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C. Wenk, a reader in Alexandria, Va., criticized “an egregious rush to judgment in the Times coverage of the Arizona shooting, specifically aimed at linking the shooting to various conservative or Republican political rhetoric.”
A second reader, Kevin O’Donnell of Greenbrae, Calif., saw it as a case of The Times jumping too quickly: “I understand the larger point about coarse speech raising the potential for violence. By offering that debate within hours of events, doesn’t The Times risk starting at the conclusion end of the argument?”
The Times had a lot of company, as news organizations, commentators and political figures shouldered into an unruly scrum battling over whether the political environment was to blame.
Journalism educators characterize this kind of framing as a storytelling habit — one of relating new facts to an existing storyline — and also as a reflex of news organizations that are built to handle some topics well, and others less well.
“Journalists developed automatic framing protocols generations ago because of the need to report quickly,” he said. “Today’s hyper-deadlines, requiring journalists to report all day long and all night long, made that genetic disposition even more dominant.”
Still, I think the intense focus on political conflict — not just by The Times — detracted from what has emerged as the salient story line, that of a mentally ill individual with lawful access to a gun.
Whether covering the basic facts of a breaking story or identifying more complex themes, the takeaway is that time is often the enemy. Sometimes the best weapon against it is to ignore it, and use a moment to consider the alternatives.