Hodge: The mass media does not recognize white terrorists

Jayla Hodge

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

The media is lacking in objectivity when it come to the portrayals of race.

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In the case of the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, a middle aged white male responsible for killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more, was often refereed as a  “lone-wolf” and ‘retiree’  in headlines. There has been hesitation to label Paddock a terrorist. This was not the case with the Orlando and San Bernardino shootings, where the shooters were apparent people of color. The media focused on them intensely and tied them quickly to radical groups.  The label of ‘terrorist’ seems to be selectively applied to people of color.

Many argue that the Las Vegas shooter by the federal definition does not qualify as a ‘terrorist’ and thus he should not be labeled one. He committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history. Whether it fits the dictionary definition, this was an extreme act of violence and inflicted terror upon civilians. It was domestic, and it was done by an American citizen.

Stephen Padlock was found dead upon police entry, so they were unable to establish a motive. Almost immediately they disregarded him as being a “terrorist,” even though ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. This claim has been largely unsupported, but even without the claim according to Nevada Law this horrendous shooting still can qualify as an act of terror without a known motivation.

The relevant statute reads: “’Act of terrorism’ means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”

The media has played a crucial role in the racist and biased ideologies behind the way we perceive mass shooters. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, the headlines ranged from deferring the blame  of the shooter and his actions, to being called a gambler, and quiet reserved ‘numbers’ man. This man was a mass murderer, and the media needs to use language that represents the gravity of his actions.

The media has helped shaped the perception of race and crime to be associated with one another negatively. “Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites — both quantitatively and qualitatively,” concludes this Race and Punishment report. The same association has been made with mass shootings and race, particular towards middle eastern races and ethnicity. 

In an article by The Atlantic, they claim Paddock doesn’t fit the profile of a ‘mass shooter’. This is false. According to an investigation from MotherJones.com, majority of mass shooters since 1982 have been white men . As a white man, Stephen Paddock, shares race and gender with most mass shooters.

America has a terrorism problem, but unlike many countries in Europe and abroad, it is domestic. We have more acts of violent extremism coming from our own citizens, more often than not far-right extremist. Charlottesville is just one example of this. The media and politicians paint fear of immigrants and radical Islam as a major terrorist threat but the indisputable truth about mass shootings in America is they are almost exclusively coming from one particular socioeconomic class and racial group.  Middle class white men. 

This is not the only time the media and our leadership have painted extreme acts of violence as something other than domestic terrorism. Most media outlets initially called the Las Vegas Shooting the “worst mass shooting in American history,” as horrific and  devastating as it was, it is not the worst mass shooting in American history.

The media neglected to take into account the historical accuracy of this statement and the multiple worst shootings in history; attacks African American and Native American people.  We must not forget to include these incidents and shootings in our list and statics. To not include them is to not acknowledge they happened and is historically inaccurate. 

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The media often paints shooters like Stephen Paddock and James Holmes as single freak occurrences, and attention is made around ‘mental health.’ This connection is not wrong, but it does draw focus away from other crucial issues. These horrendous events are not being ‘politicized,’ code for discouraging conversations around common sense gun laws and evaluating racial social economic issues, but rather the media is not acknowledging them accurately, if even correct at all. 

Jayla Hodge can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @Jaylahodge.