By Jacob Solis
Editor’s Note: THE WHOLE STORY is an occasional feature where The Nevada Sagebrush takes a comprehensive look at a story, be it local, national or otherwise, that developed quickly — often too quickly — causing some details to remain hazy to those of us not glued to the newswires. All the facts, from what we know to how we know it to what we don’t know, will be in one place.
On Sunday night, sandwiched between a full day of American pastimes, mostly church and professional football, President Barack Obama gave the third prime-time speech of his presidency. In the 13 minutes he spoke, Obama aimed to soothe a country rattled by a constant barrage of violence in the headlines.
It was just last week that two gunmen opened fire inside the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The attack stunned an America that has been on edge since the death of three after a shooting at a Colorado Springs, Colorado Planned Parenthood, the deaths of more than 120 in Paris, the downing of a passenger jet by bomb over the Sinai Peninsula and the deaths of nine after a shooting at a community college in Oregon.
But what drew them to attack and why? And as the story developed, how did the media and the nation as a whole handle the attack?
Here are the facts so far.
What we know
Two shooters, now identified as Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, broke up a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center with gunfire on Wednesday, Dec. 2. Of those who were shot, 14 were left dead and another 21 were wounded.
Some 75 people were attending the party, including Farook, who was a county employee. According to officials, he left the party in anger only to return later with Malik.
Armed with assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns and dressed in tactical gear, the pair fired between 65 and 70 shots and left three explosive devices around the room, though those devices failed to go off. Farook and Malik then fled, evading a some 300 police officers who had shown up as first responders.
Police later caught up with the two on the road, at which point they killed both Farook and Malik in a shootout.
The attack is being investigated as terrorism by the FBI, but officials have said that there is no link between the couple and international actors, nor is there any evidence that the two were part of a domestic terror cell. However, Malik did pledge her allegiance to ISIS over Facebook and ISIS has praised the attackers, saying also that the two were supporters of the organization.
How we know it
Initial coverage of the assault was subdued, if only because authorities had so little information up front. Everything — from the number of shooters, the nature of the attack, the motivation behind the attack and the location of the shooters — was a complete unknown.
Thus, in the days following the attack, information leaked slowly. It was not until Friday, Dec. 4, that the FBI began officially describing its probe as a terror investigation. Prior to the switch, whether or not the attack was terrorism or simply a work dispute was officially unknown, and many observers, including a cautious Obama, were hesitant to label it as a terror attack.
Later coverage of the attack drew the ire of the Internet as dozens of journalists were allowed into the killers’ apartment on Friday morning. The journalists from CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all broadcast live from inside the apartment and the MSNBC reporter, Kerry Sanders, held up social security cards and baby photos before the cameras, creating a spectacle that shocked professionals and casual observers alike.
While interviewing law analyst Harry Houck just minutes after the initial broadcast, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared at a loss, asking “It just strikes me as bizarre, what we’re seeing. Is … have you … I mean, is this common?”
The answer to his question was a resounding no.
“Anderson, I’m having chills down my spine with what I’m seeing here,” Houck said, in disbelief.
MSNBC later issued an apology for showing sensitive documents on air, but other outlets, including CNN, were unapologetic in the aftermath.
What we don’t know
As has been the standard after every one of these most recent attacks, the public policy arena remains on uncertain footing. Even though Obama took to the airwaves to reassure the American people and put on a calm face, his speech was notably lacking any new policy initiatives.
Instead, the speech served more as a reaffirmation of his current policies regarding the destruction of ISIS. Currently, the U.S. is leading a coalition that has repeatedly targeted ISIS operations in Syria through airstrikes. The U.S. has also put a small amount of special forces in the area, though the Obama administration has said that these troops are in a training role and won’t see combat.
This policy has been criticized by more hawkish politicians on Capitol Hill who’ve called for a greater U.S. military presence in the region. These critics have said that the only way for ISIS to be destroyed is through the use of boots on the ground. Even so, many politicians remain wary of large troop deployments, especially after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the campaign trail, Republican candidates have largely been opposed to the Obama administration’s current policies regarding Syrian refugees, with everyone from Jeb Bush to Donald Trump calling for increased restrictions.
However, it was Trump who seemed to cross a line on Monday when he called for all muslims to be barred from entering the United States. His move shocked American muslims and political experts, and it drew especially sharp criticism from other candidates within the GOP field.
“This is just more of the outrageous divisiveness that characterizes his every breath and another reason why he is entirely unsuited to lead the United States,” said Ohio Governor and GOP hopeful John Kasich.
Moreover, the broader question still lingers of how law enforcement officials will handle the radicalization of Americans by organizations like ISIS. Farook and Malik were radicalized online, according to the FBI. While government officials have urged those in the Muslim community to stress the peaceful aspects of Islam, it remains unknown whether or not these internal efforts will have a broader impact.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.