The biggest non-exclusive exclusive in Monday's news cycle was New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica's one-source article blaming the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre on video games and Adam Lanza's seven-foot-long spreadsheet of death. The story is thinly-sourced tabloid fodder at its worst, and, worse than that, it paints an unsubstantiated portrait of Lanza as "a deranged gamer like this little bastard," just when the mental-health community and Congress are seeking answers on Lanza, video games, and truth in the face of NRA talking points and the bad newspaper stories that seem based on them.
Lupica describes his anonymous law-enforcement source as "a tough career cop who did not wish to see his name in the newspaper" but did attend a meeting of the International Association of Police Chiefs and Colonels in New Orleans last week, where a Connecticut State Police colonel apparently spoke and revealed that Lanza had a 7-foot-by-4-foot spreadsheet documenting body counts and attempted killings from other mass murderers throughout history. To be sure, the state police investigation has been shrouded in secrecy — out of respect for the victims and a state of constant misinformation after the December shootings as anonymous law enforcement officials spoke to the news media, Lt. Paul Vance doesn't plan to release his team's full report in June. But stoking the fear factor isn't helping a frenzy that has forced Vance to debunk rumors started on morning shows — especially when it comes to video games and mental illness, especially still when you combine all those with guns and dead little children.
Lupica's source doesn't just provide the selective news detail that the spreadsheet is out there; he actually does most of the news analysis for the paper, all while using the word "gamer" to ID Lanza the way a newspaper would identify someone's occupation:
They don’t believe this was just a spreadsheet. They believe it was a score sheet ... This was the work of a video gamer, and that it was his intent to put his own name at the very top of that list. They believe that he picked an elementary school because he felt it was a point of least resistance, where he could rack up the greatest number of kills. That’s what (the Connecticut police) believe.
And the source, in insisting that Lanza did not plan to get shot by police, ascribes the killer's plot as something straight out of the "code of the gamer":
They believe that (Lanza) believed that it was the way to pick up the easiest points. It’s why he didn’t want to be killed by law enforcement. In the code of a gamer, even a deranged gamer like this little bastard, if somebody else kills you, they get your points. They believe that’s why he killed himself.
The source also compares gun and "gamers" with porn and rapists:
In the end, it was just a perfect storm: These guns, one of them an AR-15, in the hands of a violent, insane gamer. It was like porn to a rapist. They feed on it until they go out and say, enough of the video screen. Now I’m actually going to be a hunter.
And Lupica's source is pretty confident that Lanza learned all about a "tactical reload" through his penchant for video games (even though videos of a "tactical reload" show up all over YouTube):
They believe he learned the principles of this — the tactical reload — from his game. Reload before you’re completely out. Keep going. When the strap broke on his first weapon (the AR-15), he went to his handgun at the end. Classic police training. Or something you learn playing kill games.
Just for the record, "disturbed" and "mentally ill" did not appear in the digital version of Lupica's 1,075-word article or in any of his source's quotes, although "insane" popped up once once, "deranged" once, and "game" or "gamer" was in there 12 times. Also for the record: The story doesn't mention any efforts to confirm anything with Connecticut State Police, or the specific connections between violence and video games. While we're on that topic: There is no specific connection between violence and video games. The scientific record is threadbare. Adam Lanza did not shoot up that school just because he played video games. And when you plot gun-related deaths and video-game consumption on a graph, it looks like this — a downward slope, and a whole lot of gun violence in America:
Vice President Joe Biden's task force has tried not to make judgments on the gaming industry, even as its leaders face a mountain of threats from the National Rifle Association. And the NRA loves to say that video games turn people into killers almost as much as it likes to say Adam Lanza's name: "There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse," Wayne LaPierre said in his odd, unnerving, and gaming-oblivious speech after the December shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. (The NRA, it should be noted, has its own video games — just not for preschoolers anymore.) And the gun lobby has continues its familiar messaging, even as LaPierre hasn't actually visited Newtown or looked to fund more scientific research, as the White House is calling on Congress to do. The NRA is too busy calling on Congress to fund more teachers with guns at the schools it says need them across America.
At his speech at CPAC over the weekend, LaPierre said that the administration's plan to address gun violence included a continued effort to "prevent mental health records from being added to the check system" — the very background-check system the NRA may have just successfully lobbied to death, even as the lobby has very publicly endorsed one version of legislation that addresses mental health and the checks. For the NRA, mental health isn't an issue — it's something to be lumped in with video games and background checks as a weapon. Indeed, as we learn more about Lanza's actual mental health, Congress is learning from parents and experts at official hearings that cops and more guns aren't going to help figure out how to confront mental illness as it does and does not relate to gun violence. And yet this is what LaPierre said at CPAC: "It is troubling and saddening how quickly this debate has deteriorated from what would truly help make people safer to what has proven to be the decades-old agenda of those bent on destroying the Second Amendment."
Lupica's one-source story, which was passed around on pretty much every major news site in the country on Monday, seemed to trouble and sadden video-game fans, tech aficionados, and parents of the mentally ill:
.@nydailynews The way your “reporting” labels Lanza as a “video gamer” instead of what he really is (a deranged killer) is beyond asinine.— Justin Meader (@justinmeader) March 18, 2013
MIT designer Jason Haas also weighed in:
Look, honestly, by this measure, Lanza has as much in common with ETS as with a gamer: kotaku.com/5991082/report…— Jason Haas (@jhaas) March 18, 2013
And here's gaming blogger Katy Bug:
Next time emphasize "deranged" over "gamer." Games don't cause mental illness. | "Lanza plotted massacre for years" soa.li/oAaIUvb— Katy Bug (@WildBlueYoshi) March 18, 2013
And as Kotaku's Evan Narcisse points out, Lupica didn't even name a single video game in his article. "The Daily News report named no specific games that Lanza may have played, which is standard in mainstream news reports," Narcisse writes. Lupica is considered a columnist, but the paper's most famous writer moonlights as a reporter whenever he has a scooplet. But Narcisse's point makes sense — if these video games are as dangerous as Lupica's source says they are, you would think the article might talk about actual video games as much as it talks about "chilling" spreadsheets turned "score sheets" to stoke compounded theories about a killer rather than actually try to solve anything. As Salon's Katie McDonough adds, "Lupica's fixation on video games distracts from that larger, and far more crucial, conversation." The NRA has dominated that conversation, to be sure, and with a little help from Mike Lupica, the NRA may still be winning.