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Oct. 2 2015 2:20 PM

It Doesn’t Matter “What He Wanted.” Chris Harper Mercer Murdered 9 People and We Need to Name Him.

If the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon on Thursday seemed sadly familiar, then so did the world’s response. Journalists rushed to Roseburg, Oregon, and before the day was out, nonjournalists began arguing that it would be inappropriate to name the 26-year-old man who used several guns to murder nine people in cold blood.* “I will not name the shooter,” said Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin on Thursday, speaking for many ordinary people who have registered similar feelings on social media and have encouraged the media to follow suit. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.”

The shooter’s name was Chris Harper Mercer. And he already got what he wanted.

Don’t name the shooter. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, some well-meaning person—maybe a cop, maybe a relative of one of the victims—will inevitably enjoin the media to withhold the attacker’s name, in order to prevent copycat killings and deny the shooter the notoriety that he so clearly craved. People said it this August, in Roanoke, Virginia, after television journalist Vester Lee Flanagan used a Glock 9mm pistol to murder two of his former colleagues. People said it this June, after Dylann Roof used another Glock to murder nine people at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. People say this after every single mass shooting. This censorial impulse is smarmy and wrong.

Journalists are not supposed to elide relevant facts when reporting a news story just because reporting those facts might strike some people as offensive or wrong. This is partially a matter of clarity—it would be tedious and confusing to have to write around Chris Harper Mercer’s name and just refer to him as “the shooter”—and partially because it is essential for journalists to report causation when causation is knowable. The Umpqua Community College massacre didn’t just happen. A ghost didn’t kill all those people. Chris Harper Mercer did it with guns he acquired easily, because we live in a country where it is very easy to acquire guns.

Journalists are not putting Mercer’s name, photo, and life story on television and on the front pages because they want to give him glory. They are doing so because he shot up a school, and we know that he did it, and his name, likeness, and biographical data are very, very newsworthy. This is what a mass murderer looks like. This is how he lived. These are the things he professed in public.

Hard-news reporters are supposed to go to news events and answer some very basic questions: what, where, when, and whom. With rare exceptions, if you know a fact, you should report it. Shootings like this latest rampage at Umpqua Community College are ghastly tragedies, but they are also news, and asking journalists to refrain from reporting the news is something that is ultimately much worse for society than giving a shooter “what he wanted.”

Chris Harper Mercer probably did want to be on the news, and, sure, by putting him on the news, journalists are giving him “what he wanted.” But it seems clear to me that what Chris Harper Mercer mostly wanted was guns he could use to execute lots of people. He got them. We already gave him what he wanted. Mass shootings in America will never slow or cease until journalists recognize and report on their cause. Because causation is knowable here. And it has nothing to do with a shooter’s vague desire to be on CNN.

*Correction, Oct. 2, 2015: Due to an editing error, this post originally misstated that Chris Harper Mercer murdered 10 people. He killed nine people and also died himself.

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Oct. 2 2015 1:33 PM

Pope Also Met With Gay Couple

First Kim Davis' lawyer told the media that Davis had met with Pope Francis on Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C., but the Vatican wouldn't say it was true, so no one knew what to believe. Then the Vatican confirmed that it had happened and everyone was all like, "Bwah? What?" because the pope typically avoids taking divisive positions on symbolic partisan controversies. Then the Vatican clarified that the Davis-Francis meeting did not constitute an endorsement of Davis' refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses. And then, just now, CNN reported that on Sept. 23 the pope met in D.C. with "a longtime friend from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for 19 years."

Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis' highly anticipated visit to the United States.

This pope—he's here, he's there, he's meeting with gay people, he's meeting with straight people, he's all over the place!

Oct. 2 2015 12:52 PM

NRA’s First Tweet Since Oregon Is About Gun Safety for Kids

The National Rifle Association's official Twitter account didn't post any messaages in the immediate wake of Thursday's mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon—a massacre of the sort that happens quite frequently in the United States, which has, by far, more guns in circulation than any other country in the world.

Here's how the NRA broke its silence Friday:

Although the issue is obviously somewhat beside the point of what we should do about malevolent adult psychopaths who can easily obtain guns in order to stage coordinated, murderous attacks on large groups of people, it happens that Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes wrote about the NRA's positions on children and gun safety for Slate in 2014. Concluded the authors: "The overwhelming empirical evidence indicates that the presence of a gun makes children less safe; that programs such as Eddie Eagle are insufficient; and that measures the NRA and extreme gun advocates vehemently oppose, such as gun safes and smart guns, could dramatically reduce the death toll."

