By: Tom Westerholm
You’ve probably seen the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory video floating around Facebook. Usually, it’s posted by someone with the comment “WHOA!” or “I don’t usually believe conspiracy theories, but this TOTALLY CHANGED MY MIND.” As is my wont, I’m here to complain about that video and those people.
I’m not going to link to the video because it annoys me too much, and I don’t want it to get any more YouTube hits because of me. I’m also not going to debunk every single conspiracy in the entire video (if you are interested, here’s a really excellent Reddit post doing just that). I’d just like to say how disgusted I am by the whole thing.
Here are a couple of the main points:
- There was a second shooter who isn’t being reported on.
- The media said one thing about the guns, but they were wrong.
- There was a nurse mentioned in a news report who doesn’t exist.
Have you ever gotten to the end of a story only to realize that parts didn’t make sense? Usually when that happens, you either do one of two things: You assume that there are simple explanations that you missed, so you go back and you find those explanations, OR you assume that there are simple explanations that you missed, and you accept the fact that you know the big picture. Right? You don’t go all over the internet telling everyone that the whole story was a hoax simply because some parts weren’t entirely logical? So in this case you either go back and find the parts of the Sandy Hook story that don’t make sense OR you accept that 27 children died and an emotional media got a few things wrong.
The problem with calling the Sandy Hook tragedy a conspiracy (fully apart from the fact that conspiracy theorists are keeping alive an unnecessary and ridiculous debate about a very tragic event) is that the evidence is mostly based on conflicting news reports. But news reports conflict each other all the time. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the irresponsible work of journalists who are more interested in being the “first” to report something rather than being the most accurate.
Pretend you are a TV journalist with me for one moment. You are covering a story of a second man who has been arrested in the woods behind the Sandy Hook school, because it looks like an interesting lead. You tell viewers “more on this story as it develops.” But what if the story doesn’t develop? What if the man was simply a man walking to the school, and the police were just doing their due diligence and making sure that he wasn’t a second shooter? Do you tell your viewers “Oh, by the way, that thing we told you was important before? Not important at all. Our bad.” Ideally, of course, yes, that is what a news station would tell the viewers. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where admitting your mistakes is equivalent to admitting your utter incompetence. And we definitely live in a world full of viewers with short attention spans who would rather hear the new bits of juicy gossip than a correction of a story they have probably forgotten about. So a news station moves on, uninterested in continuing with that lead.
So after one of the most horrifying and publicized tragedies we have seen in the past ten years begins to settle down, someone with video editing software re-watches the news footage, puts together cherry-picked bits of newscast in a way that fits his narrative and tells a frightened public that the disturbed man who shot up an elementary school is actually part of a master plan by “them.” This is both terrifying to the public (who don’t want some vague, abstract “them” orchestrating tragedies) and somewhat comforting (because who wants to believe that there are real live disturbed people out there who have access to unlimited amounts of weapons?). Combine that with the copy and paste, reactionary nature of Facebook and you suddenly have a fairly sizable portion of the American public believing that the worst school shooting in history was the work of the government who want to take away their Second Amendment rights and everything else America stands for.
Which is more plausible: An illuminati-style conspiracy theory to take away your freedoms or an emotional journalist at an emotional crime scene who kind of sucks at his/her job? Isn’t it more plausible that the media just messed up?
I’m not saying we should trust implicitly. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Question the media, question the government, question whoever you want. Just remember to question the questioners too.