Scapegoating Nancy Lanza

It is not the job of the journalist to point the finger at the dead.

Airing Feb. 19 on PBS’s Frontline is Raising Adam Lanza, a documentary about the mother of the boy who shot and killed 26 children and school administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. His mother Nancy was his first victim, he was his last.

Is Nancy Lanza the victim or is she to blame?

Reporter Alaine Griffin of the Hartford Courant collaborated on the documentary. She told NPR that question is for the viewers to answer for themselves. But should we answer that question when she isn’t around to defend herself?

Journalists help the public locate who to hold accountable. When the lights went out at Super Bowl XLVII, journalists kindly protected the reputations of Beyonce, Bane and Entergy New Orleans (the Superdome’s power company) by retweeting statements about the source of the problem. They do the same when politicians run for re-election and they tell you how they voted on major policy decisions.

What purpose does it serve to hold the dead accountable?

Griffin tells NPR that in the documentary, the public will learn of Nancy Lanza’s gun hobby. She collected guns and went to shooting ranges because she had developed the passion while growing up on a farm in N.H. Griffin says family members called Nancy a devoted mother who cared that her children were doing the right thing. The family members also said she shouldn’t have exposed Adam to guns or violent video games. But let’s face it – there are so many children who grow up with guns and violent video games and do not turn out to be the next Adam Lanza. How could she have known? Why is what Adam did on Dec. 14, 2012, Nancy Lanza’s fault?

Now watch this:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2335286016

That’s the preview for Tuesday’s documentary. Griffin says she wants you to decide for yourself, but PBS wants you to think that the Newtown massacre might have been prevented had Nancy Lanza seen the signs and found help for her son.

What about his brother or his father? What about his teachers? What about his doctors? What about the people who worked at the gun range Nancy frequented with him? What about the local grocery store owner who must’ve seen him, the other parents of his peers in school, the neighbors, the babysitter, the pastor, the mayor, the…

The documentary airs Tuesday. I’m interested to see how PBS deals with the blame factor. In response to the tweet from my classmate Christine D’Alessandro (@cmcdel) asking “Invasive? Too soon?” about the documentary, no, I don’t think so. Nancy Lanza’s dead and it’s been more than two months. That’s not the issue I raise when seeing what is already out there about this documentary.

I’m concerned that instead of this movie sparking real discussion about autism and societal awareness of children’s needs – regardless of whether Adam Lanza was autistic or not – that instead of that discussion, this movie will lead people to blame Nancy for being ignorant or for being a bad mother. The movie is, after all, titled Raising Adam Lanza and it’s marketed about being a documentary on Nancy.

A child isn’t raised by a mother. A child is raised by society. Does PBS ask those questions?

Because the point of continuing the news discussion of Newtown should be to move society forward, to keep this from happening again. And maybe the documentary will do that on Tuesday. But the marketing makes me not so sure.

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5 thoughts on “Scapegoating Nancy Lanza

  1. Clara – I couldn’t agree more. The documentary (or at least the publicity for it) appears to have a very clear slant that isn’t conducive to a serious discussion about mental illness.

  2. I agree with you that the documentary is missing the mark in a big way. We need to focus on the flaws in society that allowed this tragedy to happen, not the mistakes that Nancy Lanza may or may not have made as a parent. The media seems to be sensationalizing the narrative by making it more person-centered. They should instead be focusing on society-wide changes that can help prevent incidents like this in the future.

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