COMMENTS: Over-Reaction in Paramus

If the shooting of TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport had not made headlines last Friday, a minor yet similar incident in a shopping mall in Paramus would not have attracted national attention. Richard Shoop, a 20-year-old paranoid heroin user, according to ABC's Gio Benitez, committed suicide in the mall after firing six shots over the head of shoppers. No harm befell anyone except the young man himself. Yet the evacuation of the mall, and its six-hour lockdown by a 500-strong police SWAT team, was selected as the lead by both ABC and CBS, making it the Story of the Day. Since when do hundreds of paramilitary-style cops attend the suicide of a solitary junkie? The nightly newscasts disqualified themselves from asking: they could hardly investigate a massive police over-reaction when they had completely overreacted too. NBC led with the off-year elections.

ABC tried hardest to justify its Paramus coverage. Anchor Diane Sawyer characterized the six shots fired in the air as a "rampage." Gio Benitez reported that the suicidal Shoop looked like "a figure right out of the movies" and depicted his gunshots with a Virtual View computer animation. Alex Perez followed up with tips for shoppers if they should find themselves in a mall with a gunman. Run. Hide. Fight. was his slogan, repeating the advice that his colleague Pierre Thomas gave us in September by way of a municipal video produced by the City of Houston.

CBS' Elaine Quijano selected Shoop as her angle. NBC's Ron Allen focused on the evacuation of the 300-store mall. CBS was the only network to follow up on Friday's LAX shooting. Ben Tracy told us that a search warrant examines the political beliefs of accused shooter Paul Ciancia. Tracy outlined the century-old New World Order conspiracy theory to which the suspect may have subscribed. Just as ABC's David Wright did on Monday, Tracy included a soundbite of radical right-wing talkshow host Alex Jones -- but curiously Tracy decided not to identify him. Why ever not?

As for the off-year elections, ABC did not mention them at all on Monday and CBS ignored them completely now. ABC anchor Diane Sawyer confused everyone by narrating a round-up of various races and ballot initiatives under the graphic 2014. She had Jeff Zeleny characterize the gubernatorial races in New Jersey (Chris Christie) and Virginia (Hillary Rodham Clinton confidant Terry McAuliffe) as precursors to Campaign 2016. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, reporting from New Jersey, also chose the 2016 angle. From Virginia, which CBS' Chip Reid covered Monday, NBC's Chuck Todd disagreed, interpreting the race as a statewide referendum on contemporary national issues instead: the Republican government shutdown vs the Democratic healthcare reform.


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