Dear New York Daily News,
You’re doing it wrong.
Long before the blood was mopped up, before police issued the all clear, before the motives of the shooters were known and the names of the dead were released, before you had any idea how the murderers in San Bernardino obtained their guns — or their bombs — you knew exactly what this story had to be about: gun control.
In this, of course, you weren’t alone. Countless media outlets and pundits lunged for their security blankets. As of this writing, the day after the slaughter, CNN and MSNBC are still making this all about gun control, as best they can. President Barack Obama, who always slow-walks any admission that Islamic terrorism is involved in an Islamic terrorist attack, once again leapt into the breach to make this about gun control, even as bullets were still flying.
And to be fair, everybody on both sides of the aisle is susceptible to the compulsion fueled by social media to chime in before the facts are known. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We all try to resist the race to be wrong first, but sometimes we fall short.
And sometimes journalists get so caught up in the groupthink frenzy on Twitter that we fail to realize how things seem outside our own echo chambers. And that, I suspect, is where you went wrong.
On Wednesday, even as the atrocity unfolded, thousands — perhaps millions — of people offered their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families.
A handful of smug liberal ghouls, hungry to turn the shooting into a partisan feast, decided that the Republican politicians offering their thoughts and prayers were liars. The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten declared on Twitter: “Dear ‘thoughts and prayers’ people: Please shut up and slink away. You are the problem, and everyone knows it.”
Igor Volsky of Think Progress spent the evening insinuating that any Republican offering thoughts and prayers was bought off by the National Rifle Association.
And you got caught up in this frenzy of sneering sanctimony and condescension. So you ran the front-page headline “God Isn’t Fixing This,” alongside statements from House Speaker Paul Ryan and various Republican presidential hopefuls offering their prayers.
The supposed news story attached to the cover began, “Prayers aren’t working.” It then celebrated Democratic presidential candidates who “called for stricter gun laws” while deriding Republicans for merely “preaching about prayer.”
I’m sure you thought this was all so terribly clever.
Wrong. It was disgusting and sophomoric — and journalistically dubious. You literally had no idea whether the gun-control policies you prefer would have prevented this attack. Such laws clearly wouldn’t have prevented the numerous pipe bombs the attackers had prepared. You had no clue if this was a jihadist attack, which would diminish the relevance of gun control. (Paris has very strict gun laws. As does California, by the way — and even stricter pipe bomb laws.)
GOP hopefuls weren’t “preaching about prayer.” They were offering their prayers (just like President Obama did the next day). If this had been an earthquake, would you reject prayers while survivors were still being plucked from the rubble? Would you denounce anyone who refrained from touting their preferred building code legislation?
It is no great insight to point out that prayerful statements can be platitudinous. So what? Most of us aren’t really expecting a serious answer when we greet someone with “How are you?”
Just because good manners can be trite doesn’t mean they’re not good manners.
Good manners are a sign of respect. And offering one’s prayers to those suffering is a far more meaningful sign of respect than saying “How are you?”
More important: For some people — a great many people, in fact — those prayers were sincere. You would be among the first to denounce a Republican for questioning the religious sincerity of, say, President Obama. But you preen in self-congratulation disparaging the faith of politicians simply because they disagree with you. Worse, you make it less likely they will listen to your arguments. So what was the point? To get high-fives from people who already agree with you? How courageous.
We hear so much editorializing these days about the coarsening of our culture and the excesses of political polarization. I think that’s overdone. But you should probably hold off joining that conversation for a while, given that you politicized respectful prayers for the dead just to score some cheap points.
Jonah Goldberg: firstname.lastname@example.org