing has resulted in a chilling effect (within and without Google). I’ve considered the consequences of having current or future employers reading these thoughts, but at the end of the day, this is a mass comm blog and I believe this is a media issue. That said, of course everything I write here reflects my own personal opinions. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Here’s my main gripe with the coverage around this story – the media carelessly ran away with it, throwing nuance and context to the wind, all so it would fit more neatly in a black and white narrative.

How many people reading these stories are aware of the source of the manifesto? I would assert that it’s the minority. That’s because click-hungry journalists would have you believe that the former Googler unsolicitedly sent this 10 page document to his entire team/company. And that’s simply not true. The reality is he posted it on a private internal Google Group meant to discuss “controversial” ideas openly, and invited feedback/criticism. The author included footnotes and embedded links to abstracts to support his points. You can read it in full context here: Journalists copied/pasted portions in plain-text, stripping it of its context, making the content seem more unsubstantiated (to their credit, Vice was one of the few to post the entire memo unedited).

The overuse of the term “manifesto” is also inherently problematic. Unless you’re following UK politics, it’s a term most commonly associated with communists or serial killers/mass murderers. As of today, we’re coming up on 1,000 individual articles that refer to it as a “manifesto” within their headlines (and that’s not counting those that only do so in the body copy):

Google News results for James Damore Manifesto
Google News screenshot, accessed Aug 11, 2017

I want to make it clear that I am not tacitly endorsing the creation of such a document or the ideas therein (in fact, there are many logical fallacies and conclusions to which the jump was a bit too far). It’s also been years since my last sociology and evolutionary biology courses, so I won’t fact-check the citations either. I’m not saying that tech doesn’t have gender inequality and harassment issues (Uber has provided us with more than enough examples). But I am making the point that if someone posts a working version of a dissenting opinion that others disagree with on a safe space meant to discuss such ideas, then the most logical next step would be to debate the validity of those statements and provide evidence to the contrary. Present compelling counter-arguments such that the author can revise his thesis (and maybe ultimately change his way of thinking). Instead, what Googlers did was violate their non-disclosure agreements to share the document publicly, much to the detriment of the author and to Google as a company.

This is extremely bad timing for Google.

It would be ill-advised to ignore the larger Google context. At the moment, the Department of Labor is investigating Google for a purported gender pay gap. The 3,300 word manifesto ends with a criticism of Google’s internal biases with regard to hiring. Other commentators have posited that Google fired Damore because if they hadn’t, their inaction could be used against them in future discrimination lawsuits. It may seem farfetched, but the logic holds water – an employee writes about Google’s biases; Google takes no action, which could be construed as an implicit acknowledgement of said biases.

The media echo-chamber of pitchforks certainly forced Google’s hand to take immediately action. What would’ve otherwise been a confidential and internal matter became a national one.

I’m not an HR specialist, and neither are you (probably).

What’s most important is what happened behind closed doors when Damore was fired. Was it solely the manifesto that led to his firing? Or was there a pattern of violating anti-discrimination laws? He was a senior engineer after all, and presumably had influence on who was hired. The thing is we don’t know, so it’s difficult to say whether or not his firing was justified, based on what’s been presented in the media. In either case, it seems like he might pursue legal action against Google.

But let’s also get one important thing out of the way:

This is not a free speech issue.

Far too often, people conflate “freedom of speech” with a guaranteed right to say anything in all situations. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot censor citizens, within specific confines (e.g. you cannot endanger others in exercising your speech).

Where the lines blend is when Google states companywide that their goal is to foster “a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.” The next sentence in the announcement goes on to say that any opinions need to fit within their Code of Conduct.

But here’s the rub – in the manifesto (a part that many journalists don’t include in their stories), the author includes a caveat that you cannot judge individuals based on generalized gender trait differences. This point is made several times in varying language. Nowhere does the author say that women are inferior employees (a talking point parroted by many pundits). I will note that there is one bullet where he mentions Google’s hiring practices with regard to “diversity” hires lowers the bar, but it’s in conjunction with a private internal link so it’s not possible to determine how that point was substantiated (and if it’s focused on gender, ethnicity, or both). To paraphrase, his thesis is that due to societal influences, men generally seek more leadership roles and the way these roles are positioned is not as appealing to a plurality of women. I’m not going to argue for or against the merit of these statements (or their logic), but they’re definitely valid topics for debate. Except they weren’t debated, which is the key problem.

A leaked survey of 282 Googlers showed that only 30% thought the document shouldn’t have been created:

On diversity hiring.

