In the national media today, James Tracy is the nutty professor. The whacko professor. The one-man argument for abolishing tenure.
A communications professor at Florida Atlantic University, Tracy is reaping the whirlwind for a blog post and a Sun Sentinel interview in which he questioned the official explanation of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
He's not sure it didn't happen -- "One is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place," he told the Sentinel's Mike Clary -- but he suggests the story of the mass murder may have been manipulated by the government, pulling the strings of complaisant news media, to turn it into a simple and digestible argument for gun control.
And if so, Tracy continues, Newtown could join the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and even the recent Aurora theater killings as incidents-turned-to-myths for social control.
This is explosive stuff in a country still traumatized by the murders of all those children in what should be the safest imaginable space. But Tracy persists with academic cold-blood in a way that his critics -- particularly the critics in Newtown -- find infuriating.
He says the government may have hired "crisis actors" to shape the developing story. He runs through dark hints of doctored and suppressed evidence, the factors that supposedly make Newtown shooter Adam Lanza preposterous as a suspect and says this: "One is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described it."
On his blog, Tracy doesn’t go quite that far. But a couple of things that he does say, blended with a couple of things that most reporters already know, suggest the professor may be trying to provoke a serious discussion and doesn't care if he is seen as a conspiracy-obsessed wing nut.
First of all, what all reporters know: The government absolutely will try to spin any story to its advantage, and that advantage usually includes inducing the public to believe and process information in a certain way.
Secondly, in the early hours of any big story, the government is usually the only source of the facts of what happened, to whom, when and why. Recent spectacular errors traced to seeking non-official sources too soon (as in the Gabby Giffords shooting, the Trayvon Martin case and the Supreme Court Affordable Care Act decision) have made editors more cautious than ever.
In that brief period after the gunshots but before the real reporting begins, government is the sole source of information. In James Tracy's world, it's opportunity to match its ancient motive.
As he might argue, the story is cast and the myth begins with the media "unquestioningly parroting official pronouncements and carefully instructing their audiences on exactly how to interpret the event."
And as Tracy might ask, if the government had manipulated the Newtown story to construct a fable for gun control, how would you know? What would be different?
Come to think of it, where did you learn about whatever you think you know?
And why do you insist it's the only truth?