Ethics Observations On The WDBJ Shooting


As you know by now, a reporter and her cameraman were shot and killed Wednesday on live TV in Roanoke, Virginia. The shooter was a a former reporter at the same station his victims, 24-year-old WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old photographer Adam Ward, worked for. Another woman was shot at the scene and apparently will recover. The shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, fatally shot himself in his car after fleeing. He had used Bryce Williams as his professional name.

Later it was learned that Flanagan had successfully sued the station (it settled), which had fired him in 2013 after he had worked there briefly. Earlier he’d been employed at several other stations across the country, and had sued some of them as well. He tweeted prior to his rampage that Parker had used a racist term in his presence.

ABC then reported:

“A man claiming to be Bryce Williams called ABC News over the last few weeks, saying he wanted to pitch a story and wanted to fax information. He never told ABC News what the story was.This morning, a fax was in the machine (time stamped 8:26 a.m.) almost two hours after the shooting. A little after 10 a.m., he called again, and introduced himself as Bryce, but also said his legal name was Vester Lee Flanagan, and that he shot two people this morning. While on the phone, he said authorities are “after me,” and “all over the place.” He hung up. ABC News contacted the authorities immediately and provided them with the fax.”

The 23 page fax included such comments as…

  • “MY NAME IS BRYCE WILLIAMS. Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15”
  • “What sent me over the top was the church shooting,” referring to June’s mass shooting at the  Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
  • “And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
  • “As for [Charleston shooting suspect] Dylann Roof? You [censored]! You want a race war [censored]? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …[censored]!!!”
  • “I was influenced by [ Virginia Tech shooter] Seung–Hui Cho….That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin.”

A few observations:

  • Early on in the reports and even now, after the shooter is known, the news media has conspicuously avoided mentioning the races of the individuals involved, as if it was irrelevant. The victims were white, the shooter was black. In the case of Dylann Roof and the Charleston shooting, race was the focus of the reporting from the start.  Why? Well, when there are black victims and a white killer, racism is now presumed, just as it was in the cases of George Zimmerman and Officer Wilson in Ferguson. This is bias.
  • Even after the media was aware of Flanagan‘s race-related tweets and accusation against his female victim of racism, suggesting race as a possible motive for the shooting was avoided in the reporting. This is incompetent.
  • Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, within hours of the shooting, decided to exploit the tragedy to push  gun regulations. “I’m trying to bring common sense ideas,” he said. “As I say, I’m a hunter, I’m a gun owner, I go through background checks. There are individuals in this country who should not be allowed to own a firearm. And it’s just to me common sense and tragic, that this kind of legislation cannot be passed and signed into law.”He was then asked by a reporter if there was any reason to believe that the shooter had obtained his gun without a background check, didn’t have a permit, or had a criminal record or other issues in his background that would suggest that he should not own a gun.

“I don’t know anything,” McAuliffe answered. “I don’t. At this stage, I don’t.”

Then shut up, Governor! This is irresponsible. It appears, in fact, that before going bonkers and homicidal, Flanagan did not have a criminal record, nor had he been treated for mental illness. His ranting fax indicated that he placed a deposit on a gun, meaning that he endured a waiting period. Using every example of gun violence to argue for changes in the laws that wouldn’t have prevented the incident being used to make the argument, or to do so when sufficient laws are already in place and just failed, is dishonest and manipulative. The only way to prevent shootings like the one today would be to make it nearly impossible for responsible, law-abiding citizens to own guns, and that is exactly what McAuliffe and the anti-gun zealots in his party and the media want. They will not admit it, of course, so they attempt to make their case when emotion is at its most distorting level, in the wake of a high-profile tragedy. They don’t want a dispassionate, considered debate on the facts. They want gun restrictions legislated in the throes of fear and hysteria, if that’s the only way to get them.

  • Sherman Lea, Jr, an African-American who is a speaker and entrepreneur, had his photo broadcast to television news audiences and put on social media as the shooter because an image of Lea with Parker together was discovered on Lea’s Twitter account. The social media users who did this (TV corrected the mistake quickly) were reckless. There needs to be a well-publicized and community enforced social media code of ethics, and the unethical conduct of spreading potentially deadly misinformation without confirmation has to be prohibited by it.
  • Kwami Rose, an influential, anti-white activist in Baltimore, has tweeted that the shooting demonstrates the impact of white racism. If a white shooter shoots black victims, it’s white racism. If a black shooter targets white victims…it’s still white racism. This convenient formula will never bring the races closer to mutual respect and understanding, but many, including much of the news media, have embraced it.
  • President Obama, like McAulliffe, decided that the incident had no greater significance than to demonstrate the need for more anti-gun laws.“It breaks my heart every time you read about or hear about these kinds of incidents,” he said.

