Americans have long tolerated if not wallowed in conspiracy theories. Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't alone when he shot Kennedy. Aliens landed in Area 51. We never got to the moon, etc. etc.
But quite possibly the most despicable and callous of all conspiracy theories recently rose from South Florida. James Tracy, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, has questioned whether the Sandy Hook killings -- in which 20 babies were killed by a haunted and disturbed young man -- ever happened. It could all be a hoax, he says, yet another example of collusion between the U.S. authorities and the "corporate media."
"While it sounds like an outrageous claim," he wrote on his blog, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shootings ever took place -- at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."
Because victims' families asked for privacy to grieve. He then calls Emilie Parker's dad her "alleged father" and "contrived."
This, Tracy contends, can only mean one thing. The government and our media overlords have pulled a fast one on us again. We've been had. The whole thing, the alleged death of 20 children, wasn't anything more than conjecture, one prong among many in a sweeping initiative to pass gun-control legislation.
Later, Tracy published a lengthy and impossibly confusing timeline that he said supported his claims, because inconsistencies existed between early and late reports. Why the incongruities? asked Tracy. What were they hiding?
Tracy is everything that is wrong with media critique. By peddling conspiracy theories as academic currency, he's achieved some modicum of notoriety, and has proceeded to mop it up, going on radio specials and Tweeting everything out to his 117 loyal followers. "I am doing what we should be doing as academics," Tracy said. Well really, no, you're not.
For someone as ostensibly intelligent as he, he's apparently quite clouded with confirmation bias, and any discrepancy between reports can only mean -- idea explosion! -- a mass-media conspiracy.
Journalists capable of exercising a modest degree of autonomy and personal insight would have clearly recognized such leads, thereby extending them to a more rigorous examination of law enforcement spokespersons and the broader Newtown community. Instead, the news media once again wholly abdicated any such responsibility to serve the public by unquestioningly parroting official pronouncements and carefully instructing their audiences on exactly how to interpret the event.
Again, Tracy is everything that is wrong with media critique. The worst kind analyze how journalists put together their stories without ever having been one. Their mission is to break the code. Prove once and for all that journalists take directives from THE MEDIA.
Tracy got his PhD in media studies from the University of Iowa in 2002. I wasn't surprised to see this. I also went there myself, earning an undergrad degree in journalism. While there are many great things about Iowa's journalism school, one of them, unfortunately, is that it teems with academics, not journalists.
All of them are indisputably smart -- perhaps a little smart for their own good. An unsettling number of classes there analyze media currents, discerning injections of "tacit framing" and "corporate underpinnings" in every news article. And this, frankly, isn't true.
Here's what is: 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. This was a tragedy beyond words. There wasn't any media-government conspiracy to push gun control legislation; conversation on the issue began organically. (Because, if such a conspiracy had been in the works, why hadn't it happened after Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora?)
And Tracy's work isn't academic. It's blogging. There's a difference.
Follow the writer @terrence_mccoy
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