Orlando shooting: Florida media scrambling to decide what it was about

Was it Islamic terrorism? Just regular terrorism? A hate crime? A wake-up call for gay rights and gun control?

Like a dropped glass, the Orlando shooting has already shattered into many stories, less than 48 hours after the event.  Activists for various causes have filled in a few details of the tragedy into scripts that seem otherwise pre-written. And many news media have been helping them.

The coverage has been overwhelming, but here's what jumped out during my look at Florida media.

The Orlando Sentinel has done outstanding -- though not flawless -- coverage, with multiple updates. By 1:02 p.m. Sunday, it had produced an impressive profile of Omar Mateen, named by police as the man who stormed the Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people. Building partly on work by the Washington Post, the profile includes:

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, the 29-year-old gunman accused of killing dozens of people in Orlando on Sunday, was a security guard, the divorced father of a 3-year-old and, in school, someone who acted "dorky."
He also was an extremist whose outspoken interest in terrorism twice put him on the FBI’s radar screen.
On Sunday morning, he became something far larger: a lone gunman who authorities say was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
He called 911 from outside a gay nightclub just south of downtown Orlando, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, authorities said, then began his assault.

For comparison, check out the Tampa Bay Times' version, which came out at 12:13 p.m. today.

The Sentinel also reveals that Mateen grew up in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and bought two guns legally; worked for a security firm; had been investigated by the FBI at least twice since 2013; made reference to the Tsarnaev brothers, the brothers who bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon; and was married for two years to a woman who left because of his abusiveness. All of those elements have become part of the standard narrative in other media.

Three hours later, the Sentinel revealed an interesting tie between gay and Muslim leaders in Central Florida -- but does little more than take dictation. The paper covered a press conference at the regional office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose executive director, Hassan Shibly, announced a blood drive for the shooting victims:

Shibly said the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has stood at the forefront of the fight against Islamophobia, and he vowed the Muslim community will return the support.
"The reality is, we both have the same enemies that promote fear and hate against U.S. and that have targeted both communities for violent acts," Shibly said.

Carlos Guillermo, head of the pro-gay Equality Florida, declared "solidarity with the Muslim and Islamic community and in opposition to the intolerance, discrimination and hate crimes that both of our communities experience."

Also at the meeting was Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor at the Orlando-area Northland, A Church Distributed. He intoned that "There is no place for hatred and violence in any healthy religion or in any healthy society." Would have also been good to note that Hunter is also on the board of directors for the National Association of Evangelicals.

The press conference would have also been a good time to ask about teachings regarding homosexuality in Muslim and Christian traditions. The answers would have lifted the article above the p.r. phase. But if the Sentinel asked, it didn’t report the answer.

By sundown, the newspaper had turned its sights on gun control, even blaming Republicans:

Last year, U.S. Democrats looked to increase anti-terrorism money for both local police forces and airport security. The funds would have also banned the sale of guns and explosives to people on federal terrorism watch lists, including contingents of radical Islamists. Gun associations fought that and similar measures, saying the proposals would inhibit their rights to protect themselves.

But it finds space to quote a Muslim leader -- a national vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community -- to say that "violence and guns were not at the core of their religion." Why it didn’t get that from a local Muslim, I don't know.

The Miami Herald, once one of the top newspapers in the United States, waited until this morning, then did a writethru. Even then, the paper was tentative about a terrorism connection, saying that authorities were "wondering if it was an act of terrorism."

The Islamic State’s radio called Mateen "one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America." Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the IS extremist group, on Monday hailed the attack, saying it targeted a gathering of Christians and gays and that it’s the worst attack on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The broadcast is apparently an opportunistic statement as IS has not officially claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack.

Yet the Herald adds later that Mateen specifically pledged loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- and that the group's news agency, Aamaq, said he was an "Islamic State fighter."

The paper was more sure about gun control -- a sundown story carries "7 facts about guns and mass shootings after Orlando." PolitiFact, a joint project between the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, lays out some standard chestnuts (Most Americans favor background checks; more Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than in all wars in American history.) But it also offers a little independent thinking (The number of mass shootings is hard to pin down; the connection between gun laws and crime is still debated). 

But neither PolitiFact nor the Orlando Sentinel offers concrete gun-control proposals that would have prevented the Orlando shooting. As you know by now, Mateen bought his guns openly and had a license to carry one.

The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale sent a reporter to Port St. Lucie for some quotes from Seddique Mir Mateen, Omar's father. Their main addition is that the father says Omar "should've thought about his wife and his kid and these people [the victims] … This has no relationship to religion. If you're afraid of God, you don't do such a thing. He acted on his own."

The Palm Beach Post, meanwhile, gave full rein to writer Frank Cerabino, who spins the whole attack in gay-rights terms:

Straight blood. Gay blood. Turns out there’s no difference. And the compassion of those would-be donors is a manifestation of how ultimately flimsy the walls of prejudice have come to be in Florida.
Even though those walls have been strong here.
After all, the massacre happened in a state where it is still legal to deny employment and housing to gay people simply based their sexual orientation. Last year, Florida officially became the last state in America to end the unconstitutional ban on gay adoption. And this year, Florida’s taxpayers are stuck with potentially more than $1 million in legal fees for what a judge called the state’s "history of resistance" in granting gay couples the right to marry.
This is a far cry from the ISIS custom of throwing homosexuals off a tall building and then stoning them to death, but our form of gay bashing is nothing to be proud of.

And no, this isn’t labeled "opinion" or "commentary." It bears the mislabel of "News."

WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami covered two vigils for the shooting victims, in Miami Beach and Wilton Manors -- the latter "known for being a welcoming community," the station felt the need to say.  It also quotes Khalid Minhas of the Baitul Naseer Mosque in Hallandale Beach, saying the attack "also hurts us as Muslims, because our faith is being hijacked." 

One interesting tidbit in Wilton Manors was when Democrat leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, "We cannot let hate win; we cannot let the terrorists win." She may have felt safe in calling it terrorism after President Obama did. But it's apparently still just generic terrorism -- whatever ISIS or Mateen himself said.

A reminder: Updates have been coming out constantly. If reports after this writing fix the soft spots I saw, more power to them.

Thumb: Screenshot of WSVN's coverage of a vigil at Pride Park in Wilton Manors, Fla.


Please respect our Commenting Policy