Quotas are a touchy subject. One of my previous employers sought to reach gender ratios, seemingly irrespective of supply and demand and the overall pool of candidates. I didn’t agree with that approach then, and I still don’t think it’s fruitful now.

The system I do believe in is actively including more diversity candidates in the consideration set, which would mathematically increase your quantity of diversity hires without artificially increasing the rate (given similar levels of proficiency and qualifications).

The topic of quotas also touches upon a separate issue that’s been in the news lately – Asian Americans taking issue against affirmative action. I won’t comment on the validity of that argument either as it would be a much longer essay, but it’s safe to say that a lot of people are against quota systems that exist for the optics of diversity. It seems we may be reaching an inflection point on the practice, for better or for worse.

Back to public shaming.

I’ve written about social media outrage before. Jon Ronson (author of the 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) likens social media to the new town square, where you can pin scarlet letters on people and ruin their lives. The book also ironically includes a chapter about using SEO for reputation management within Google results.

I believe this whole manifesto situation is just the latest on the long list of examples where the public has crucified an individual, egged on by the media.

And that’s why I chose a purposefully sensationalistic title on this blog post. It seems that in an attention-deficit, hair-triggered, social media-empowered world we find ourselves in, the most offensive thing is to have a nuanced opinion. If I’ve pissed off both sides of the debate, then I’ll happily accept that badge with pride.

Note: The majority of this post was written before Google CEO Sundar Pichai was meant to host a town hall discussing diversity within the company. The meeting was cancelled due to online threats.

There’s no denying that between the unverified University of Virginia rape allegations and the #YesAllWomen hashtag, rape culture is a hot button topic right now. These days, it seems like everyone’s writing analyses about its influence in media. I don’t make a habit of reviewing TV shows (mostly because I think it’s a stupid thing to do), but I’d be remiss to ignore these larger media trends. That said, two of the half-hour cable shows that I follow are Girls and Broad City. On paper, they’re both similar in concept (they feature 20-something females in NYC and are considered spiritual successors to Sex & The City), but they also diverge in other ways (Broad City is a straight-up comedy, and Girls is a comedy/drama with a more serious tone).

It’s difficult to ignore an overlapping theme between the latest episodes of both shows – rape culture. It was a literal tale of two cities – this most recent episode of Girls followed Hannah to Iowa, and the episode of Broad City was set in Brooklyn/Manhattan, as the show typically is.

Fair warning: This blog post contains spoilers about the latest episodes of Broad City (S02E01 – “In Heat”) and Girls (S04E02 – “Triggering”). Oh, and it also deals heavily with content of a sexual nature.

Broad City S02E01 - In Heat

Broad City – “In Heat”

Let’s start with Broad City since it aired first. In the episode, Abbi (played by Abbi Jacobson) is dating a new character played by Seth Rogen (“Male Stacy”). They’re in bed together, but due to the heat wave, Male Stacy falls asleep. We find out the next day (in comical fashion) that Abbi “finished” while he was unconscious.

The following exchange happens between Abbi and her best friend/other main character on the show Ilana (played by Ilana Glazer):

Ilana: (yelling over jackhammer) So, to clarify, you raped– [jackhammer stops] — (lowers voice) you raped him.
Abbi: No, no. He passed out from the heat. He seriously wanted it.
Ilana: That is literally what they say.
Abbi: Yeah, but I really mean it.
Ilana: So do they.
Abbi: Well, I…
Ilana: Dude, did you finish?
Abbi: My God, I raped him, dude. I raped Male Stacy. I’m a monster!

Earlier in the episode, Ilana directly refers to rape culture during a birthday dinner for her not-boyfriend Lincoln:

Ilana: All Hollywood media is porn, and all porn is kiddie porn. We live in a rape culture, you know? We just do. I’m gonna run to the little girl’s room. That is rape culture language right there!

By the end of the episode, Abbi accidentally makes out with an underage teenager in a dorm room, an act that she laments turns her into a repeat sex offender.

All of these conversations are played as jokes, mostly because: the show is a comedy on Comedy Central; because the situations themselves are absurd; and because – let’s face it – Seth Rogen being raped in his sleep is a funny concept.

