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Posts Tagged ‘Jared Loughner’

The seminal photograph of Jared Loughner is one that will be seared in the minds of many Americans for years to come.

You know the one I’m talking about: The police mug shot, in which his head is shaved, he’s wearing a quirky smile, and his eyes are aglow with madness and vacuousness.

That picture is one of several things that have stood out for me in the newspaper and online coverage that I have seen about the Loughner case.

Here are some other highlights of the coverage I have seen:

:: The New York Times’ very focused, wall-to-wall coverage.

:: A David Gergen, CNN column urging Americans not to jump to conclusions about political forces that might have factored into Loughner’s mindset.

:: A Kansas City Star story about the political “roar” surrounding the case.

First, regarding The Times’ coverage, which starts with that memorable photo.

When I first saw that picture on CNN’s home page Monday, I caught my breath. The photo depicted perfectly, for me, the separation from reality that I expected in Loughner from having read about him. It was one of those instances where a photo went far beyond anything that could be put into words. Even though CNN used it just as a mug shot in the upper-left corner of its page, it was arresting.

It took the editors at The New York Times to understand the photo’s impact and to take full advantage. On Tuesday, The Times put that photo at the top of its front page. The photo was three columns wide (half the width of the paper), below a four-column headline that read, “In Arizona Court, Suspect Waives Bail.”

What The Times has done so well in its coverage is to focus relentlessly on Loughner — his background, his family and his movements before the attack outside the Tucson Safeway. Unlike other papers, The Times can throw a fantastic amount of firepower at the epicenter of its coverage — Loughner — and still not short shrift any of the other story facets, such as fleshing out portraits of the victims.

The Times started boring in on Loughner on Monday with a front-page story about the disturbing behavior — “hysterical laughter, bizarre non sequiturs and aggressive outbursts “– that got him kicked out of Pima County Community College. Another photo, a mug shot, of a loopy-eyed Loughner accompanied that story.

Although no other news agency has the wherewithal to handle a story of this magnitude like The Times, some other outlets are doing good work.

I mentioned Gergen’s CNN article. An adviser to four presidents and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, Gergen is a person whose political observations should be heeded.

Addressing the conservative-liberal foment that mushroomed immediately after the shootings, Gergen said: “The country would be well served now if we cooled the accusations until we learn more about…Jared Loughner. He appears to be mentally unhinged, someone who has threatened others. Why he targeted one of the most admired and popular political leaders in Arizon is unclear.”

He went on to say, however, that the “climate of hatred” has grown worse in recent years “during the George W. Bush years, when the left was intensely alienated, and now during the Obama years, when the right has become vitriolic.”

I agree with Gergen that it’s far too early to know how, or even if, the political atmosphere might have spurred Loughner, but I agree with a point that my friend and former K.C. Star colleague Dan Margolies made at lunch the other day. He said that regardless of how nutty some people are, in most cases they are influenced by “the Zeitgeist.” I had to look up “Zeitgeist” just to make sure I understood. Wikipedia defines it as the “general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups.”

In this case, that would be within Arizona, which, to me, has found its way to the bottom of the well among these United States.

I also want to credit The Star, which, to its credit, has originated at least one front-page story about the case.

The Star wisely put Dave Helling, one of its most experienced political reporters on the story, and he came up with a compelling report for Tuesday’s edition. The headline was “Silence, Then a Roar.” His lead — the first sentence — was attention grabbing: “The farther you traveled from U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ hospital room, the louder it got across America.” That sentence captured both the heartache of the story and the furor surrounding it.

Helling went on to quote the plainspoken, gutsy sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, who suggested that “vitriolic rhetoric” might have been a factor in the violence. Helling went on to talk about efforts and suggestions to tamper the political rhetoric, but he tempered that with an insightful comment from UMKC law school professor Doug Linder. “The natural instinct is to try and figure out some way to prevent these things from happening,” Linder said. “There isn’t any simple solution that involves restricting free speech.”

The only weak part of The Star’s Tuesday package was its centerpiece photo, which showed Cleaver and other Congress members and congressional staff members observing a moment of silence in Washington.

Underneath that amorphous, four-column photo was the mug shot of the crazy-eyed Loughner. But at an inch deep and less than an inch wide, the mug shot came nowhere close to delivering the punch that it did spread high and wide across the top of The Times the same morning.

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