Oct. 2 2015 12:07 PM

Donald Trump’s Unexpected Response to the Nation’s Latest School Shooting

On Thursday evening, a visibly angry President Obama offered his condolences in the wake of the nation’s latest mass school shooting but said that to prevent the next tragedy voters need to demand changes to the nation’s gun laws. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Obama said. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and the grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”

On Friday morning, an unusually calm Donald Trump offered his take on what can be done to prevent the next massacre on U.S. soil: nothing.

"First of all, you have very strong laws on the books, but you're always going to have problems,” Trump said during a telephone interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We have millions and millions of people, we have millions and millions of sick people all over the world. It can happen all over the world and it does happen all over the world, by the way. But this is sort of unique to this country, the school shootings. And you're going to have difficulty no matter what.”

Trump added later: “It's not politically correct to say that, but you're going to have difficulty and that will be for the next million years, there's going to be difficulty and people are going to slip through the cracks. What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?"

You don’t have to squint to find the irony in Trump’s comments, and not just because the GOP front-runner managed to talk about a mass shooting without ever once directly mentioning guns, aka the very weapon of choice for this particular killer—just like it was for those murderers that came before him at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and the countless other schools that were the settings for similarly horrible violence. In that way, Trump’s not unlike the rest of his GOP rivals who, as my colleague Will Saletan notes, continue to maintain that gun violence isn’t a gun problem.

What’s so remarkable about Trump effectively throwing in the towel on this topic is that his whole campaign is predicated on the idea that he’d be able to fix all of the nation’s woes with the sheer force of his personality. Here’s a man, after all, whose heartless immigration policy is built on the premise that he’d construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that would ensure that no one—and especially not would-be criminals like the one man who allegedly killed Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco—could slip through the cracks, and yet here he is suggesting that there’s nothing to be done about school shootings because ultimately there will always be people who slip through the cracks.

But more maddening than any of that is that Trump is willing to acknowledge the reality that school shootings are a “unique” problem to this country, yet isn’t willing to even consider the other ways in which the country is also unique: The United States has more guns per capita than any other country in the world by a staggering margin; the country accounts for somewhere between one-third and one-half of all the civilian-owned guns across the globe despite accounting for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. Likewise, the United States has more gun-related homicides per capita and the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations.

If the Donald wants to talk about what makes America different from all the other “loser” countries, maybe he should start there.

Oct. 2 2015 10:57 AM

Hurricane Joaquin Probably Won’t Make U.S. Landfall, but Major Impacts Still Likely

The threat of a U.S. landfall from this year’s strongest hurricane appears to be waning.

Overnight model trends as well as the latest official forecast from the National Hurricane Center show that Hurricane Joaquin—still a powerful category 4 storm in the central Bahamas—will likely take a course out to sea over the next few days, steering away from the U.S. mainland.

On Twitter, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang said the recent model trends and narrowing window for another dramatic shift back toward the coast means it’s “game over” for any appreciable direct threat to the Mid-Atlantic states from Joaquin. In a forecast update, the typically cautious National Hurricane Center said “we are becoming optimistic that the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic states will avoid the direct effects from Joaquin.” Its latest “cone of uncertainty”—a broader forecast track that factors in historical error—shows no land areas in Joaquin’s likely path, besides Bermuda and Newfoundland.

There's very little chance remaining that Hurricane Joaquin will make a direct U.S. landfall, but hurricanes like this can still cause havoc from afar.


That doesn’t mean Joaquin’s threat to the United States is completely over—a hurricane of Joaquin’s stature doesn’t need to make a direct landfall to cause issues. Significant coastal flooding is likely from the Carolinas to Massachusetts with each high tide cycle for the next two or three days as the relatively close proximity of Joaquin, an upper-level low over the Southeast and a mass of Canadian high pressure funnel strong winds toward the coast. In Cape May, N.J., for example, storm surge is currently approaching three feet—higher than the level recorded during Hurricane Irene’s landfall in 2011. Combined with the nearly 20-foot waves just offshore, that’s a recipe for significant beach erosion that will threaten homes and boardwalks. National Weather Service forecaster Gary Szatkowski—a meteorological legend for his work during Hurricane Sandy—predicted Friday would be a “truly wicked day” at the New Jersey shore. This same story could be repeated for places like Boston Harbor, Norfolk, Virginia, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

On top of this coastal threat, heavy rainfall well inland across the Southeast could be historic. Latest projections show 10 to 20 inches of rain is possible in the next three days across South Carolina, which would almost assuredly be enough to break the all-time October rainfall record in the span of just a weekend. The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. has warned of “historic” flooding in western parts of the state.

