The List

Why the Sikh temple shooting got less coverage than the Aurora massacre

Two mass murders happened two weeks apart, but they get very different treatment by the media. Were the Dark Knight killings that much more important?

When James Holmes allegedly walked into a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire, killing 12, there was a "flood of media coverage" for days afterward, says Dylan Byers at Politico. Now, just two days after Wade Michael Page allegedly walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and opened fire, killing six, "the story has become just one item among many in the national news cycle." More than that, after Oak Creek there's been "none of the sense of outrage that followed the Aurora massacre, none of the national heartbreak and grief that seemed so pervasive only two weeks ago," says Riddhi Shah at The Huffington Post. The obvious question is: "Why is it that the American people, and the American media in particular, care less about this attack?" Here, four theories:

1. Sikhs are being treated as second-class victims
If the media gave the Aurora shootings "round the clock coverage because they thought [the American public] would and should care," what does the relative paucity of Oak Creek coverage say about the media, and about us? says Jeneba Ghatt at Politic365. Sadly, it suggests "there may be tiers of Americans," where "those who are foreign-born, of foreign parentage, and practicing a religion foreign to many" are deemed too foreign for our sympathies and attention. If that seems too harsh, consider what would have happened if "instead of a white supremacist, the [Wisconsin] attacker had been a Muslim fundamentalist, and the place of worship a synagogue or a church," says The Huffington Post's Shah.

2. The relative randomness of the Aurora shooting is scarier
By most measures, the racially motivated Oak Creek killings are at least as newsworthy and frightening as the Aurora shootings, says Robert Wright at The Atlantic. But "what freaks people out about Aurora is the 'randomness' of it," the sense that it could happen to any of us. The media focused more on the Colorado murders because like most of us, "the people who shape discourse in this country by and large aren't Sikhs and don't know many, if any, Sikhs." They "can't imagine being in a Sikh temple," but they can picture themselves and their loved ones watching Batman in a movie theater. It's unfortunate, but natural, that we "get freaked out by threats in proportion to how threatening they seem to you personally."

3. The Oak Creek shooting wasn't as dramatic
For all the similarities between the Wisconsin and Colorado shootings, there are also some pretty dramatic differences, says Politico's Byers. Twice as many people were killed in Aurora and many more were wounded. While Page was gunned down by police, Holmes is still alive, "adding the promise of a dramatic court appearance." On top of that, Holmes rigged his apartment with explosives and "provided the added flair of claiming to be 'The Joker.'" In other words, the "theatricality of the Batman murders" added to their media appeal, says The Atlantic's Wright.

4. It's just media fatigue
If the Sikh temple shooting is being treated as just another mass killing, well, can you really blame the media? says Rene Lynch at The Los Angeles Times. Including Aurora, this was "the fourth such rampage this year alone," leaving a total of 30 dead and 65 injured, and "at this rate — it's only August — the U.S. could be on a sad track to reaching a regrettable new benchmark": In 2009, three mass shootings left 34 dead. In fact, since 2003, at least 195 people have been slain in mass killings and 207 injured. The Oak Creek murders are tragic, but "such mass shootings have become an all-too-common part of American culture." Expect the press to act accordingly.

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