For most of the day yesterday, we here at Shanghaiist were wondering if we should post anything about the horrific mass shooting at Virginia Tech, a university in the United States. On the surface, the answer should have been an easy “no” — Blacksburg, Virginia, is nowhere near Shanghai. But news started to trickle in about the suspected killer: He was Asian, possibly Chinese. And then, yesterday morning, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed posted a story labeled “exclusive” that started out like this:
Authorities were investigating whether the gunman who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history was a Chinese man who arrived in the United States last year on a student visa.
The 24-year-old man arrived in San Francisco on United Airlines on Aug. 7 on a visa issued in Shanghai, the source said. Investigators have not linked him to any terrorist groups, the source said.
The original link to that story now leads to an updated version that says the suspected killer was South Korean — in the U.S. since 1992 — but you can read the original report here. The updated version now includes this paragraph:
The initial investigation had led law enforcement authorities to a preliminary suspect who was a Chinese national, accompanied by details and a description. The man was placed on the suspect list before fingerprints could be verified. The list in turn was distributed to law enforcement officials via a national network in place to check on possible terrorism in the United States.
Reporting breaking news is never easy, especially a story of this magnitude. Tips and leads sometimes prove to be wrong, and in today’s 24-hour news cycle, readers and viewers often learn about new facts and developments at the same rapid pace as the reporters. In an apparent effort to be on top of the story, many news organizations cited that initial Sun-Times report in their coverage, leading to headlines like “Report: Gunman Was Chinese National” and “Shanghai student eyed in university shooting” (this story, too, has since been changed and updated with new information). The Chinese news media, incidentally, was covering the story along with everyone else, and some outlets did mention the gunman could be a Chinese national with a student visa. (We should point out that just because someone has a student visa issued in Shanghai, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are from Shanghai — only a few cities issue student visas.)
Anyway, Shanghaiist decided not to post anything yesterday (other than some links) about the mass shooting. There just wasn’t enough good information out there that made it pertinent to our readership, and regardless, whatever information there was could easily be found almost anywhere else on the internet.
So why post today? Well, overnight we received a forwarded email from someone going by the name “CBS Chinaman” (CBS, in this instance, stands for “a Chinese born in Shanghai”). He or she had sent this email to editors at the Chicago Sun-Times and wanted to share it with Shanghaiist readers (the writer said he or she also sent it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and Xinhua). We don’t necessarily agree with all of the points made below — the calls for resignation, for example — and we would have preferred the writer use his or her real name, but some of the arguments are indeed valid, and we thought it fair to publish this person’s thoughts on the matter. We imagine CBS Chinaman is not the only person who feels this way.
Here is the email:
To: Chicago Sun-Times
Mr. Michael Cooke and Mr. Donald Hayner,
My deepest sorrow to all those who lost their precious lives in the Virginia
Tech campus massacre.
In the meantime, I am also shocked to see your lack of professionalism and
morality in finger-pointing a Chinese student from Shanghai as the murderer
in the Virginia Tech campus without any basis. The whole world had assumed
(thanks for your reckless report) that the massacre was done by a
24-yeare-old cold-blood Chinese holding a F-1 visa. Now that the final
investigation shows that this horrible thing was not done by a Chinese, you
have literally slapped your own face in front of the whole world. Your
recklessness was not only an insult to Chinese people, but also to those who
lost their loved ones in this tragedy. Shame on you Chicago Sun-Times!
You should have realized that this is an unprecedented tragedy in history
and every word you said regarding who did it would matter to the families of
the victims and to the whole world, but you chose to recklessly “identify” a
specific person with specific racial and country (and even city) background
without any firm evidence; you could have hold off from releasing your
hearsay as the killer is already dead and with the body found, the
authorities will sure identify who he is soon, but you chose to be the first
media to spread the rumors that “a Chinese did it”; you could have clarified
that there is no evidence yet when the whole world is making conclusions by
citing your news report, but you cowardly kept silent.
I, as a Chinese citizen from Shanghai, condemn Chicago Sun-Times’
recklesness, and request it to formally apologize to the Chinese people who
were hurt, unfairly treated or affected as a result of your misleading
report, and demand that Micheal Sneed to resign from Chicago Sun-Times, as
his reckless behavior apparently shows his is not suitable as a journalist,
I also request that Zach Finken to resign from his post as news editor, as
for sure he cannot tell right from wrong and allowed publication of Sneed’s
I look forward to hearing back from you.
CBS (a Chinese born in Shanghai)