Nine days have passed since eight people were killed at three massage parlors in downtown Atlanta, and six days since television host Trevor Noah declared the motive for the shooting was, undeniably, racism.
“Don’t tell me that this thing had nothing to do with race,” Noah declared on his webcast “The Daily Show,” on March 17.
The suspect in custody, Robert Long, has taken responsibility for all three shootings, in which six of the eight killed were Asian women. Long told officials he has a sex addiction and saw the massage parlors as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” according to Capt. Jay Baker from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, which responded to the shooting. This didn’t stop Noah, along with practically every mainstream media outlet, from calling it a racially-motivated attack.
“Even if the shooter says that he thinks it has to do with his sex addiction, you can’t disconnect this violence from the racial stereotypes that people attach to Asian women,” Noah continued. “This guy blamed a specific race of people for his problems, and then murdered them because of it. If that’s not racism, then the word has no meaning.”
Noah even criticized Atlanta police for advancing Long’s narrative by saying the shootings “did not appear to be” motivated by racism. Who better to know the motive of an attack than the police officials who investigate it?
TV hosts will bluster, but Noah wasn’t the only one to pin racism on the tragedy. Journalists and public figures immediately followed suit. On March 19, President Joe Biden condemned the “attack on Asian-Americans” and “anti-Asian racism.” ABCNews ran an article Sunday titled “Atlanta shooting and the legacy of misogyny and racism against Asian women.” From the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Atlanta spa shootings highlight sexism and racism, scholars say.”
When we, as journalists, assign a motive to a crime before the police have, we have forgotten the very first principle of our job: to report facts. When we declare a motive that contradicts what police have reported, we have surrendered any claims of truth-telling to our preference for a broader narrative.
If we’re changing the story to fit a narrative, we are no longer journalists; we have become activists.