There have been analyses written about how the episode “rapes rape culture” (a line paraphrased from the episode) by turning rape culture on its head with these jokes. The episode serves to highlight the double standard of how women raping men is often not taken seriously (surely enough, we never see Seth Rogen’s character find out about it, or any sort of falling out). And it also shows that rape jokes can be funny if done correctly. After Daniel Tosh made a threatening rape joke at a female audience member in 2012, many writers took the stance that “rape jokes are never funny”. It may be a matter of taste, but I’d venture that those same people don’t watch Louis CK’s standup, or could not imagine the possibility of the Broad City excerpt above.

The main characters of Broad City border on caricatures at times. The fictional versions of Abbi and Ilana are sexually liberated to an extreme – in the first season, Ilana video chats with Abbi while having sex so it feels like a “threesome”; in the Season 1 finale, Abbi discovers a used condom that had been inside of her for over half a week; and that’s not to mention all of the times Abbi has to reject sexual advances from Ilana.

The show almost directly addresses the oft-cited double standard that men who sleep around are commended while women who do the same are shamed. Broad City plays with these tropes, and in many cases, subverts them entirely.

In American TV, there’s a long history of womanizing being played for laughs (think Joey from Friends, or Barney from How I Met Your Mother). And in the 60s on, there were a ton of male characters who engaged in what was essentially sexual harassment (think Steve Urkel or Pepé Le Pew), also played for laughs.

Broad City goes along with these tropes, takes them to an extreme, and then toes a line predicated on social mores that probably shouldn’t be there to begin with. And that’s what makes the show funny. In my opinion, anyway.

Girls S04E02 - Triggering

Girls – “Triggering”

On the other hand, the latest episode of Girls has Hannah (Lena Dunham’s character) moving to Iowa to attend grad school for an advanced writing degree. In the first student workshop to which the audience is privy, Hannah shares a first-person fictional piece that details the emotional and sexual abuse suffered by the narrator, who many of the other students agree is clearly based on Hannah.

Her peers tear her story apart, and call it unoriginal (they liken it to 50 Shades) and say that the main character is unsympathetic. Hannah is quick to be offended and breaks the rules by providing out-of-turn cringe-worthy retorts (i.e. “history didn’t really focus on the female perspective”). Later in the episode, she even goes as far as to insist that one of the female students who criticized her in class was a survivor of abuse, which is vehemently refuted.

Much like Broad City did, Girls puts rape culture at the forefront this week. The title of the episode is a reference to how stories/descriptions of assault can trigger post-traumatic responses in survivors. Hannah even goes out of her way to warn her peers that there were “triggering aspects of the piece” as a testament to how strong she believes her writing to be, rather than as a real courtesy (there have been articles and interviews about the trivialization of the trigger warning).

Who did it better?

I won’t pass judgment on the messages that either show presented this week (again, this isn’t a TV show review blog), but I think it’s worth commending both for acknowledging the issue, but also worth understanding that neither is claiming an absolute truth or a moral high ground (definitely not Broad City). Each storyline allows for interpretation and helps further discussion, which is always a good thing.

I don’t feel that either show has an imperative to be the final say on women’s issues just because they have female creators/writers. I think that’s an impossibly high standard to place on creative people.

If rape culture were a nail, Broad City addressed it with a sledgehammer. Girls, on the other hand, took a roundabout approach to critique the use of rape culture as a plot point. There’s also some semblance of a Shakespearean “play-within-a-play” at work here. Lena Dunham, the show’s creator, has used rape/unwanted sexual advances as a plotline before (she’s also written about real life experiences in her autobiography). And in this latest episode, her character writes a fictional story using a similar theme. The fictional character that Dunham portrays on the screen however, is shameless in her use of “triggering” language and scenarios. This could be a criticism of other writers (and perhaps an exercise in self-reflection), or it could simply be an unintended parallel. But it does follow a trend of Hannah’s character being increasingly unsympathetic (like the character that her character creates).

On some level, the fictional Hannah Horvath seems to purposefully fly in the face of the “strong female” archetype and is one of the least empowering female characters on TV – she’s not self-sufficient, overly dependent on her boyfriend/friends/parents, and can’t take criticism; she had a nervous breakdown and was “saved” by her ex-boyfriend Adam, who literally carried her in his arms in the final scene of the season 2. The rest of the female leads aren’t much better – one can’t cope with being broken up with her more successful boyfriend; one fails to graduate college on time because she was broken up with; and the last one basically extorted a rich man in exchange for a divorce. Not exactly role models, but then again, nobody purported that the characters on the show were supposed to be. Starring a female protagonist does not a feminist show make.

