The on-air shootings of two young Virginia journalists by Vester L. Flanagan II have captivated conservative media outlets -- but not for the same reasons that they've dominated cable news. On the right, the rest of the media is accused of soft-pedaling Flanagan's explicit intent to start a "race war" by killing two white people.
"The Wednesday morning murders of 24-year-old Roanoke TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were a racist atrocity, a hate crime," wrote conservative icon and three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan in a Thursday column. "Were they not white, they would be alive today."
Buchanan and other conservative commentators have honed in on the rambling letter Flanagan sent to ABC News on Wednesday morning. In it, the disgruntled TV journalist said that he put down a deposit for his murder weapon two days after Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire on a prayer group at Charleston's historically black Emanuel AME church. "What sent me over the top was the church shooting," wrote Flanagan, "and my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them."
That letter was quickly reported and quoted by the network that received it, but some on the right have accused the press of double standards. Roof's white supremacist manifesto defined the coverage of Charleston, and led to an ongoing political backlash against public displays of the Confederate flag. That, say conservatives, fed into the grievance-fueled worldview that seemed to define Flanagan, an incompetent reporter who accused networks and colleagues of racial bias when he was sidelined or let go. In this telling, the Roanoke killings were directly inspired by the media's obsession with Roof.
"The race hustlers hyped that incident, and we had to pull down the Confederate flag," said Rush Limbaugh on the Thursday episode of his radio show. "Any attempt to help him by suggesting that he seek some kind of therapy or help for mental disease, can you imagine what he would have done with that? He’d have run off and talked about discrimination, and bias, and whatever. So everybody’s hands were tied, again because of the stigma, and because of the victim stats, and because of the federal government’s power over these properties by virtue of their being regulated. But he saw the media raising hell, and the Confederate flag being pulled down, and so he wants in on some of that action."
Limbaugh's comments got heavy play at Breitbart, a conservative site that's run several stories about Flanagan with the tag "racism," one of them pointing out that Flanagan was once chastised for supporting President Barack Obama. "Black, gay reporter murders straight, white journalists -- media blame the gun," read one headline on a story by the site's editor-at-large Ben Shapiro. That story has been shared more than 53,000 times on Facebook.
"Whereas the media spent weeks after the murders in Charleston discussing Dylann Roof’s racism and even drummed up an entire tangent against the Confederate flag–because in one photo Roof was seen with one–the race war that Flanagan wanted is of less interest to some in the media," wrote Breitbart's Warner Todd Huston in an editorial. "CNN, for instance, wrote an entire report focused on Flanagan’s mental state but mentioned his comments about race only once in a 1,500 word story. A CBS report never mentioned the shooter’s racial comments at all."
The same questions about media bias surfaced at Powerline, the long-running blog best known for its coverage of a CBS News story based on fraudulent evidence about President George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.
"If we are going to take seriously the ideology of lunatics, it must be a two-way street," wrote Powerline's John Hinderaker, an attorney in Minnesota. "Dylann Roof’s racist ideology was taken very seriously, to the point where Confederate flags came down across the South. In Flanagan’s case, the focus is on gun control rather than his equally racist ideology."
Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who blogs as Instapundit, asked the same question of the media.
"Will we see culture war unleashed against any organizations he might have supported?" wrote Reynolds. "Will Obama apologize for the behavior of one of his followers?"
According to close watchers of "backlash" politics, the questions about Flanagan resembled some sentiments from the extreme right. "White supremacists are using the Roanoke shootings to reinforce their claim that a race war is brewing and that whites are under attack, especially by black people, around the country," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This is related to the 'white genocide' myth that these people have been pushing of late."
Mainline conservatives were not going that far -- nor would they.
"No race is free from racially motivated bad actors," wrote J. Christian Adams, an attorney in the Bush administration's Department of Justice who has accused the Obama administration of dropping a solid case against black activists who were trying to suppress votes. "Until ABC News releases the full text of Flanagan’s hate manifesto, the public won’t get the full story of what motivated and animated him. Perhaps that provides a clue as to what might be in it and why ABC News, so far, has decided to hide the manifesto."