Meanwhile, the Bahamas continues to get battered. It’s now been nearly two days that Joaquin has remained stalled out over the island chain, though thankfully in one of its least populated regions. Reports indicate significant flooding has occurred, though a complete survey of damage and impact isn’t yet possible because the storm is still ongoing. Joaquin is now the fourth-most powerful hurricane to affect the Bahamas in its history, going back in the hurricane data archives to 1850. 

Oct. 2 2015 9:16 AM

Vatican Says Pope’s Meeting With Kim Davis Was Not an Endorsement

The Vatican says that Pope Francis' Washington, D.C., meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should not be considered a specific endorsement of her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The statement:

Slate's Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote Wednesday that Francis' apparent support for Davis' behavior was a disappointment for those who appreciated the generally nonconfrontational tone he has taken toward divisive culture war issues while pursuing a message of concern for the environment and for the poor:

The pope ate with the homeless, visited a prison, and spoke about the plight of immigrants, but all that is threatened by one single meeting. However assiduously he avoided pressing America’s hot buttons over the rest of the visit, he’s pressed one now, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
This is unfortunate, because the other message, the one about coming together and addressing the poor, the vulnerable, and the dispossessed was a message we desperately need to heed.

The pope is nonetheless an opponent of legal same-sex marriage who has largely refrained from trying to change the church's core positions on similar issues like birth control and divorce; as Slate's William Saletan wrote, his approach has been to speak conciliatorily about such subjects without giving much ground in terms of official rules. Francis' approach "make[s] life easier for some women, gay people, and divorced couples," Saletan wrote before the pope's U.S. visit. "But in each case, he has avoided challenging the catechism. He’s offering just enough, procedurally or rhetorically, to lure wayward sheep back into the church, where their errors can be corrected."

*Correction, Oct. 2, 2015: This post originally misstated when Slate’s Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart published a blog post about why Pope Francis’ visit with Kim Davis was such a disappointment. It was posted Wednesday, not Thursday.

Oct. 1 2015 11:59 PM

Local Sheriff Says 10 Killed in Oregon College Massacre; Shooter ID'd

Update, 12:00 p.m.: Candlelight vigil held at Stewart Park in Roseburg, Oregon.

Update, 11:00 p.m.: Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said in a press conference he would not use the shooter’s name in order not to glorify the act.

Update, 9:10 p.m.: (via New York Times) According to a law enforcement official, Mercer had three weapons, handguns and at least one long gun.

Update, 9:00 p.m.: The Umpqua college shooter has been identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer.

Update, 8:30 p.m.: A local county sheriff has updated the number of fatalities in Oregon saying 10 people have been killed and at least seven more injured. Earlier there were reports that the number killed was 13 or higher.

Update, 8:00 p.m.: Here are more images taken in the aftermath of the shooting.

Bag inspection at scene of Shooting Umpqua Community College Ore,Bag inspection at scene of Shooting Umpqua Community College Oregon
Police officers inspect bags as students and staff are evacuated from campus.

Photo by Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via Reuters,Reuter MED/MED

Shooting Umpqua Community College Oregon
First responders transport an injured person at Umpqua Community College.

Photo by Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via Reuters,Reuter MED/MED

Update, 7:30 p.m.: President Obama delivers statement on the shooting.

Update, 5:50 p.m.: Here's what we know as of now about today's events.

  • A 20-year-old male shot a number of students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
  • The shooter, who is believed to have fired at law enforcement officials when they arrived on the scene, is dead.
  • At least 13 of the individuals who were shot have reportedly died.

Update, 5:20 p.m.: The Times has taken down its report that victims were asked to state their religion during the shooting.

Update, 4:50 p.m.: Oregon governor Kate Brown just said at a press conference that the shooter was a 20-year-old male. The New York Times reports, meanwhile, that one witness to the killings said the shooter "asked people to stand up and state their religion" during the incident.

Update, 4:45 p.m.: The Oregon attorney general's office says it believes least 13 people were killed in the shooting. Douglas County sheriff John Hanlin said at a press conference that the shooter was a male who fired some shots at law enforcement officials and is now dead.

The Washington Post notes that no calendar week has passed during Barack Obama's second term without an incident in which four or more people were shot.

Update, 4:20 p.m.: Below, an image from Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg.

