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One shooting consumes us, but others aren’t forgotten

Updated: August 25, 2012 6:12AM

If the media focus on one huge, horrific tragedy for days on end, it means we don’t care about anything else.

So goes the argument that inevitably springs up in the wake of a news-cycle-dominating story such as the shootings in Aurora, Colo.

Last Friday, just 12 hours after the unspeakable carnage, my column appalled a woman on Twitter.

“When it’s on the West Side and South Side and not Michigan Avenue it doesn’t affect @richard
roeper,” she wrote. “Sad.”

Even after I informed her I have written dozens upon dozens of columns and spent countless hours on the radio focusing on violence in Chicago and across the nation, she continued her rant and was joined by others.

As the weekend went on, I heard similar criticism — not just about my columns, but about the sweeping coverage that saturated the national news channels, the networks, the print and Internet media.

A Chicago-based friend of mine who is one of the country’s top educators heard from a national news channel on Saturday. They were looking to do the time-honored hook: “Why don’t the media care as much about violence in the neighborhoods as they do about a one-time killing spree?”

It’s a classic way of showing you care while pointing the camera at yourself.

Comment from a reader on Monday morning: “More than 30 people were shot in Chicago over the weekend. Where’s the coverage of that?”

Well. How do you know about this admittedly gruesome and all-too-familiar weekend roundup?

Media coverage, of course.

Over the last decade, the number of homicides by firearm is remarkably and depressingly similar from year to year. It’s in the range of 9,000-10,000 deaths per year, meaning that every single day in this country, about two dozen people are killed by firearms.

Whether it’s the Sun-Times or the Tribune, local TV and radio stations or the newsgathering and news analyzing websites, we all devote an enormous amount of time to covering crime. And yes, if there’s a series of attacks on the Gold Coast it’s going to get more coverage than a drive-by, gang-related shooting on the West Side — because the former is far less common than the latter, and that is the definition of news.

To say someone doesn’t care or the media doesn’t have its priorities straight because we’re spending so much time on the Colorado shootings is ludicrous.

Bale out Aurora?

Since writing my column opposing the campaign to get Christian Bale to dress up as the Dark Knight and visit injured children in the hospital, I’ve heard from a number of people suggesting Bale show up not as Batman, but as himself.

Again: good intention, not a great idea. If Bale shows up as Bale, he’s an actor with a Welsh accent. I just don’t envision the “magic moment” so many are pining for.

My emailbox has also been inundated with charges of “media bias” regarding ABC’s Brian Ross going on “Good Morning America” Friday morning and talking about a “Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo., ... joining the Tea Party last year.”

Wrong guy. ABC News and Ross apologized for the error, but the 52-year-old Jim Holmes who is a member of the Colorado Tea Party is understandably outraged.

I heard from a number of readers wondering why I didn’t take Ross and ABC to task.

Did I write about the gaffe? No. (We did talk about it on the radio.) I thought there were other, more important angles to talk about. But it’s not as if the mainstream media ignored the story. It was everywhere.

Another question I’ve heard over and over: Why would anyone take a child to a midnight screening of a Batman movie?

Because there’s a certain percentage of parents that don’t want to stop doing all the things they did before they had kids — so they take the young ones to intense, violent, late-night screenings of movies, and they take the strollers for 11 p.m. jaunts, and they bring the kids to all kinds of places when it should be bedtime or the venue isn’t appropriate for young children.

I was at a screening not long ago where an adult woman sat with young girls. Every time the characters in the hard-R movie blurted another line of dialogue I’d be embarrassed to say to you in a bar at midnight, I waited for the grown-up to take the kids out of the theater. Never happened.

In the wake of the shootings, theaters are placing bans on certain types of costumes and masks. I would have preferred they announce minors under 16 won’t be admitted to midnight screenings any more.

Not because of the danger of another horrible act of violence, but simply because young children shouldn’t be viewing intense movies that won’t end until 2 o’clock in the morning.

If the parents can’t figure that out, perhaps the theater chains need to explain it to them.

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