Over the July 4 holiday weekend in the United States, American excess was on full display. Amid the lavish fireworks, barbecues and other celebrations, another quintessential part of American life was also at a peak: gun violence.
There were 14 mass shootings over the long weekend, making it the worst weekend for gun violence in 2021 so far. At least 150 people were killed in more than 400 shootings according to the Gun Violence Archive. As it stands, 2021 is on track to overtake 2020 as the deadliest year for gun violence in decades.
How were these tragedies suffered by our “vital ally, partner and friend” covered in Australia? According to data from media analysis tool MIT Media Lab, not a single article was written about this latest spate of mass shootings and gun violence.
Crikey has taken a look at how Australian media has covered mass shootings in the US since the start of 2018 until the end of June 2021. What we found is that despite a slow but consistent rise in the number of mass shootings, Australian media outlets have been generally covering these “run-of-the-mill” mass shootings less.
In 2018 Australian media wrote 530 articles about 321 mass shootings in the United States. In 2020, it plummeted to just 74 articles about 614 shootings, but has ticked back up in 2021.
There are three major factors that are likely affecting coverage.
In 2020 the media’s COVID-19 focus may have taken the attention away from shootings (which continued to increase, despite the pandemic). Additionally, this data does not take into consideration the scale of a mass shooting, which clearly influences the amount of coverage. The 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting, for example, correlated with a large spike in media coverage due to the size and the motive of the attack.
Media coverage data also includes articles about gun reforms in the US. In April 2021, there was an increase in coverage that coincided with President Joe Biden’s announcement of a new gun control plan. Without this it’s likely there would have been less coverage.
Overall, however, the data is clear: the trends of Australian media coverage of mass shootings do not match up with gun violence trends in the US.
As mass shootings continue to rise in the US, Australian media outlets — perhaps reflecting an increased numbness to the horrific violence and a learned helplessness as major reforms fail to eventuate — are less interested in telling their audiences about it.