James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Binghamton New York’

‘Killer American Idol’: Mass murder no surprise, more likely to come

Posted by James McPherson on April 5, 2009

palin_with_gunOne of the most troubling leads I’ve read in a long time, from CNN today: “People who knew the suspected gunman in Friday’s shooting at an immigration services center in Binghamton, New York, were not surprised by his actions, the police chief said.”

I’m not shocked, in the abstract, by mass murder–though individual cases, like the one in my own state in which a father apparently shot and killed his five kids, do still surprise me. In a broader sense, though, killing a bunch of people is a too-common way for the clueless and the hopeless to gain attention, and the suicide (or “suicide-by-cop”) that almost always concludes these events keeps the cowardly killer from having to face his inability to deal with the world.

One notable and perhaps regrettable exception (I oppose the death penalty but agree that certain people deserve to be dead, and that there are certain people for whom I’d be willing to pull the trigger) is the nutcase who gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh. Because he wore a bulletproof vest–like his fellow coward in Binghamton, N.Y., who killed 13 other people–the Pittsburgh cop killer survived.

People have been committing mass murder for attention for a long time; consider it a form of “American Idol” for killers. The preponderance of guns in our culture doesn’t help–notably, one of the arguments of the Pittsburgh coward is that he, like the National Rifle Association and an assortment of other right-wingers,  “feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.”

These cases also demonstrate, of course, that many of those who most love guns are among the people we should least trust with them. That obvious fact didn’t stop the Bush administration from making gun purchases easier to buy and carry, while making it tougher to track those purchases.

Nor has that fact, or the fact that most of the guns in the drug wars now going on in Mexico come from the U.S., managed to persuade the conservative Obama administration and a conservative Congress to get tougher on gun violence. Maybe a few more killings will do the trick–but probably only if they occur on Capitol Hill.

One thing we do know: With a faltering economy and a culture that glorifies violence, many more such killings will come. Especially if people are “not surprised” that a neighbor might turn out to be a mass murderer, but do nothing to prevent it.

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