My guess is that most readers of this blog hadn’t been born in November 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated, or April 1968 for the assassination of Martin Luther King, or November of that same year when Bobby Kennedy was killed. The media had a political field day with these three tragedies, and it is terrible to see the same thing happening once again with the assault on congresswoman Giffords.
The initial narrative about JFK’s assassination was that it occurred in Dallas, in a ‘climiate of hate’ in big bad conservative Texas. Dan Rather was just getting started, and reported that children in the Dallas schools cheered when they heard about it (actually they were told that school was closing early — just as medical school did that day for me). Dan later went on to bigger and better things, with a forged letter about Bush Jr’s deferral from the Texas National Guard hoping to swing a presidential election with it. Only later did it come out that Lee Oswald was a committed leftist.
The two assassinations of ’68 were played the same way. America, violent America. The fact that Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy because of his support of Isreal didn’t receive much play. Interestingly, he wasn’t Muslim, but Christian.
Things haven’t changed much. Today the New York Times put an article “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics” on page 1. This, long before we have any idea what really motivated the killer. Politically motivated assassins don’t usually kill 9 year olds and shoot 20+ people. Sarah Palin has already been blamed.
To the mainstream press with an agenda, a tragedy is too good to waste. If you think I’m kidding, imagine the press coverage had the shooter been Muslim. Actually you don’t even have to imagine it. Just look at the mainstream coverage of the killings at Fort Hood in November 2009.
Things are nonetheless better now. Back in the 60’s there was basically only the mainstream press — CBS, NBC, ABC, the New York Times etc. etc. It was less obvious that what they were publishing was narrative not news. They weren’t even called narratives back then. There is now a large and ferocious blogosphere presently, ready to fact check and contest. It’s why we have jury trials and prosecuting and defense attorneys, and just let them slug it out. Hopefully truth (and justice) emerge.
All we can do now is hope for the congresswoman. Speaking as a former neurologist, what I’ve heard so far sound extremely grim. “”This was a devastating wound that traveled the length of the brain on the left side,” Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma director atUniversity Medical Center in Tucson, told reporters, according to ABC.” Assuming that this is truer than the initial report on NPR that she had died, it’s very, very bad. 90 – 95% of right handed people have their speech center in the left hemisphere (left side of the brain), as do 50% of left handed individuals. The surgeons had to remove half her skull (on the left side) for the brain swelling which they know will ensue after severe trauma like this. The swelling is usually maximal 24 – 72 hours after the injury. The swelling can push on the brainstem and stop breathing and depress the circulatory reflexes. Swelling can raise intracranial pressure so high that blood can’t get in (this is why they removed half her skull) with subsequent death of the entire brain. One can always hope for miracles (like Phineas Gage — look it up).
Back to matters scientific in future posts, but I thought some of you might be interested in how it was back than, and the parallels with today.