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How the media fuel flames of speculation by drawing conclusions from news patterns




Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms examine the burned ruins of the Mt. Zion AME Church July 1, 2015 in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Federal and state agencies are investigating a recent string of church fires in the South that have occured since the church massacre in nearby Charleston, South Carolina. Mt. Zion AME was burned twenty years ago by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms examine the burned ruins of the Mt. Zion AME Church July 1, 2015 in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Federal and state agencies are investigating a recent string of church fires in the South that have occured since the church massacre in nearby Charleston, South Carolina. Mt. Zion AME was burned twenty years ago by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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In the weeks following the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church dead, there has been a spate of fires at black churches in states across the South.

Most recently, the Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, SC burnt to the ground for the second time in its history. A fire in 1995 started by the Ku Klux Klan destroyed the church once already.

While no evidence exists to link the string of fires to arson or hate crimes, it hasn’t stopped the wave of speculation from news media that a connection exists between the churches burning down and the racial tension ignited by the shooting in Charleston.

What are some other patterns that the news media treat similarly? Is it fair to speculate on things like this or do you think it just fuels the rumor mill?

Guests:

Hub Brown, professor of broadcast and digital journalism and an associate dean at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University.

Kenny Irbysenior faculty member for visual journalism and diversity at the Poynter Institute.