Hours after a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing at least 50 people and injuring at least 400 others, the media dubbed the massacre the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
But those of us who actually know history and still care about the facts know this technically isn’t true, at least not yet. Nevertheless, the truth didn’t stand in the way for a number of mainstream outlets.
“The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest mass shooting in US history,” read CNN’s headline. CNN’s “New Day” co-hosts also repeatedly referred to the shooting as the deadliest in American history. NBC News and ABC News also called the event the “deadliest” in U.S. history before later modifying their online stories to say that it was the deadliest in “modern American history.”
It’s correct to call the Las Vegas massacre the deadliest in modern American history, since the death toll has already surpassed that of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, which resulted in 49 deaths. It’s incorrect, however, to call the Vegas shooting the deadliest in all of American history, according to, well, history.
According to History.com, U.S. soldiers raided a Sioux Native American tribe in South Dakota. A gunshot was fired, although it’s not clear which side fired first. U.S. soldiers continued fire, beginning a barrage of bullets that killed at least 150 people Native Americans and U.S. soldiers.
This became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre (i.e. the actual deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history).
Needless to say, this number is much bigger than the at least 50 people who died in Las Vegas Sunday night.
It’s not to say, though, that with 400 people injured in Las Vegas, couldn’t become the deadliest mass shooting in American history. But, as of this moment, it’s not the deadliest.
This point is not meant to belittle the Las Vegas massacre. Rather, it is intended to point out the media’s tendency to jump to an extreme, even if the extreme isn’t necessarily true.
One might say that, depending on one’s definition of a “mass shooting,” Las Vegas was the deadliest. The problem with that argument, however, is that no matter how you look at Wounded Knee, at least 150 people still died. Whether it was by U.S. troops or a lone gunman is, frankly, irrelevant.
While it’s nice to see some outlets modifying their headlines to read that the Las Vegas was the deadliest attack in “modern” American history, consider this just one more reason to remain skeptical — especially when reading or watching breaking news coverage.