Two days after 26 people were massacred in a Texas church, the incident — one of the worst mass shootings in American history — had nearly vanished from the major cable news networks. The sharp drop-off in the number of “mentions” of the Sutherland Springs shooting on the networks, as charted by TV News Archive, is the latest indication that rampage gun attacks aren’t generating the kind of sustained news coverage they once did.
The online archive houses closed-caption transcripts from dozens of local and national news channels, all searchable via an online portal, Television Explorer, which allows users to type in a keyword or phrase to see how often a subject is mentioned.
On November 5, the day of the massacre, 0.26 percent of all sentences spoken on CNN, CNBC, FOX, FOX Business, MSNBC, and Bloomberg made reference to the Sutherland Springs shooting or the gunman, Devin Kelley, according to an analysis by The Trace. By November 14, mentions of the shooting had nearly flatlined on those six networks.
A previous Trace analysis of coverage of the massacre in Las Vegas on October 1 — which killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others, making it the deadliest shooting in modern American history — found that mentions of the shooting on those six networks dropped off within six days, and had all but vanished from coverage within two weeks.
The shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs was still the fifth-deadliest shooting in the nation’s history, and the deadliest mass shooting ever recorded in Texas. It took place in a church in a tight-knit rural town that rarely sees gun violence. A third of the victims were children, and three generations of one family were wiped out.
Kelley was a convicted domestic abuser who had been ejected from the Air Force for attacking his ex-wife and fracturing his young stepson’s skull. The November 5 shooting was believed to be motivated in part by a rift between Kelley and the family of his second wife; her grandmother was among those killed in the church.
One gun-reform advocate, concerned by the fact that mass shootings slip from the news cycle so quickly, had hoped that the particularly tragic details of the massacre would ensure that Sutherland Springs was discussed longer than other mass shootings that featured an element of domestic violence.
“Up until now, the media would lose interest in a shooting once they found out it was a domestic violence incident and not a ‘real’ crime,” Amanda Johnson, a member of the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told the Associated Press a week after the massacre. “Sutherland Springs is a game changer.”
Judging by an analysis of the cable news coverage, it wasn’t.