But what you don't know is that I worked at Westroads Mall during college. I'm intimately familiar with the mall. In fact, I remember when the Von Maur department store opened and how excited we all were. I would go sit in the atrium and listen to the piano player in the store, which, at the age of 20, I thought was the height of elegance. Yes, the atrium where people died.
You also don't know that my husband's family knew one of the victims. A man originally from their small corner of Southwest Nebraska, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing some Christmas shopping at the end of a business trip. His funeral was earlier this week.
Honestly, I've been struggling with what to say.
The fabulously honest DD wrote about the Omaha shootings earlier this week and she said many of the things I want to say. This kind of random violence can happen anywhere. The Omaha metropolitan area has more than 1 million people. There are drugs, and gangs, and poverty, and social problems that would curl your toes in Omaha. Just like there are in every city and town in America. Midwestern town does not equal problem free town. People of America, particularly those of you who are in the media, please stop acting so damn surprised.
There are many more things about the media coverage of the shooting in Omaha that anger me. Just as there are many things about sensationalist media coverage of any tragedy that anger me. But what has been unexpected to me is how frustrated I am at the attempt of every community, national and local, to "own" this tragedy.
Now in some ways, feeling personally touched by a horrible event half way across the country or half way around the world is wonderful. Americans follow the news anxiously if a child falls down a well or a country is overwhelmed by a tidal wave. This support can be wonderful for parents, communities, and countries. It can motivate politicians, presidents, and policy.
But this support has a dark side.
The night of the Omaha shooting, our local news channel ran a lead story about the shooting, followed by a segment on protecting yourself at the mall. I have no doubt that news stations across the country ran similar stories. Of course local stations and the broadcast networks are going to cover the shooting. Of course, they are going to address issues that come up peripherally. But they don't have to make it sensationalist. They don't have to put the fear of God in every viewer. They don't have to lead with "Can it happen here? We ask local experts." We shouldn't have to experience 5 straight hours of CNN coverage that makes us think, "Oh. My. God. I will never enter a mall again without an Uzi to protect myself and my children!"
I call this the Fox News Effect.
I know that media outlets are responding to interest in a tragedy when they run segments like this, but these stories do two things: (1) they make us more fearful than is necessary; and (2) they trivialize the tragedies themselves.
Can it happen to you? Or you, or you, or you? Yes, of course it can. Is it likely? Um, no. Instead of focusing on the fear, why can't we have a rational discussion about mental illness? Even better, why can't we talk about how yellow journalism can drive people to do things like this in an attempt to become "famous?"
This focus on fear also moves the focus of the story (and the support of the viewing public) from where it should be - support of the victims, their families, their communities, and the underlying social problems that cause this sort of violence - to us, the viewing public, and what we can do to protect ourselves.
I know that if we stopped watching and voiced our displeasure, news outlets would stop. They run these stories because we watch them. But these stories play into our personal fears. Fears newly awakened by watching frightened and crying customers shivering in the parking lot in the aftermath. We start to think about ourselves instead of others.
In some ways, I felt the same after 9/11. I lived in D.C. I worked at the Pentagon during law school. My friends and colleagues were in that building. So were some of T's. We, and pretty much everyone we knew, were touched by death and despair. We knew the families, the wives, husbands, and children left behind. We drove past the gaping hole in the side of that imposing building every day. We saw the smoke. We felt the impact. We lived with the aftermath. We picked up the pieces and struggled to get on the Metro every day without fear. We boarded planes and pretended to be nonchalant as we prepared for take off.
Meanwhile, every small town in America started fighting over Homeland Security funds and freaking out about guarding the local water supply for a town of 500.
I'm not entirely sure why this made me so angry. But whenever I heard stories about things like that I just wanted to scream. It made me feel as if what had happened to my world was not important. As if what had happened in New York and D.C. was not as important as some hypothetical attack on Kansas City.
This is not to say that the rest of the country had no right to be scared or that no support was rallied. I think we all know how wonderful it was to live in the United States in the wake of 9/11, despite the fear. Americans pulled together in a way we rarely do. I also don't think everyone should act as if another 9/11 scale attack couldn't happen again and do nothing. But for God's sake, when I hear someone from a tiny town in the Northwest talking about the possibility of a terrorist attack at their local Piggly Wiggly, I just want to shake them. I want to shake them until they see the world beyond their personal space.
I know that the people of Omaha will pick up the pieces and move on. But I also know that they'll remember the victims this Christmas while they're in church and while they're gathered with their families, despite the lingering stories.
I know that many people in Omaha will be thinking of those families that are now missing a loved one. They'll be pulling together in support, true support, of those families. That is a facet of the Midwest that I know will always be the same, no matter how many journalists descend on the area.
What also gives me comfort is the knowledge that, despite what happened, the next time I go into Von Maur, or any store in Westroads Mall, I'll be greeted again with a sunny smile and a warm welcome. Because that's just how the people of Omaha roll.
This is for Julie's Hump Day Hmmm for the week. She tasked us with writing about our unique pet peeves.
I have a new review up of the Autolite Flareglo on my review blog. If you're safety conscious, you'll want this for your emergency car kit.