Oregon School Shooting

Photo by Aaron Yost/Roseburg News-Review via AP

Update, 4:05 p.m.: A Roseburg police officer told CNN that he believes at least 10 people were killed.

Update, 3:55 p.m.: The shooting reportedly began at around 10:38 a.m. local time at Umpqua's Snyder Hall. The school is attended by approximately 3,300 full-time students and 16,000 part-time students.

Update, 2:50 p.m.: The same news station that reported that police had said 15 people were killed in the shooting now says the number of fatalities is "7 to 10."

Original post, 2:28 p.m.: Oregon state police say at least 15 people have been killed and others wounded in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College; CNN is reporting that a shooter may have been “detained.” Umpqua is in Roseburg, Oregon, a town of approximately 21,000 people that is about 180 miles south of Portland.

Oct. 1 2015 11:04 PM

Here’s What We Know So Far About Umpqua School Shooter Chris Harper Mercer

Police sources have indentified the shooter at the Umpqua Community College mass shooting as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer. With the ID’ing of Mercer, the search for clues is on to try to make sense of the mass murder in rural Oregon on Thursday. Here’s what we know, or think we know, so far.

Much of the early focus has centered on Mercer’s online profiles. On an online dating profile using the username IRONCROSS45, which appears to belong to Mercer, he describes himself as currently in college, living with his parents, and making less than $25,000 a year. The profile says Mercer had not accessed the account in the past three months, so it’s important to note some of the information listed may be out of date. On his profile, Mercer portrays himself as a nondrinker, who’s never done drugs, with an affinity for working out.

Here’s the Daily Beast on Mercer’s Myspace profile:

A MySpace account belonging to Christopher Harper-Mercer is registered to Torrance, California. Harper-Mercer and his mother previously lived in Torrance before moving to an apartment in Winchester, Oregon, where neighbors tell The Daily Beast there is a heavy police presence currently. The MySpace page features a photo of Harper-Mercer holding a gun and smiling into the camera. The profile includes images of pro-Irish Republican Army propaganda.

Mercer listed one of his “dislikes” on the profile as “organized religion” which may shed some light on the eyewitness account of 18-year-old student Kortney Moore during the shooting. “[The shooter] told people to get on the ground. The shooter was asking people to stand up and state their religion and then started firing away, Moore said,” according to the local NRToday.

“In one post from a blog kept on a torrent-uploading website, a user who would seem to be Mercer meditates on the actions of Vester Flanagan, the deranged man who filmed himself fatally shooting two former co-workers this summer,” Gawker reports.

I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more your’re in the limelight.

“In a posting in he wrote he liked movies: 'Horror movies are the best, but I also like some action films, depending on the type, and I like crime dramas as well,'” BuzzFeed reports.

*This post has been updated.

Oct. 1 2015 7:12 PM

How Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC Covered the Oregon Shooting Before They Knew a Thing About It

By now, we all know that there’s been another school shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon. But for what seemed like a very long time this afternoon, that was all we knew. Further details were hard to come by, which posed a challenge to the many journalists who were tasked with reporting on what had—and hadn’t—happened. If you, like me, were toggling between the three main cable news networks this afternoon as they struggled to report the story in a virtual information void, you saw three different and distinct journalistic strategies at work: circumspection, observation, and pontification. Here’s what I glimpsed, and here’s where I saw it.

2:40 p.m. ET

Shepard Smith anchors Fox News’ coverage of the story this afternoon, and he and Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher are doing their best to refrain from spreading rumors and falsehoods in the absence of any verified information. “We have confirmed the shooter is no longer an active threat. We don’t know if he’s the only shooter,” says Gallagher, who proceeds to note that, in the absence of reliable casualty data from the police, it would be irresponsible to speculate on the number of victims. This is good work from Fox here.

At this point Fox evidently knows very little. The network has no cameras on the scene and no access to other stations’ live feeds, so it’s forced to go low-tech. A breaking-news article from a newspaper called The Union is called up on a big screen, and Smith is literally reading the article out loud, following along with his finger as the camera zooms in on the text. Once this grows tiresome, Smith walks to the other side of the studio, where a map of the Umpqua Community College campus has been magnified to fill an entire wall.  “So the best info that we have at this moment, just about an hour after the first reports came in, is that it started here at Snyder Hall and move on to the Science building," says Smith as he points at the map, which looks like it was hastily downloaded from the UCC website. "This is about the extent of the information we have at this point." He lingers on Snyder Hall, as if grabbing for something solid to anchor himself in a torrent. Soon, there’s some new information: “Our information specialist says that [the Umpqua Community College] website is down at the moment.”

