Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


©2007 UrbisMedia

©2007 UrbisMedia

It is often said of war that its first victim is Truth.  In the media circus that surrounds tragedies like that at Virginia tech, the second (or, third, or thirty-third) victim is Sincerity.


After the “first responders” conclude their duties, the second-responders show up.  Media, with their trucks and antennae for satellite feeds, rush in like (no, I’ll skip the hackneyed shark metaphor this time) seniors a free all-you-can-eat-buffet. I watch CNN from Hong Kong, two of whose reporters combined their sense of self-importance with a litany of clichés that we have come to hear at these tragedies. They pump what students they could corral with dumb questions, interspersed with the rhetorical “What makes a person do something horrible like this?”   The same tape rolls over and over.


Then CNN manages to get an interview with the Virginia Tech president, who reveals himself a cool-customer who flatly dismisses any possibility that the administration—which sent out anemail two hours after the first two murders as a means of alerting(?) the campus—might have been negligently tardy. The President claims that he and campus law enforcement were acting on the “best information they had at the time” and locked down the dorm in question. As though he were speaking to a herd of cattle he then said that they “assumed the shooter had left campus.”   Somebody actually made this man a university president! You begin to wonder if this is going to be a gradually revealing fiasco like the Duke University “gang rape” case.


Local and state law enforcement are not far behind in covering their butts.  Their first words are self-congratulatory; they are very pleased with themselves. CNN, to its credit, had a SWAT team type expert on who said it looked to him like the locals were not exactly rushing toward the action, but that ran only once as far as I could tell.


Then there is the first mention that George Bush might put in a photo op (or at least a fly over like he belatedly did over New Orleans after Katrina).   After all, Toady Blair has already logged in, and so has Mr. Howard of Australia, who mentions that we have too many guns on then loose in America.   This will certainly trigger a “response” from the NRA, who probably already have put in an emergency call to their spokesman-dork, Charlton Heston, to dust off his toupee and rehearse some of those “people kill people/guns don’t kill people” clichés in his Moses voice.   It turns out that Virginia is the second most lenient state (after Georgia) for buying a gun; you can walk in a gun shop and walk out with enough firepower to invade a campus after an “instant” background check and answering three simple questions. [1]


Before the smoke is cleared some entrepreneur is fabricating the appropriate ribbon to wear or affix to your truck—black this time, I think (we’re running out of colors), and some might get out those patriotic American flags that you attach to your car window that are left over from 9-11.   After all, the shooter was a Green Card holder and, technically, that makes it an attack by a foreigner.


The next responder is a young Christian CNN’s woman reporter hauled on mic (did you think it would be some other religion?) some minister who explained that this was proof that there is real “evil in this world and it came and sat on this campus” and also hoped the tragedy would ”bring more people to Jesus Christ.”   You just know there’s going to be a lot praying and religious posturing before this is over.  


Speaking of Christians, Bush shows up and “responds.” Thirty-two people had been selected by fate and a probably deranged gunman to be what George Bush later described “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”   But it gets his Iraq war off the front page (even though more Iraqi and Americans have died over there than students here).   You wonder if he has been briefed that a Chinese official has already logged in with a condolence that almost sound s like an apology. After all, the police have issued information that the shooter, who has killed himself, is a male of ”Asian descent.”   Could there be another pretext for a “preemptive” response al la Iraq?   Do they have oil?  Quick, get Condi to put out that an Asian male was seen in the same city as somebody from Al Qaeda; and Cheney will be in charge of the one about an Asian male trying to buy “yellow cake” uranium from Nigeria.  I can just hear him warming up the crowd:  “Ya know, when those Asians hide in the yellow cake you can’t even see ’em (heh, heh, heh).”


It is surprising how much media coverage there is from other countries.  They not only show up in Virginia (not too far from Washington), but there is a lot of coverage in Asia.   This is undoubtedly because the Virginia police continue to hold out the specifics on the “male of Asian descent.”   Here, in Hong Kong, the odds favor the PRC or Taiwan. Thousands of engineering and computer science students are studying at American universities. My guess was Taiwanese aeronautical engineering grad student “lost face” by flunking a course. [2]   I’m completely wrong. [3]   But I wonder how wrong I am in guessing that the reason foreign media are taking such an interest in another American tragedy is that the last time our stupid president flailed out like some insane Ahab and made Americans international pariahs.


Then, inevitably, the event begins to slip into the next phase of the news cycle. The media circus begins to pack its tent. There are the pray-ins, candlelight vigils, speeches, the endless “why” questions. Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell might “respond” that God is punishing us again for Roe v. Wade. A woman state legislator from Texas found it a good opportunity to call for elimination of all laws against carrying concealed weapons. If all those kids that were killed had been “carrying,” she insisted confidently, they would have taken that “male of Asian descent” out themselves.


It’s sad and tragic, obviously, and especially, for the victims and their families.   But one is also left with the return to the drumbeat of similar numbers of innocent victims dying every day in Iraq.   No media circus for that tragedy; more like a media “side show” these days.   And we’ve already identified the “Male Caucasian, from Texas.”

©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 4.18.2007)

[1] 1) Is you wife also your sister? 2) Who won the last NASCAR Daytona 500?   3) Do you believe Elvis is really dead?)

[2] I have my reasons. I come from San Diego, California, which is no stranger to these sorts of things. For a while, San Diego held the American massacre record when a gunman killed a bunch of kids at a McDonalds back in the 70s. Later, a high school kid in nearby Santee, got his father’s gun and killed some of his classmates, al la Columbine. Then an Aeronautical Engineering grad student at my own campus, San Diego State University, shot and killed his master’s thesis committee (they had asked him to make some revisions), hunting the last one down in a chemistry lab where he had fled.

[3] He’s a S. Korean, undergrad, English major, Cho sang-hui.