But does every single episode of Girls have to be filtered through the lens of “Is Lena Dunham undermining feminism by creating weak female characters”? I’d also say no. I’d blame it more on bad writing and one-dimensional characterization than on an explicit rebuttal of feminist ideals.

Similarly, does the fact that Amy Poehler both created a webseries titled Smart Girls and currently serves as executive producer on Broad City necessarily tie the two together thematically? Again, I’d like to say no, but I know others would disagree.

Do we have to run every episode of TV through the Bechdel test?

Probably not, but it is a fun exercise. I would venture a guess that most if not all episodes of Broad City pass with flying colors. Girls probably doesn’t and barely squeaks by this week between a throwaway scene with two of the girls watching a movie/receiving a collect call, and one of Hannah talking to her real estate agent.

It’s definitely worth analyzing how women are portrayed in popular culture. But it does a disservice to everyone to separate “female writers” from “writers”. Ideas and writing should be evaluated similarly regardless of who’s saying them. Even if the shows are called Girls and Broad City.

Note: This blog post is not meant to pass judgment on the events that took place in Ferguson, but is rather a mass communication analysis of the responses from both mainstream and social medias. Death is always tragic, and this post is not meant to downplay the loss of life.

On August 9, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer. This just about ends the list of things that everyone can agree on. There have been many conflicting reports about the circumstances of the shooting, and as a result, the public has been subject to many different interpretations by the mainstream media.

With regard to communications, agenda setting refers to the ability of the media to shape what people talk about and value as important by devoting space/time to certain stories; a second tenet of the theory is that the press does not necessarily reflect reality accurately. And what about images? It’s been long since established that images are more persuasive than text in the context of news. And while undoctored photos cannot lie, they most certainly can be misleading. The pictures shown in news reports can have a significant impact on how the viewing audience consumes the content of the stories.

After the initial coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown, some online commentators took issue with the photo of Michael Brown used in news reports, citing that it was deliberately chosen to depict some version of the scary black man trope. See below for an example:

In response, Twitter users began utilizing the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown to express their dissatisfaction with how the media negatively portrays black men.

An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag
An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag

Some also likened it to the coverage of another black teenager who was recently killed. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida. As a result of the 24-hour news cycle, we all became painfully aware of the “Stand-Your-Ground” law, and were exposed to many photos of Martin that were less than flattering; this included photos of him flipping the bird and smoking marijuana.

As time passed, those photos were largely replaced by this one:

The most commonly shown Trayvon Martin Photo in the news
The most commonly shown photo of Trayvon Martin in the news

However, the above was a (then) 5-year-old photo of Martin. Was it a conscious decision to use an outdated photo in order to play up the differences between Zimmerman and Martin? Or was the media overcorrecting on their previous coverage? Either way, it leads to biased reporting. Zimmerman’s lawyer Don West even made this joke during his client’s trial:

While the joke itself was pretty cringeworthy, he did have a point. Anyone who had even watched a single news report about the Martin/Zimmerman altercation already had their understanding of the events shaped by the media.

Sure enough, the new “default” photo of Brown seen in most news reports changed to the one below where he looks younger and less “offensive”:

Photo of Michael Brown circulated on CNN
Photo of Michael Brown shown on CNN

But was this photo any more accurate? The photo was also not that recent (dated January 2013 according to his Facebook). The photo that the media originally showed (of Brown throwing up a peace sign) was actually his default/public Facebook photo (as of July 8). Occam’s razor would posit that the media ran with the “peace sign” photo because they didn’t bother doing further research (and if we wish to be more raffish, we can also invoke Hanlon’s razor). Perhaps it was a kneejerk reaction to call the use of that photo racist?

In stark contrast to how the media has portrayed Brown, here are security footage stills of Brown robbing a convenience store the same day he was shot:

Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery
Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery

The iffy timing and the horrible damage control by the Ferguson Police Department notwithstanding, this set of images definitely tells a much different story. In this footage, Brown is an imposing 6-foot-4, 295-pound man, and not an innocent child. If this image of Brown were also presented with the original news coverage, how would public opinion differ? Would that have quelled the accusations of discrimination? Would it have prevented riots?

At the end of the day, journalism should be about reporting truth. So which image is a more accurate depiction of Michael Brown? As is typically the case when extremes are involved, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Maybe #iftheygunnedmedown is actually presenting a false dichotomy; Michael Brown could have simultaneously been the recent high school graduate and the man who robbed a convenience store. As consumers of the news, we have a responsibility to be more critical of what’s presented to us. In real life, narratives are not as cut and dry as they are in cartoons. Or on CNN.

