The Sympathetic Framing of Stephen Paddock

Race, Gender, Media — Blog 4

On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people and injured 546 in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. The media immediately delved into Paddock’s personal life and background. Seemingly, the general consensus in the first week after the incident have Paddock framed as a smart, quiet, unassuming, likable, yet troubled white man.

To illustrate this, the most casual and unofficial of research studies has been conducted and shown below. When the phrase “Stephen Paddock” is Googled, these are among the first results.

Journalists, of course, are not contributing to a large conspiracy to intentionally shift the public’s view of a mass shooter, but layers of unconscious bias almost systematically show through media framing. Black victims are portrayed differently than white criminals, for instance. This gentle hand used by the media on Paddock raises questions for how to avoid such portrayals in the future within potential, hypothetical arguments made by the journalists who wrote about him.

“I simply wrote what my sources said. It is my job to write what my sources say and show their viewpoints. If the shooter’s brother, for example, only says nice things about him, then that is what I should write in order to be objective.”

Just as journalists search for information, they also reserve the option to weed out information that is not conducive to the story or to blueprint such information within a more accurate or ethical structure. Don’t be afraid to downplay or fully scrap a source that does not provide information that is relevant.

“Once I got a piece of information, I needed to release it immediately. In journalism, to be the first to release new information is incredibly important.”

To value quality over timeliness would benefit the publication and the reader. Is one quote from a person not present at the crime really so newsworthy that it deserves a story and a headline?

“I do not mean to present a mass shooter as sympathetic. People breaking into his house, his mental health problems, his potential brain abnormalities, and potentially traumatic incidents in his past are facts.”

To say that facts are facts and I am simply a vessel through which they are spread is to totally discredit the job of a journalist. If the job of a journalist was as simple as writing mindlessly, so long as the facts presented are true, is to not understand the duties of the occupation.

Thus, this incident reminds the public, once again, that even the most objective of intentions have biased results. The natures of language and media literacy dictate that objectivity is impossible. Journalists need to present stories with the understanding that biases be acknowledged, analyzed, and fixed both in the words and between the lines of their work.


Those listed in chart accessed October 7, 2017.