After the mass shooting in Las Vegas last night, it’s time to invoke the 72-hour rule for shootings and terrorist attacks. The rule is: offer immediate sympathy and aid for the victims and their families, but shut up about the political implications, and for crying out loud stop trying to score partisan points for at least 72 hours afterward.
This is partly out of consideration for the victims and their families, who deserve not to have their grief exploited. Or, if we’re being realistic, they should at least have a brief respite before their grief is exploited. But the 72-hour rule also exists to protect you, the commenter—whether amateur or professional—from saying something embarrassingly stupid. Or, if we’re being realistic, this should at least provide a brief respite before you go off and embarrass yourself later.
Right now, cable news shows and newspaper websites and social media feeds are full of wild speculations about the shooter, his motives, the weapons he used, and the political reforms that will supposedly prevent something tragic like this from ever happening again (but probably won’t). Most of it will be wrong. Even the stuff that is not just a rumor on the Internet but seems to have a legitimate source will be wrong. Even things announced by the authorities in the early hours of the attack will be wrong. People speculate. People jump to conclusions based on incomplete data. Insiders make up facts and pass along incomplete, poorly understand information because they like attention from reporters. Eyewitnesses misremember events or pass on speculations as if they were truth.
We know all of this, because it happens with every mass shooting, every terror attack, every controversial police shooting. It takes days, weeks, months to filter through all of the noise and sort fact from fiction.
But a lot of people aren’t going to wait. Here’s a brief and, I am sure, very incomplete catalog of some of the many stupid, totally speculative, offensively political, and contradictory things being said right now by people who aren’t following the 72-hour rule.
“Gateway Pundit” blogger Jim Hoft said the shooter was an anti-Trump Democrat—but Hoft got the wrong guy. Instead, the shooter is a Muslim convert and the attack was orchestrated by ISIS! Or maybe not.
Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 2, 2017
The shooter’s gun was an AR-15, because all scary guns are AR-15s. And it was a fully automatic machine gun (except that the AR-15 is not fully automatic). Or maybe it was a semi-automatic gun using a “bump stock” to simulate automatic firing. Meanwhile, law enforcement has so far released no information about the weapon or weapons used by the shooter or how they were acquired.
Finally, there are the blazing hot takes by people carelessly popping off their mouths, such as declaring that they have no sympathy for the victims because they were country music fans, and country music fans like guns, so they all had it coming. Or Harvard librarians telling us that “Angry white men are the USA’s deadliest terrorist threat.”
Angry white men are the USA’s deadliest terrorist threat. Every day they are being armed and radicalized by the NRA. https://t.co/t9GCE8Jg7b
— John Overholt (@john_overholt) October 2, 2017
Do you know why this happens? Because you—the viewers, readers, and retweeters—let it happen. They bring these idiots onto the TV shows to blather about all the different speculative scenarios because you don’t have the patience to wait until real facts are available. People say horrible and ugly things on Twitter because you reward them with a lot of attention.
Don’t let this be you. Restrain yourself, in these first hours of the news of an attack, from the temptation of using random reports as the opportunity to either reinforce or defend your pre-existing political preferences. In most cases, shooting off your mouth now won’t make you look prescient. It will make you look small, angry, petty, and unscrupulous.
Wait for Wednesday night or, better yet, Thursday morning. Go from what the authorities and reputable reporters say—and even then, assume that at least a third of it will later turn out to be wrong. Do it out of respect for the victims, and do it if you want to be able to respect yourself later.
Follow Robert on Twitter.