Last Friday morning, my cats got me up very early, and I just happened to turn to CNN's morning show for the first time in months. With the time difference, it was about 1.5 hours after James Holmes had opened fire in the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. I heard the first counts on how many people were injured and killed, and saw the initial witness interviews.
And eventually I turned the channel and only went back to the coverage for small amounts of time over the day, just long enough to get a sense of what was happening. I'm becoming increasingly unable to watch any of the 24-hour news networks for very long....partly because of the kind of commentary that Dylan Byers talks about in this Politico article:
Joe Scarborough Said that James Holmes Is What? Based on What?
Hey, Joe Scarborough...meet me at Camera Three.
It's not like disabilities advocates didn't know something like this was coming. We were totally prepared to counter the whole "Everyone-knows-that-crazy-people-are-always-violent-and-that-violent-people-are-always-crazy" rhetoric that always comes screaming into the nation's dialogue whenever something like this happens. But we weren't prepared for someone playing armchair diagnostician on a national news show and speculating that James Holmes is on the autism spectrum, basing his conclusions on evidence not supported by facts and what appears to be just speculations. You have a son with Asperger's. You know how difficult many people with an autism diagnosis find it to fit in with their peers and overcome stereotypes. Did you think this would help?
Speculation about James Holmes' diagnosis among your friends in your private residence is okay. It's not okay on a national news show. Even if you apologize for the words (which I hope you will), their effect is still out there.
I realize that you likely had 3 minutes of air time to fill with talk about James Holmes, but it's okay to say, "I don't know." I wish that commentators on the 24-hour news stations would do this more. Maybe you just should have read Dave Cullen's July 21st opinion piece out loud. He has some wise words about the dangers of jumping to conclusions about James Holmes.
From that piece: "You've had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong."
It's Okay to Be Pissed Off. But Hold the Speculation Until We Know More
What James Holmes did, for whatever reason he did it (and quite frankly, I don't think we'll ever completely know) was horrible. It certainly kept me awake over the weekend, because I can't fathom what kind of mind would do that. But I think that all of us, and especially the people in the media, have to be very, very careful about ascribing motives and realize that anything at this point is all speculation. Especially if you're in a position of power (and this doesn't just apply to media figures, but includes parents talking to their kids, teachers talking to kids...anyone talking to kids, really), realize that your words have weight. Avoid speculating about James Holmes' mind and creating more unnecessary stigma around groups that just don't need it.
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg over at "Disability and Representation" did some excellent blogging on this, and has created a petition asking Joe Scarborough and MSNBC to retract his remarks. Please go read:
Dave Cullen's opinion piece (also must-read):