I had informed my Twitter (@debatestate) and Facebook (State of the Debate) followers that I was going to be on CNN early this morning, probably one of many “experts” commenting on the widely anticipated news that Mitt Romney was, later in the day, going to confirm the rumors that he was running for Orrin Hatch’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
Then, about 5 p.m. yesterday, I received an email cancelling the gig.
“Sadly due to this tragic school shooting in Florida we now need to stand down on your segment for tomorrow. My sincere apologies and I appreciate your understanding.”
Well, that’s show biz.
Actually, as much as I get a kick out of going on TV and trying to explain Utah to people, I was glad to get that message. Glad to hear that mass school shootings are still bigger news than yet another politician making yet another announcement.
One of the community newspapers I worked for once upon a time had made a habit of taking photographs of people who had caught a really big fish, or grown a really large tomato, and running the picture on one of our the back pages.
One particularly hot summer — when there was a lot of fishing going on and the tomatoes were doing really well — we got tired of spending so much time and space with all those fish and vegetables. So we made a new rule.
If you wanted your fish or tomato in the paper, fine. But it had to be bigger than the last one.
I keep waiting for that to be the rule governing how the press will cover mass shootings in the United States. They have become so common that I half expect the national media to declare they won’t cover the next one unless it was bigger than the last one.
It was good to see Wednesday that we are not there yet.
As of Wednesday evening, the death toll in the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was “at least 17.” More than Columbine. Less that Newtown.
Enough, still, for CNN and the other news networks to go “wall to wall,” as we used to say in my limited broadcasting career (where the news event of interest was usually a tornado).
Soon afterward, Romney also decided that the news from Florida was a bigger deal than anything he might have to say.
That was the right call for Mitt to make. Out of respect. Out of the realization that the TV and internet universe wasn’t going to be paying much attention to anything he said today anyhow.
And, to be a little more cynical about it, out of concern that if he did poke his head out today, he would be tossed a lot of questions about the Florida shooting in particular and gun violence in this society in general.
He’d be forced to choose sides, while the blood on the classroom floors was still wet, between the relative safety of civilized nations that most of us long for and the gun-crazed environment that we send out children out into every day.
As, as Romney said, a father and grandfather, he would almost certainly prefer the former. As a Republican (unless he was about to make a really stunning* third-party/independent announcement), he would risk ending his campaign before it began if he dared to take on the terrorist organization known as the National Rifle Association and called for meaningful restrictions on the ownership of military-style weapons.
He certainly wouldn’t dare comment on how, in this nation, a murderous white man is a sad lone wolf who had “issues,” no reason to deprive any law-abiding (white) people of their favorite deadly toys, while a murderous brown man is a part of a global conspiracy, justification for closing borders, restricting immigration or shooting any black person who looks cross-eyed at a cop.
Certainly, Romney would rather not face that question head on. Better to just wait until this latest mass slaughter of innocents, protected by our insane interpretation of one small clause of our Constitution, is forgotten.
See you next Wednesday?
George Pyle is the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune. *He notices that many of the words commonly used to describe a big news event — explosive, bombshell, blockbuster — are drawn from the language of instruments of violence. And thus sometimes momentarily inappropriate in polite communication. email@example.com