It’s been almost a month since the massacre in Las Vegas and my impression has been that the story has disappeared from the public’s consciousness. Perhaps its because no clear motive has been established for the attack? Another possibility is that maybe we Americans are so immune to these periodic spasms of extreme violence that they don’t have the resonance that they used to? Of course it could also be that the ridiculousness of the Trump administration just simply drowns out all other news? Regardless, I wanted to check if my impression was correct and see if the story has fallen out of the news cycle faster than other major mass shootings. The Television Explorer website allows us to search the closed captioning streams of cable news channels. I searched the number of mentions of the shooting since it happened on October 1st. The mentions are presented as a percentage of total sentences on that day’s broadcast. By October 4th the number of mentions had dropped steeply and tailed off from there.
This graph below contains the number of mentions of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting. There was a drop in coverage two days after the attack but a second bump in coverage a few days later. This may have been driven by new information about the shooter becoming public.
The next graph below contains mentions of the San Bernardino attack. Again the pattern of a sharp drop in mentions two days after the incident can be seen. Fox News had a spike in mentions a week later but otherwise the coverage went away almost completely a few days after the attack. Also the percentages are much lower here than the previous two incidents. The attack only accounted for .3% of sentences at the peak of coverage as opposed to 2% for the Orlando attack and approximately 2.25% for the Las Vegas shooting.
The next graph displays mentions of the Sandy Hook shooting. The coverage here was the most extensive. The drop in coverage didn’t happen for almost a week after the incident, and it maintained a presence on cable news for the entire month after the attack. Also at its height it was mentioned in 6% of the sentences on cable news (Fox News specifically). The murder of 20 some third graders will have that effect.
The final graph contains mentions of the Aurora, CO shooting. You can see the pattern in coverage is similar to the Sandy Hook shooting (not such a steep drop in coverage), but it did not reach that level of saturation at its peak as it was only mentioned in under 1% of sentences.
Overall the drop off in coverage of these mass shootings seems to be happening faster, which I am afraid gives credence to the notion that these horrendous incidents are just becoming part of the tapestry of American life. We feel shocked and grieve for two days and then move on about our business.