No news

Art Buchwald

July 28, 1993|By Art Buchwald

A GUNMAN shot and killed eight people in San Francisco the other day. It was a news story, but not a big story because it seems that every week a gunman is killing eight victims somewhere in the U.S.A.

For a story to qualify as big news, it has to be exceptional. Since killing people with guns is now the norm in this country, an editor is hard put to know whether to put it anywhere near the front page.

Because incidents of gun violence are not big news, it follows that trying to get legislation passed to prevent gun ownership is also not newsworthy. Nor is the hysteria of the anti-gun people considered news. The National Rifle Association's statement that the gunman was not a member of the NRA is not news either because no one cares.

It appears that almost every time someone shoots more than six people, the handgun supporters pay politicians millions of dollars to make sure that nobody calls for anti-gun measures. It's done so often that you can't even call these payoffs news.

When children have been shot in school it used to be big news, but now it's a big yawn.

Years ago gangs who killed members of other gangs made the front page of the papers, particularly if photographs of the victims were available. These days, however, it has to be a real slow day in the newsroom before you'll find a story about 20 members of one gang wiping out all the kids down the block.

Since mass shootings are now so commonplace, Americans don't get as upset as they used to about them.

For one thing readers tend not to study their newspapers on the Fourth of July weekend. Even if they saw the story, it's doubtful that they even wondered how the gunman amassed such a large arsenal.

When I called my local paper to get more information on the story I was told that most of the editors were away and, besides, as long as Congress considers it legal for citizens to own semiautomatic weapons, the possession of the guns did not merit a Page One story.

"How many people have to be killed before it is headline news?" I asked.

"I believe our guidelines indicate between 15 and 20."

I asked him, "Why is killing eight people not a big story but the hoax of syringes in Pepsi-Cola cans is?"

"The Pepsi-Cola hoax captured the imaginations of news editors all over the world. It was different, it was frightening, it had mystery. The shooting in San Francisco has happened before in other locations. Readers' eyes glaze over."

He admitted that as time went on more and more people, including children, would be shot. But except for those who thrive on sensation, the reader's attention span on these incidents is now down to 10 seconds.

"That should make the NRA happy," I said.

"It has."

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