Note: Like my last post regarding the Newtown shooting, I am not intending to make light of the tragedy that occurred or the 26 lives lost. This post is written strictly from the perspective of a mass communications scholar.

1) United States vs. China

On literally the same calendar date as the Newtown shooting, a man in China attacked and slashed 22 schoolchildren with a knife. The similarities between this and the Newtown tragedy are jarring. In addition to the choice of weapon, the most noteworthy difference was that not a single child died in China from that incident. It’s also well known that China has very strict gun control laws.

I won’t make the leap to causation, but it’s very hard to divorce the two ideas. The fact that two attacks on different sides of the world took place on the same day, and the one that occurred in a country with strong gun laws meant all of those schoolchildren are still alive today.

This story has the potential to be a very important talking point in the impending gun control debate in the States. But what I find most interesting is that this anecdotal evidence can be reasonably used by both sides of the debate. The pro gun control group can say that if guns were not as easily available, then Newtown may have ended the same way as the incident in China. The anti gun control group can say that violence is going to occur anyway and that it’s in our human nature, and that we need to be able to protect ourselves from those who are unbalanced. Also worth noting is that schoolchildren attacks in China are surprisingly and disturbingly not uncommon.

Smoking gun HDR photo
credit: HD-Photography2000

2) Social Media as News Sources

In my previous blog post, I touched upon how I think CNN’s over-reliance on social media and crowdsourcing for their reporting is lazy and bad for the news industry.

But that’s not the whole story. Consider the fact that if Facebook didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have firsthand accounts of Ryan Lanza declaring his innocence (and the fact that he was alive).

Consider this Reddit thread in /r/Connecticut, where a user made up-to-the-minute updates regarding the latest breaking news. In a world where it’s hard to recant statements or reports, the ability to edit or update content on the web makes so much sense.

3) News vs. Pseudo-News

Regarding that last point, I would not consider Slate a source for breaking news. I have long viewed it as an editorial and blog-like news magazine. But when CNN misreported the identity of the Newtown shooter, it was organizations like Slate that responded with the truth.

With the Internet becoming the preferred choice for receiving news from a larger percentage of people, the line between strict news organizations and “pseudo-news” sites is further blurred. Consider a site like Buzzfeed, that largely started out as a gossip and funny image-sharing site. During the last election, they had a Mormon writer on Mitt Romney’s bus reporting from his perspective how religion was involved in the campaign.

With the reliability of the big name news organizations increasingly being called into question, it’s getting hard to know who to go to for the hard facts.

Just ask NPR. They took a big shot in credibility back in 2011 when it misreported that Representative Gabby Giffords had died.

4) Racial Issues

It’s no secret that ever since 9/11, the race of violent perpetrators is always brought to the forefront. For instance, when someone of foreign descent commits an atrocity, it’s usually quickly chalked up to terrorism by select members of the media (e.g. the Fort Hood shooting from 2009). But how many times have you heard Timothy McVeigh called a domestic terrorist? What about extreme zealots who commit crimes against abortion clinics? These are clearly acts of domestic terrorism, but they’re very rarely addressed as such by the mainstream media. Which is what led to Bob Schieffer making a very poignant hypothetical on Face the Nation. Schieffer said, “If this person had… an Arab name, people would be going nuts.” See the abbreviated video clip below:

There’s no doubt in my mind that that would’ve been the case. In fact, I know that some people of Middle Eastern descent hold their breath whenever they find out that an act of violence has occurred on American soil, hoping that it’s not someone of their ethnicity. I even remember two years after the Virginia Tech shooting, there was another act of violence in Binghamton, NY where an Asian man went postal at an immigration office and killed 13 others. There was a short-lived time when race relations between Asian-Americans and other Americans suffered, but luckily, there weren’t any real residual effects. However, Muslims and Arab-Americans have not been so lucky.

As insensitive as it may seem to state this, the fact that the Newtown shooter was a white, American male (and not anyone with a foreign sounding name or skin complexion) is a lot better for our national discourse. The media can focus on the two biggest issues at hand that they usually throw to the wayside for sensationalist, xenophobic fear mongering. Gun control and mental illness are the major topics of discussion, rather than the race or nationality of the shooter.

There are many more reasons why the Newtown shooting can and should be one of the biggest stories of the year and also a media case study for years to come. I’m sure once the gun debate actually happens on a national stage, it will become clearer how these factors helped shape the narrative. And hopefully for the better.

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