A horrific act of violence committed by a suspect with a Muslim name is typically catnip for the news media, which can be quick to assign radical Islam as the motive despite concrete evidence. But in the case of the Chattanooga shooting of four Marines on Thurdsay, much of the media demonstrated surprising restraint.
The shooter's religious motivation was part of the conversation, but most print and television outlets were cautious about how they approached the story. ABC News, for example, devoted much of its evening broadcast to exploring whether the suspect, naturalized U.S. citizen Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, could have been a "lone wolf," yet the outlet also featured interviews from those who knew him as an "all-American kid," painting a fuller picture of the shooter.
CNN.com reported Thursday on remarks made by FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward Reinhold, who said in a press conference that the FBI had yet to find anything tying the suspect to any international terrorist organization. "We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism -- whether it was domestic, international -- or whether it was a simple, criminal act," said Reinhold.
"A key detail will help them make that determination: finding out the suspect's motive," the CNN.com report read, demonstrating that the link to terrorism was far from clear.
But some outlets did latch onto comments from Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, who said in the same press conference that "we are treating this as an act of domestic terrorism."
In live coverage of the event Thursday afternoon, Fox News anchor Catherine Herridge falsely reported that ISIS had prior knowledge of the shooting, based on a misreading of the time stamp of the tweet.
Herridge thought the tweet, from an ISIS-affiliated account that referenced the event with the hashtag #Chattanooga, was posted before the attack. Herridge based the assumption on a screengrab taken by someone outside the U.S. eastern time zone. Even after the time of the tweet was challenged, Herridge continued to push the link between radical Islamic terrorist groups and the attack in Tennessee.
Later on Thursday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly again hinted at the link to ISIS -- and had presidential candidate Donald Trump on the show, who blasted President Obama for not identifying Islamic terrorism as a legitimate threat to the U.S. He added that the president was "too politically correct about Islam," especially in his response to the shooting.
'Reminds Me Of Tzarnaev'
CNN news anchor Carol Costello also implied Friday morning that Abdulazeez may have followed the same path as Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
"This guy actually reminds me of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev," said Costello. "Good-looking guy. Everybody liked him. He was popular in high school. Very well educated. Both of them were wrestlers, and then something happened."
A blog that may have been created by the shooter was also the subject of speculation late Thursday. In its only two posts from July 13, the blog was peppered with religious terms and discussed the limits of the physical world.
Some in the media, like Politico reporter Marc Caputo, suggested that radical Islam should be a subject of national conversation, just as racism became one in the wake of the Charleston, North Carolina, shooting at a black church in June.
We should talk about racism after Charleston. And we should talk about radical Islam after Chattanooga.
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) July 17, 2015