Hours after deadly school shooting, gunman's weapon praised on Fox News
Media coverage of school shooting ranged from wild conspiracy theories to one CNN pundit crying on air
On Wednesday afternoon, a teenager opened fire at the Florida high school he dropped out of, killing 17 people and injuring 14. In just the first seven weeks of 2018, there have already been eight school shootings in the United States that have resulted in injury or death.
According to police, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with sophisticated tactics, including flash grenades, ammunition clips, and an AR-15 semiautomatic rife, which authorities said he obtained legally. Florida doesn't require a license to purchase or carry a rifle like the AR-15, and there is no mandatory waiting period.
Fox News opinion host Laura Ingraham is among those who is a fan of the AR-15, a popular weapon with ownership estimates ranging somewhere around eight or nine million in the United States. On Wednesday night, hours after the shooting (and just seconds after showing a list of mass shootings in which each gunman used an AR-15), Ingraham defended the weapon to her audience as "so safe"
"It's a semiautomatic rifle, which means every time you depress the trigger, it releases one bullet. It's no different than a handgun," Aaron Cohen, a weapons expert and movie consultant, told Ingraham. Cohen added that it's actually "easier to shoot" than a pistol and that there's less chance of sporadic fire because "it shoots very straight."
Ingraham's take was in stark contract to a segment presented earlier by her colleague Shepard Smith, who somberly listed the 25 fatal school shootings in the country since 13 were killed by two students, who later killed themselves, at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Since the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago, in which a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, at least 138 people have died in at least 239 shootings at elementary schools, high schools, and colleges, according to the New York Times.
It wasn't the only awkward moment that aired on Fox News after the shooting. On Thursday morning, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano was a guest on Fox & Friends, and attempted to downplay the fact that in several recent mass shootings, the shooters used an AR-15.
"It's very, very powerful. But you could stop a person with an AR-15 with a slingshot if you know how to use it," Napolitano said, suggesting that schools could prevent more shootings by moving toward "the Israeli model," where some teachers "are armed and quietly trained" to use firearms. It was a talking point mentioned by more than one Fox News personality in the hours after the shooting, but according to USA Today, schools in the Broward district typically have one or two school resource officers, typically Broward County sheriff's deputies who are armed and always on campus.
"The fact is, we can't make our schools armed camps," Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) said on Fox & Friends. "I mean, that's not practical, and it's not reflective of our open society."
Since the shooting, not a single Republican elected official, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, has appeared on any news network other than Fox News. "[Republicans] won't even come on the damn show. They won't even come on the show," CNN host Chris Cuomo said, noting that Democrats don't have the power in Washington to introduce legislation that could affect mass shootings. "Not a single [Republican] lawmaker would come on this morning to discuss it."
Reliable Sources host and former New York Times reporter Brian Stelter noted Republicans' unwillingness to appear on CNN in a tweet:
Speaking of CNN, counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd broke down in tears while covering the tragic news of children being killed, citing his own nieces and nephews.
"A child of God is dead, we cannot accept this," a visibly distressed Mudd said before breaking down on live television. "I can't do it, Wolf, I'm sorry, I can't do it."
"We're going to get back to you," CNN host Wolf Blitzer responded. "You're obviously… this is so emotional."
Later on CNN, anchor Don Lemon delivered a monologue that called unfettered and unchecked gun violence a "disgrace" and "a sickness that has infected the country."
"Every single one of us is just playing the odds that this point," Lemon said. "But with every deadly shooting in this country, the odds get worse and worse and worse."
There were plenty of conspiracy theories and fake news peddled in conservative circles after the shooting. Lucian Wintrich, the White House correspondent for the right-wing media outlet the Gateway Pundit, spread a fake BuzzFeed screenshot with the headline, "Why We Need to Take Away White People's Guns Now More Than Ever." InfoWars, which peddles conspiracy theories on a regular basis, falsely linked the shooting to ISIS before host Alex Jones settled on the idea the shooting could be a false flag by Democrats in order to pass gun control legislation.
One notable interaction happened on CBS during an interview with Frances Townsend, a former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush.
In an appearance on CBS This Morning on Thursday, Townsend was asked by cohost Gayle King if the government needs to rethink what "homeland security" really means in light of the country's problem with school shootings.
"This ought to be at the top of the list of homeland security threats, because we have an obligation to protect our children," Townsend said. "Imagine for a moment if the shooter had been a Muslim, we'd be having a different conversation. And how wrong does that feel?"
On Thursday, President Trump said "making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority," but he did not offer any opinions on renewed calls from Democrats to enact tougher gun-control measures, including banning semiautomatic weapons such as the AR-15.