What kind of incidents?

“What we know,” he continued, “is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.”

Oh, those kinds of incidents. When a white man shot up a black church, the President similarly exploited the tragedy to try to ride emotion rather than reason toward gun legislation, but he also immediately talked about how “the hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals….” When a black man said that he was eager to incite a race war in response to that shooting and committed his own senseless killings of those with a different skin color, racial hate had nothing to do with it, or at least not enough to warrant calming words from our President. No, this was just about guns.

Let me be clear. President Obama and his racially divisive rhetoric and policies have exacerbated that hatred and distrust across races, and, as harsh as it is to say, have done so in part intentionally, for political advantage. The increased and deadly tensions between police and inner city black communities are one result; the racial paranoia that apparently drove Vester Lee Flanagan to murder is another. Yes, and the extraordinary and decisive turnout of black voters to re-elect Barack Obama was a third, so it was all worth it, I guess.

If Flanagan had survived his suicide attempt, would our Justice Department have investigated his as a “hate crime”? I doubt it very much.

UPDATE: I am watching CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewing Alison Parker’s father, who is understandably distraught, grief-stricken and angry. He is vowing to become the “John Walsh of gun control,” and saying, as Chris nods without providing any necessary enlightenment for either Mr. Parker or the CNN audience, that we have to make it harder for “crazy people to get guns.” At this point, we know enough not to misrepresent Flanagan as just a crazy person with a gun. He was a crazy black racist with a gun who had been persuaded, in a culture and media environment that works over-time trying to make African Americans fear and distrust their own neighbors if they happen to be white, that Alison Parker was a racist and that it was time to start a race war. That’s a fact, and Cuomo should not even allow a grieving father to ignore and obscure it.

Cuomo should also mention, though as an anti-gun advocate himself, he won’t, that in order to keep guns out of the hands of “crazies” like Flanagan, who have not done anything yet that proves how crazy they are, we would have to ban guns entirely.


Sources:, ABC, Daily Mail, Mediaite

38 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The WDBJ Shooting

  1. The lesson I have learned is that black people can’t do a hate crime, even if they tell you in advance that’s what it is. Only white people can.

    I think we’ve all known this since … forever, really. It’s just what the race baiters believe, and always have believed — that the moral turpitude of slavery renders all white people, however far removed from the event, so morally inferior to black people that even violence against them has no moral force in terms of racial propriety. In other words, when a black man kills whites, guns are to blame, and when a white kills a black, regardless of the justification, racial animus is the culprit.

    The president, and every national Democrat and news media person all seem not just to accept this as reality, but relentlessly promote it as holy writ.

    Can this society ever recover from such a blatant and alarming double standard? I really don’t know.

    An aside: Your use of the phrase “Let me be clear,” if not intended as a dig at our president (who has ruined that phrase for me for all time by his overuse of it, by the way), it should have been. I suspect, though, that it was just that.

    • The lesson I have learned is that black people can’t do a hate crime, even if they tell you in advance that’s what it is. Only white people can.”

      According to the FBI, 24% of hate crime offenders were black in 2014. While the media may not be reporting on hate crimes committed by black people, these crimes are being prosecuted.

  2. “Cuomo should also mention, though as an anti-gun advocate himself, he won’t, that in order to keep guns out of the hands of “crazies” like Flanagan, who have not done anything yet that proves how crazy they are, we would have to ban guns entirely.”

    Not entirely. The other option is to establish a rigorous protocol for determining who is “crazy”. And that is precisely the terrifying direction that gun control discussions always allude to, and I believe will within the decade be openly considered.

    I can’t wait to see what Leftists consider “crazy”.

    Turn gun control into a mental health issue, the medical industry being slowly subsumed under federal control, hm. Gee, I wonder where that could lead…

    • Oh, that’s easy. Wanting to own a gun is crazy. Opposing abortion is crazy. Not trusting Hillary is crazy. Not believing we should cripple industry to avoid the doom predicted by dubious computer models is crazy. Not supporting open boarders is crazy. Not thinking Obama is a great President is crazy. Not trusting Iran is crazy. Being religious is per se crazy.

      Not loving Big Brother is crazy.

  3. What if Flanagan had been shot and killed by police before he pulled the trigger?

    (1) Would this then constituted undue force by racist police and result in protests?

