Monday's shooting spree at Virginia Tech exposed several unpleasant truths about the media, especially the 24-hour cable networks:
•When facts are in short supply, fill time with speculation.
•A one-source story is all right, even when it's all wrong.
•Guns are mysterious and scary.
There is no excuse, however, for the national media's lack of knowledge about guns. For much of Monday, we heard reporters wonder aloud how one man with two guns could kill so many people. A camera-phone video captured the sound of more than two dozen gunshots; reporters from all three cable-news outfits expressed amazement at how quickly the shooter was able to squeeze off so many rounds in such a short period of time.
On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera said a "guy with automatic and semi-automatic weapons is a weapon of mass destruction." No one was claiming the shooter had an automatic weapon. On CNN, a reporter spoke of the gunman's "22-millimeter" handgun.
Newsrooms are shot through with a lack of gun knowledge. People killed with rifles are the victims of "shotgun slayings." It sounds good, you see.
Cheese and rice, as a friend's kid used to curse. Cheese and rice.
Because too many reporters know too little about guns, we believe they're more inclined to take simplistic approaches to stories involving guns. They're too easily lassoed into stories like this one about the country's "gun culture."
When 32 people are shot dead by a man who then turns the gun on himself, the story isn't about questioning the legal way the shooter got his weapons. The story isn't about blaming guns (or video games, or foul language, or societal decay).
The story is about men like this Holocaust survivor who helped save several students by giving up his own life.
The blame doesn't rest with the guns. It rests with this guy.