Sandy Hook 'truthers' harass Newtown man, conspiracy theories go viral
Sandy Hook truthers have attacked Gene Rosen, who took in six terrified children right after the shooting. The conspiracy theories stem from a distrust of government and media, among other things.
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With the enormity of the shooting, it was apparent that gun violence was going to be in the national spotlight, writes LiveScience columnist Benjamin Radford.Skip to next paragraph
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"No one, regardless of what side of the gun control issue they are on, can deny that guns played a key role in the Sandy Hook killings," he writes. "So the conspiracy theorists must instead challenge the claim that the attack even occurred."
Indeed, some truthers have questioned whether the shooting happened at all. Many of these doubts came about because of inaccurate or muddled reporting in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
On Dec. 20, James Tracy, a Florida Atlantic University tenured professor of communication, wrote a well-sourced blog post, and later gave media interviews, arguing that contradictions in initial reporting proved that the Sandy Hook shooting was simply a “made-for-television storyline.” He placed responsibility with the mass media, saying they blindly believed and reported what officials told them.
After public criticism of Professor Tracy and the university, he backpedaled a bit, insisting his blog post was simply a way to encourage news consumers to think critically. But he still implied he takes issue with the basic facts that were reported about the shooting.
At least so far, mass media have not delved much into the claims surrounding Sandy Hook. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, for one, has criticized Tracy and other truthers. Although other media outlets have reported the harassment of Rosen in detail, The Atlantic is one of the few news organizations to actually parse some of the theories and debunk them. It tackled the theory of a second shooter, reporting that a man whom police had initially pursued was most likely the father of a Sandy Hook student who was on the school grounds after the shooting.
Other media outlets, notably The New York Times, apologized for inaccurate reports when news of the shooting broke. Much of the “evidence” cited by conspiracy theorists is reporting that was later clarified.
Mr. Radford theorizes that while most observers understand that inaccurate reporting happens immediately after a chaotic event, the conspiratorial mind sees contradictions as "misinformation and lies," or holes in the official story.
Yet for some people, conspiracy theories can serve an important purpose, says Pasley, who has taught and studied such claims off and on since 1997.
“Conspiracy theories do have a function,” he says. “They are an explanation of the inexplicable, a sort of explanation that neatly puts into a box events that are extremely disturbing or tragic.”
They may be a way of "neutralizing" tragic events in the minds of theorists, Pasley adds.