Real news

I was in a Lyft ride in San Francisco city this afternoon when the news of the school shooting in Florida broke over the radio. Spawned from my ensuing conversation with my Lyft driver, a black woman in her 40s, about gun ownership, I started thinking about the way the news was reported over the air waves.

The reporter interviewed someone who knew the shooter personally and said person gave an account of the murderer that I’m sure most Americans have unwillingly become familiar with. Unsociable, always having trouble with all his teachers, and known to occasionally do weird things like throwing a rock through the classroom window for no apparent reason. I found that all too familiar, and I don’t even live in America.

But it got me thinking. What if this wasn’t really the case? What if a shooter is a really normal kid, with no visible angry undertones to his/her life, and is actually kind of popular in school when he/she opened fire? Would the media report as it is, knowing that it might unleash pandemonium, since even conventionally good kids are committing atrocities like this?

Let me be clear – I’m not saying that this particular shooter is not being accurately described for what and how he is. I don’t know that, and I don’t know him. All I’m wondering is whether such news will ever truthfully surface when it happens.

I’d personally find it a lot more disturbing and become much more concerned about gun ownership if the interviewee’s account of the shooter was like this:

“He was a perfectly normal guy. We just had dinner the other day and I feel like he’s just like any other student in our school. He’s happy when there’s something to be happy about, emotional when something is upsetting, and he’s never exhibited any violent tendencies.”

Wouldn’t that be scary?

I did notice my Lyft driver nodding and mm-hmming as she heard the person who knew the shooter described him as a socially awkward troublemaker. It reinforced her confirmation bias – the news is giving her what she wants to hear. I just hope that she, too, questions whether this is a representative account of the shooter. Because if it’s not, then obviously something else is wrong other than unstable students.

News must always be taken with a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of scepticism – in my opinion, that just bodes better for any society. As for gun ownership and the laws in America, it will take more than a 10-day trip to San Francisco to understand and evaluate.


Also published on Medium.