    (2) Would the news media ignore it?

    (3) Would they promote it as a indicator of why we need to ban guns by eliminating all background about Flanagan and never mentioning his race?

    • 1) doubtful. Seems the race grievance industry stays away from 100% unquestionable situations…only focuses on those where they can sow doubt even in justifiable situations.

      2) yes.

      3) nah, they’d wait for something successful and juicy.

  4. “If Flanagan had survived his suicide attempt, would our Justice Department have investigated his as a “hate crime”? I doubt it very much.”

    It is safe to say, if he didn’t commit suicide, he probably wouldn’t have reached pseudo-celebrity status like Chris Dorner did with Anonymous…

  5. Jack — I learned immediately yesterday that the shooter was black and the victims were white. And I learned that through the media. I also knew, within minutes, that it was racially motivated.

    • Beth,

      Is there a difference between knowing the races of the shooter and victims and the media actively focusing on the races of th victims and shooter?

      I think that’s what Jack is focusing on.

      • Yes, and the races of the shooters is STILL only being communicated via photos, in marked contrast to the Charleston shooting, in which the victims were always immediately identified as black.

        • I’ll have to ask you again, maybe in clearer terms:

          Is there a difference between the media mentioning something and the media actively focusing on something?

          Please tell me you can see that distinction…

          • Are you deliberately being obtuse? Yes, they are ACTIVELY covering it. You all need to watch/listen to better media stations.

            But, I won’t kid myself that I can change your perception on this issue.

            • I don’t think you know what obtuse means.. Yes they are actively covering the story. We’re discussing a particular detail of the story, that of the 3 main news sources, only passing mention if any is made of race and race motivation.

              • Now again:

                I’ll have to ask you again, maybe in clearer terms:

                Is there a difference between the media mentioning something and the media actively focusing on something?

                Please tell me you can see that distinction…

            • Beth. I am watching a report right now. I have watched many, many, many. NONE are covering this as a crime of race hate. Gun abuse, workplace anger, insanity, all by someone who just happens to be black. You are in denial. I don’t want to see these stories. But I do see them.

        • I realized he was black by the omission of any reference to race in the first two articles I read. The third mentioned that he accused one of the victims of using a racial slur. Several hours later, I saw a picture of him and was able to confirm he was black. Contrast that to the Charleston shooting. Go ahead, try to pretend they are the same.

          • There’s another angle, which was emphasized by the victim’s father. They were journalists.
            This was an attack on journalists.

            Remember Fox’s (and several GOP religious conservatives) absurd initial claim that Dylann Roof was targeting people of faith??? Remember how I Ethics Dunced them all for that?

            This is no different, and just as dishonest.

            • When I first heard about this and saw it was Roanoke, I was envisioning something else entirely. There is a pretty violent culture around Roanoke, especially in Franklin County. I have seen journalists threatened by police when they threaten moonshine.

    • Beth: Here’s the Post’s article on the shotting as of 9AM today…

      Killer’s ultimate selfie: Roanoke horror becoming the new norm
      By Joel Achenbach
      August 26 at 4:57 PM

      Rage, narcissism, a gun and social media combined for a particularly excruciating display of horror Wednesday morning. After murdering two former colleagues during a live TV news stand-up, the Roanoke killer uploaded a horrifying message to his Twitter account: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook.”

      So now there were two awful videos — the live stand-up filmed by the videographer and the killer’s even more gruesome amateur version apparently taken with his phone.
      This screenshot shows the Twitter page of Bryce Williams, whose real name is Vester Lee Flanagan II, shortly after Wednesday’s shooting. (Twitter via AP)

      This instantly took over the news feeds of the world. If you were anywhere near the Internet, you wound up experiencing this crime. You couldn’t escape it. This was an event both intimate and universal, and shared at the speed of light.

      You may have realized the story had taken another terrible turn by the cries of co-workers saying, “Oh, my God.” The grief, too, went viral, as WDBJ7 co-workers and loved ones took to Twitter to mourn the murdered journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

      Social media didn’t cause this crime. Nor is this the first case of a murderer seeking infamy. There is a stripe of killer who wants publicity. These people often leverage whatever technology is at their disposal.

      A television reporter and a videographer for a CBS affiliate WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, Va., were shot and killed Wednesday morning as they were doing a live report.

      That technology has become radically democratized in just the past few years. More than a billion people are on Facebook. We essentially have our own broadcast outlets now. And the Roanoke murders were committed by a man who had worked in the news business and knew how to reach an audience.