2:50 p.m.

Over to CNN, where anchor Brooke Baldwin has much more to work with than Fox did; her producers are doing good, quick work finding guests to call and offer some information on the shooting and the region. When I tune in, a guest is giving Baldwin some demographic information on the UCC student body: more than half of the student population is female; the average student age is 38. (“Huh,” remarks Baldwin.) “That's what we’re learning so far: That it’s not your traditional institution, it caters to people who are a little bit older, the majority of them part time,” reports CNN, and this, too, is good work; if you can’t say anything meaningful about the incident itself, you might as well offer some context on the setting in which it occurred.

Soon, CNN brings in a guest who does have some information about the incident itself: Ray Shoufler, a local fire marshal, who is phoning from the grounds of Umpqua Community College. “Law enforcement was on scene and had the shooter…neutralized,” he reports. “I don’t have a tally on the total number.”

“Describe what we cannot see,” Baldwin says, the tone of her voice indicating she knows this is a tough ask. “How many ambulances? How many first responders? Did this happen inside or outside?”

“It happened inside a classroom,” says Shoufler, who proceeds to offer a few more factoids before briefly going silent. “Ray, are you OK?” asks Baldwin. She seems to think he’s overcome with grief, which seems a bit presumptuous.

“Yes,” Shoufler says, and he doesn’t sound like he’s choking back any tears. “I’m just getting multiple people, and...there’s a lot going on.”

3 p.m.

I tune to MSNBC, which has wasted no time trying to situate the shooting in a broader political context. While I understand, and to an extent agree with, this big-picture impulse, the network’s rush to speculate on what the Umpqua shootings mean, at a stage in the story when we’re not even sure what happened yet, feels clumsy and mildly inappropriate. Brian Williams is in the anchor chair, and he’s speaking with former ATF hostage negotiator Jim Cavanaugh, who says that mass shootings are “a crisis in every county and city in America. It's been in your state, it's comin’ back, it might be a movie theater or campus. It’s not gonna go away; we’ve gotta address it at each and every step along the line.”

Like Fox and CNN, MSNBC is reporting in an information vacuum at this point; unlike the other two networks, MSNBC and Williams are spending a lot of time talking about what we will probably learn in the coming hours and days. It’s an irritating choice. “We’re going to learn days from now, hours from now, about someone who did some elaborate planning for this moment,” Williams says. “We’ve had another mass casualty event on another campus.”

Soon, Williams goes to MSNBC host Thomas Roberts, who proceeds to read some tweets presumably issued by people who were on campus when the shooting occurred. “Holy God, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” one tweet reads. More social-media recitations follow. “Let me scroll down,” Roberts says.

Around 3:10 p.m.

Over on Fox News, Shepard Smith’s producers have finally come back from lunch, and they’ve put him in touch with a local woman named Marilyn Kittelman, whose son, an Umpqua Community College student, is currently awaiting evacuation. “Ms. Kittelman, have you been given information?” Smith asks. “The best information I have is that this gunman, whoever he is, went to Snyder Hall and opened fire.”

“What I heard is that it happened in the science building,” Kittelman says.

“Next to Snyder Hall,” Smith interjects. Kittelman notes that her son, who was in neither the science building nor Snyder Hall, said that he heard no gunshots, and says she’s heard rumors that there might be more than one shooter. Smith quickly and politely notes that the authorities have given him no reason to think that’s true, and again I’m impressed by Smith’s reportorial caution in this dangerous journalistic terrain. He asks Kittelman if she’s heard anything from any of the students who were in the room where the shooter first opened fire, and she says that she hasn’t. “Oh, hold on, I have an update!” Kittelman exclaims. “They said that there’s a rumor that a rioter is hiding in a car.”

“I don't know what a ‘rioter’ is,” says Smith.

“I don't either.”

Bag inspection at scene of Shooting Umpqua Community College Ore
Police officers inspect bags as students and staff are evacuated from campus following a shooting incident at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015.

Photo by Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via Reuters

Roughly 3:15 p.m.

Back to CNN, where national correspondent Deborah Feyerick and Brooke Baldwin are fruitlessly dissecting Ray Shoufler’s decision to say that the shooter had been neutralized, as opposed to killed or captured or something more precise. “The use of the word neutralized is so odd. Not the sort of word you use,” says Feyerick.

"What does that tell you?"

