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Media Bites: Why Words Fail Us in Wake of Newton Shooting

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In the aftermath of Friday's monstrosity, I know a lot of us have been seeking places of comfort and solace in which to escape the cruel madness of this vulgar, stupid world. I'm not sure the Canadian editorial pages would necessarily top anyone's list of obvious destinations, but for the time being, you could probably do worse.

Newtown-related editorials largely dominated the opinions sections of the nation's papers this weekend -- not that I imagine you expected much less. When 20 children lie dead 11 days before Christmas, after all, one suspects it's a little hard to muster much raw emotion for a couple over-budget F-35s or Justin Trudeau's latest galavant.

Yet for all the media's undeniably genuine grief and horror, it revealed much about the depressingly routine nature of schoolyard massacres ("yet another" sighs the Toronto Star) that one of the most consistent press narratives to emerge in Newtown's aftermath was a series of frank admissions that Canada's commentators have simply run out of fresh, insightful things say about the senseless slaughter of children.

Basically, summarizes National Post opinions chief Jon Kay, "when a crime is this horrible and this senseless, there is nothing that can be said -- at least, nothing beyond the sentimental words rolled out in the aftermath of similar tragedies." Indeed, agree his competitors at the Globe and Mail editorial board, at this point we've pretty much "exhausted adjectives to describe our horror and revulsion."

The two papers ultimately elect to avoid redundancy by brazenly embracing it; both of their lead editorials are simply an unapologetic collection of their most poignant quotes from commentary on massacres past.

Ordinarily, this is where I'd make some crack about how such synchronicity highlights a glaringly mutual deficiency of creativity on the part of our country's two largest national dailies, but these times are not ordinary. I think anyone who's so much attempted to compose a empathetic tweet about the Newtown bloodbath without spitting up a mountain of maudlin cliches can sympathize with the media's impossibly grim task of offering unique and eloquent reactions to an event that doesn't exactly excite the intellectual juices.

See, the problem, says the Ottawa Citizen, is that words are "impossibly flimsy tools" when you're tying to "make sense" of an evil crime our modest brains and limited language aren't really designed to explain. Heck, even President Obama's emotional address to the nation, notes the Globe's Elizabeth Renzetti, brazenly cribbed its most touching line (the part about hugging Sasha and Malia "a little tighter") from a speech he gave in the aftermath of the Batman shooting a mere six months prior.

"The fact that this same kind of gun violence happened so recently that the President was recycling a phrase takes away some of the gravitas of his words," says Elizabeth, though it's clear her ideal solution to this particular dilemma has little to do with a larger White House thesaurus.

The press' massacre exasperation isn't just limited to phraseology, of course. Even their attempts to find the political angle on Friday's mess -- usually the "journalist's first selfish thought," in the words of Jon Kay -- seem half-hearted at best.

Yeah yeah, whatever, America weird, guns bad, NRA dumb, yadda yadda, says Jamie Weinman in Maclean's, but let's be frank, we've all watched these things often enough to know that merely pointing this stuff out for the umpteenth time won't change much. A "few days will go by, there will be some words about guns and mental health facilities but not much action," he predicts pessimistically, before offering the equally dejected premonition that any meaningful regulation of killer firearms is "simply not going to happen" in 2012 America. So if the world's "reaction is so depressed," well, blame reality.

Not that gun control really deserves all this unadulterated idolization in the first place, cautions Chris Selley at the Post. After all, Newtown took place in Connecticut, a blue state with generally liberal-friendly gun laws, and, well, look how well that worked out.

The real issue, in his mind, is not that gun control is bad or good, just that it's simply "alarmingly impractical." Even if you melted down half the firearms in the USA and made them into Monopoly thimbles, for instance, "killers would still have access to a significant arsenal" -- around 155 million if we believe CNN's numbers. That's a long way from the "zero guns" an estimate Emma Teitel at Maclean's assumes would be necessary to wipe out gun violence "altogether." So maybe it's time to start working on that B plan.

Just not a "prohibited persons" gun registry, adds Postie Matt Gurney -- that probably won't work either.

But let's not get too dreary here. Unlike some of his more dour pundit colleagues, Selley is still quick to remind that overall, "American society is not, in fact, en route to hell in a handbasket." Murders are down, shootings are down, and even gun ownership is down.

To this we can easily add that U.S. school violence in particular is at a 20-year low, not to mention that the odds that anyone's child will perish as the result of on an on-campus murder spree remains -- as it always has -- almost unfathomably infinitesimal.

I don't know if this string of stats particularly raises your spirits. But there's really not much else to offer at the moment.

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