      There are fewer filters — or none at all. If you set your Twitter account on “autoplay,” then the murder video would play automatically without need for a click. People possessed by hate, homicidal impulses or the desire to terrorize the public are getting better at exploiting the power of social media.

      Social media’s astonishing rise has rendered it possible for amateurs to produce instantly viral words and images. Sometimes it’s something funny, or inappropriate — say, an Auschwitz selfie — but it can also be, as we saw Wednesday, a gruesome act.

      “In the old days, you imagine Bonnie and Clyde getting excited when they made the papers. Now they’re taking it into their own hands. They’re putting out the stories themselves. It’s depressing,” said Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and the co-author of “The Narcissism Epidemic.”

      “This is not a mass shooting, per se, by a technical definition, but it is clearly an attention-seeking crime,” said his co-author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “The technology’s made it easier, but there’s this underlying psychology of attention-seeking, narcissism, seeking fame.”

      The two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999 fantasized that they’d be the subject of a Quentin Tarantino movie. The Virginia Tech shooter in 2007 paused to mail a media package to a TV network after he had killed his first two victims.

      The 2014 Santa Barbara shooter uploaded a video to YouTube describing the mayhem he planned to unleash, and he distributed by mail a manifesto detailing his hatred of women and minorities.

      Moments before a 19-year-old man went on a shooting spree at the Columbia, Md., mall in January 2014, he posted an image of himself to the social media site Tumblr. He was posing with his shotgun and a bandolier.

      Such social media posing may have seemed shocking a year and a half ago, but it may be turning into the standard operating procedure for psychopaths.

      “Once people start doing it, other people get the idea, and it becomes the norm,” Campbell said.

      The Roanoke shooter began a Twitter account on Aug. 17, apparently knowing that soon his life would undergo scrutiny and hoping to craft a kind of memorial to himself. At one point, he tweeted, “My sexy bedroom,” with a shot of an empty bed. He put up numerous selfies. On Aug. 20, he posted four photographs of himself from over the years: “Headshot used for getting acting/modeling gigs way back when lol. And, wasn’t I a cute baby? ;-).”

      Evil acts rarely have a single explanation, and this one’s no different. Again, a gun is involved. Again, it’s an angry, unsuccessful man. Again, he sent a rambling manifesto to a news media organization. It was a compendium of grievances: racial discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying by co-workers, family alienation. He expressed admiration for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters.

      “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while . . . just waiting to go BOOM!!!! at any moment.”

      He did everything he could to maximize exposure to the crime. He timed it so that it would be on live television and back-stopped that video feed with a shooter’s-eye video. He uploaded his work to social media, and within a few hours turned his gun on himself.

      Humans create technology, and it bites back in strange ways. There are rising concerns among researchers about the effect of digital technology on human behavior and psychology. One major concern is that kids who can’t let go of a smartphone may not learn very quickly how to have a face-to-face conversation. All of us immersed in a life of screens struggle to find the right relationship with our gadgets.

      But there’s no evidence that we’re becoming violent, and in fact the opposite seems to be true: Violent crime is down over the past two tech-crazed decades, notwithstanding the recent spike in urban homicides.

      The news media are obviously implicated in the rash of spectacular violence — granting prominent coverage to people who, without resorting to terrible crimes, would have had little chance of ever becoming famous.

      Gone are the days when a news organization could function as a gatekeeper and its editors could hold a meeting to decide whether to publish something disturbing. When a Pennsylvania official, Budd Dwyer, shot and killed himself at a news conference in 1987, the gatekeepers could decide how they wanted to handle the footage and photography. Today, such images would be instantly circulated on social media.

      If there was one encouraging development Wednesday, it was the decision by news organizations such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC to show restraint in showing the television station’s video of the shooting and the action by Twitter and Facebook to remove the killer’s video from their sites.

      On Twitter, a consensus quickly formed: Take this down. We don’t want to see it.

      Though by then it was too late for many of us. And it is the nature of the Internet that nothing ever disappears. It’s still there, circulating, like a pathogen that can’t ever be eradicated.

      “It’s like showing those beheadings,” said Andy Parker, the father of the slain reporter. “I am not going to watch it. I can’t watch it. I can’t watch any news. All it would do is rip out my heart further than it already it is.”

      Brady Dennis, Darryl Fears, Amy Ellis Nutt and Ian Shapira contributed to this report.

      Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post’s national desk and on the “Achenblog.”
      View article on classic site
      Two Roanoke journalists killed on live television by angry former colleague
      By John Woodrow Cox, Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Jouvenal
      August 26 at 9:10 PM

      ROANOKE — The gunman turned on the video recorder just before 6:45 Wednesday morning and, whispering a single sexist slur, pointed his black Glock at the TV reporter standing in front of him.

      Alison Parker, 24, was interviewing the head of the local chamber of commerce live on Roanoke’s “News 7 Mornin’ ” show when the shooting began. Vester L. Flanagan II — an embittered former colleague — would soon post the horror he recorded to Facebook and Twitter. Parker and a cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, died at the scene; the chamber director, Vicki Gardner, 62, underwent surgery and is expected to recover.

      The killings were part of what appears to have been an elaborate plot carried out by a troubled man who — after years of professional turmoil and a growing rage he linked to the mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church — was determined to wreak vengeance against co-workers he insisted had wronged him.

      Flanagan’s scheme began with the legal purchase of his gun two days after the church massacre; included an escape plan that involved ditching one car and fleeing in a rental; and ended when he fatally shot himself during a police chase 200 miles from the site of Wednesday’s carnage.

      His race isn’t mentioned until two paragraphs later. (though we know the color of his GUN!)

      Now here’s the New York Times report on Charleston:

      CHARLESTON, S.C. — A white gunman opened fire Wednesday night at a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., killing nine people before fleeing and setting off an overnight manhunt, the police said.

      At a news conference with Charleston’s mayor early Thursday, the police chief, Greg Mullen, called the shooting a hate crime.

      “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church while they are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” he said.

      See any difference at all?

  6. A question for the deniers here: what would have been more likely to save these victims? Tougher gun laws, or the absence of a media driven, Obama-approved. Al Sharpton et al.-authored narrative that whites are out to harm. subjugate and even kill African Americans?

    • You mean the President Obama who took this occasion to point out that gun violence kills more people than terrorism? That President Obama? So I’m to conclude he’s doing a great job countering terrorism because it’s not as bad as gun violence? Radical Islamists aren’t a problem. Hand guns are. Why didn’t I think of that.

      That President Obama?

      Unbelievable. What a great leader.

      • Despicable is probably a better word than unbelievable.

        Anything happens, our president just decides which of his ideological boxes he wants to cram it into and he’s back to the golf course.

  7. The gun control advocates miss one other thing in all of this, or are purposly ignoring it. If you watch the murderer’s film of his crime, you can see that he was close enough and had more than enough time to have used a non-projectile weapon. As bent on this crime as he was he would likely have found an avenue to commit it, even without access to a handgun.

  8. Less than one in a thousand.

    This is important to remember, because with over one hundred million gun owners, only nine thousand of them commit homicide. That is less than one in a thousand.

    But this statistic equally applies to black people.

    For, out of 39 million black people in America, only 4,500 commit homicide.

    Are we to infringe on the rights of all black people merely because less than one thousand of them commit homicides?

  9. I reject President Obama’s false dichotomy between gun-related incidents and acts of terrorism. Dylann Roof’s and Vester Flanagan’s shootings were acts of terrorism; their killings were the means to an end, and the end was frightening and oppressing a whole group of people. They were both trying to fight a war, and they both killed peaceful people to do so. Roof and Flanagan are both terrorists, and we ought to acknowledge them as such.

    So, how’s that “War on Terror” coming along these days?

    • How’s the “war on terror” going?

      Pretty awfully since the weak-willed, visionless appeasers were voted into office.

      Of course “war on terror” was a dumb term anyway.

  10. I just took a long flight, and read several papers. It’s even worse than I represented it. None of the papers treat this as a racial killing, many articles, even in the Times, don’t say he was black. They say that he said he was triggered by the “Charleston shooting,” but don’t recall that the victims were black. In the Washington Post editorial, they accuse him of debasing the Charleston victims! That’s right—this black killing of two whites had black victims! It was a disgruntled worker, a narcissist…he was primed by social media, and frustration, and of course, it’s the NRA’s fault. Amazing. A black man described as being consumed with racial grievance, who calls his victim a racist and who says he wants to start a race war, and who says he was reacting to a massacre of 8 black churchgoers is COMPLETELY different from Dylann Roof, vicious racist, whose affection for the Confederate flag was sufficient to cause statues defaced across the country. This guy isn’t a racist killer. He’s just a guy who snapped and the gun laws failed.

    The dishonesty is staggering. Don Lemon said the shooter was a racist, and it’s a headline! Gee, Sherlock, what was your first clue?

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