“It makes me wonder how they’re using the word neutralized. We don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

This line of inquiry is neither fruitful nor interesting, and it is mercifully abandoned as Baldwin brings in CNN military analyst Rick Francona, who offers some interesting context on Oregon state gun laws. The Umpqua Community College campus was reportedy a gun-free zone, a designation that “tells licensed gun owners that you are not allowed to carry your weapon in this facility,” Francona says. “Conversely… if you’re going to perpetrate some act, you know that most people are not going to be armed.” This is the sort of bigger-picture analysis that’s actually helpful, insofar as it directly relates to and helps clarify aspects of the situation on the ground in Oregon.

Unfortunately, Baldwin soon drops this line of conversation and returns to her earlier semantic discussion: “The shooter has been neutralized. Does this mean that the shooter is alive or dead? We don’t know that yet.” CNN reports that they are hearing that the attack began in the school’s science building, and soon spread to various classrooms. Baldwin’s producers have found her another guest. “I'm being told here in my ear, we’re just going with this: Marilyn Kittelman is on the line here,” she says.

Nearing 3:30 p.m.

That’s my cue to switch over to MSNBC, where in the absence of any good information about what has happened, Brian Williams and his guests continue to speculate on what we will probably learn about this incident in the near future. “I’m afraid you’re correct that this’ll kick off a whole new wave of coverage about gun laws, about gun laws and mental health in this country,” Williams tells a guest, “and that in the coming days we'll hear a whole lot more about this troubled person.” Just minutes earlier, CNN was also talking about gun laws. But CNN was doing so in a reportorial context. Williams seems to be talking about them just to hear himself talk.

Another guest, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, elaborates on this same theme. “We will see parents anguished, standing up, saying ‘Why can’t we do something about guns, about mental health? Why did [my child] have to die in something like this? And, Brian, we don’t have the answers.”

Bag inspection after shooting at Umpqua Community College Oregon
Police officers inspect bags as students and staff are evacuated from campus following a shooting incident at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015.

Photo by Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via Reuters

Van Zandt notes—and this is actually very helpful—that the UCC shooting is the 45th campus shooting logged in the United States so far this year. “This will dominate life in the foreseeable future for this part of southern Oregon,” Brian Williams predicts, and then he predicts some more stuff: “We will hear a lot about someone who perhaps had a troubled background, perhaps took it out on others.”

We probably will hear all of those things, and more, in the coming days. But in the early stages of a breaking-news incident like a school shooting, it’s critical for networks to emphasize the things they don’t know rather than feign a certitude that doesn’t exist. At half past three, I tuned back to Fox and Shepard Smith, who, out of all of the anchors on the air this afternoon, seemed to understand this the best. “It’s 3:30 on the East Coast, half past noon on the West Coast,” Smith intones. “And in the town of Roseburg … ”

Oct. 1 2015 7:01 PM

Obama Gives Smoldering Statement on Oregon Shooting: “Our Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough”

President Obama addressed the fatal mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, in a statement delivered in the White House briefing room Thursday. Obama, with a visibly clenched jaw, delivered exasperated, smoldering remarks about the state of gun violence in the United States and the lack of political will to make even the most minute changes to American gun laws to try to prevent future shootings.

Here are the notable moments from Obama’s remarks (Note: This is an automated transcript so there may be a grammatical error or two):

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough”:

[A]s I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from inflicted someplace else in America. Next week or a couple months from now.

Only advanced country with shootings like this:

We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds. Regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses who want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings, every few months. Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying the United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings. And later that day there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day. Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.

How can you argue more guns keeps us safer?:

Right now I can imagine the press release is being cranked out. We need more guns, they'll argue. Fewer gun safety laws. Does anybody really believe that? There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country, they know that's not true. We know because of the polling that says that the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws. Including the majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners. There's a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in America. So how can you with a straight face make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths.

Politicizing the issue:

And of course, what's also routine is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say—Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together. To the body politic. I would ask news organizations, because I won't put these facts forward. Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of American who is have been killed by gun violence. And post those side by side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me, it will be coming from you. We spend over $1 trillion and pass countless laws and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil and rightfully so. And yet we have a congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?

“When roads are unsafe, we fix them”:

We collectively are answerable to those family who is lose their loved ones. Because of our inaction. When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them. To reduce auto fatalities. We have seat belt laws, because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different? That our freedom and our constitution prohibits any modest regulation? Of how we use a deadly weapon? When there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations? It doesn't make sense.

*This post has been updated with new information.