San Bernardino and the Monopoly Media

On December 4, the owner of the home that the alleged — alleged, innocent until guilt is proven is still the law — San Bernardino attackers, Syed Farook and his wife, was opened to the media. The scene was pandemonium as a swarm of reporters, cameramen, and members of the public ransacked the home.

MSNBC reporter Kerry Sanders was tracked by a live shot though the Redlands home, rifling through photographs and documents on live television. MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell showed some discomfort as Sanders found pictures of children and showed them to the cable channel’s audience, but the channel kept broadcasting anyway.

In possibly the most egregious violation of privacy in this circus of shit journalism, Sanders found the driver’s license of the mother of the male shooter and held it up to the camera for over thirty seconds. Stay tuned for the inevitable vandalism/attacks/harassment of the gunman’s family as a direct result of that action.

The media’s behavior here is pretty indicative of the domestic shooting double standard. Remember how after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the media were allowed/forced their way into Adam Lanza’s family home after the FBI had gone through it? Remember how the media found out he was a white male and immediately searched for a way to connect him to his broader community?

Right, none of that happened. Never happens, in fact, when the shooter is a white man. The media will swarm and exhaustively cover attacks on civilians in the West when Muslims do them. But when the perpetrator is white, the questions become “how are we getting so used to this” and “is it time to talk about gun control.”

Same with this attack — for the first few hours. The contrast of coverage in the first hours after the attack and the days after the suspects were identified is striking. Coverage in the wake of the shooting followed the script. The “left” in mainstream American politics called for gun control. The right gave prayers for the victims. Once the shooters were identified as Muslims, Arabs, that narrative changed.

When the shooter is white, the questions surrounding motivation are many. There is a concerted effort to figure out “what happened” to him, what in his background could have made him so “troubled.” The white shooter is a “loner,” he is “mentally disturbed.”

When the shooter is a person of color in general, and a Muslim in particular, there are no questions. Generalizations and assumptions take the place of individualized motivations and mental illness, background and past.

That’s how we get to the point where the media invades the home of dead suspects in a shooting and shows the world their family’s personal information: without individualizing the attackers when their skin tone is insufficiently pale, they are seen as part of a monolithic mindless mass of danger, not as the just-as-disturbed and troubled people that their white, male counterparts are.

We’re only three days into this story, so there will surely be more of these blatant incidents of media bias around the San Bernardino shootings. Whether or not they will reach the heights of MSNBC doxing family members of the shooter is unclear. What is clear is that now that the shooters have been thoroughly “othered” by the media and law enforcement due to their religious and ethnic backgrounds, the storyline will follow its predictable, dehumanizing narrative.

Eoin Higgins is a writer and historian from upstate New York. Read other articles by Eoin, or visit Eoin's website.