When a man walked into the Tennesse Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and started shooting “because of its liberal teachings” on July 27, media coverage rightly focused on the tragedy, and also drew attention to the anti-gay sentiments held by the shooter, who murdered two church members and seriously wounded seven others.
Yesterday, Jenna Kern-Rugile at Newsday took the story one step further to ask if hate-speech-fueled media played any role in creating a climate where the violence inflicted upon the LGBT-friendly church was more likely to occur. The shooter was an avid consumer of shock jocks with a track record of virulently – and sometimes violent - anti-gay sentiments (Kern-Rugile lists Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage). The article, however, makes a larger point about the cultural climate that tolerates virulently anti-gay rhetoric. Rory O’ Connor, an author of a study on shock jocks and hate speech, noted to Newsday: “Sure these guys hold some responsibility for what happened, but we all hold responsibility – particularly anyone who hasn’t stood up and spoken out against hate speech.”
The Newsday piece asks some interesting questions about the media’s role in creating an anti-gay climate, but it leaves many unanswered. As Kern-Rugile herself points out: “Crazy people can always find some inspiration for their actions, be it a book or a dog or a rock band.” No matter what the cause of the shooter’s actions, we encourage other media outlets to examine exactly how fair and accurate their own coverage of the LGBT community is. As more corporations recognize and are attuned to the needs of their LGBT employees – and consumers – they will have to become accountable for the content they put out.
Paul Karr is the Director of Media Field Strategy.