CNN's segment describing who Las Vegas mass killer Stephen Paddock was illustrates the problems with the media. To many, the piece is an attempt to humanize Paddock as they promote his neighbor's description of him as a gentle giant.
The try to find motive is important but in the process, humanizing the killer as a gentle giant hurts the victims and exposes a media bias for some. This CNN report gives Stephen Paddock an undeserved amount of reverence not given to many 'others' in less violent killings.
Ending segment with the 'Gentle Giant' subliminal comment
"The retired accountant, firing dozens of rounds onto thousands of concert goers about five hundred yards away from two hotel windows he smashed on the 32nd floor at the Mandalay Bay," the reporter said.
That antiseptic and matter-of-fact nature of the entry to Paddock's description gives the impression that it was some ordinary crime. It would have been more appropriate after introducing him to refer to him appropriately, the mass killer or the domestic terrorist. He was an accountant but what he is now is a mass murderer. Engrained in many Americans' minds is just an Accountant doing wrong. Is that how the media addressed the mass killers associated with Islam or people of color committing murders of lesser volume and terror?
CNN went out of their way to make Stephen Paddock seem like just the normal guy. CNN highlighted a statement by a gun shop owner who sold Paddock a gun.
"He didn't set off any of my alarms, anything that I felt like there was a problem in any way shape or form with him," said Chris Michel, owner of the Utah gun store. "He was a normal everyday guy that walks into my door fifty thousand times a day."
Really? Is that not the case with most killers purchasing weapons? That is not out of the ordinary.
CNN continues to build Paddocks character pointing out he has no criminal past. A lot of killers don't. They made sure to get his brother stating that Paddock never exhibited any violent tendencies.
The reporter points out that the brother said Stephen Paddock was a successful real estate investor who owned several properties. Instead of calling Paddock a gambler which has a negative connotation, they softened it.
"He also had an affinity for gambling," CNN said.
They then attempted to inject an excuse if only subliminally, maybe a seed from the past that caused him to snap.
"But the family has a troubled past," the reporter said. "Paddock's father, Benjamin, was a convicted bank robber who escaped from prison in the late sixties and was on the FBI's most wanted list."
But here is the kicker at the end of the segment.
"Neighbors shocked by the news," the CNN reporter continued. "Some even describing him as a gentle giant. 'We wouldn't recognize him as being anything out of the norm."
And there you have it. A mass killer, humanized.
These are the same networks that try to find all the negative information on victims of police brutality. Selective humanization continues to ensure this country has a distorted view of crime and who one must really fear. It's also responsible for our divisions based on false premises and preconceived notions.
Also published on Medium.