Rhetorical analysis of Chu’s thoughts on the media’s correlation between white male shooters and mental illness


It’s not about mental illness: The big lie that always follows mass shootings by white males

By: Arthur Chu; Published: June 18, 2015 Featured By: Salon


Analysis by: Caroline Nice

Arthur Chu, a writer for news media outlet, Salon, published a fiery editorial detailing his thoughts on the public continuously blaming mass shootings committed by white males on mental illness, rather than “race, guns, hatred and terrorism.” He believes that “toxic masculinity, white supremacy, misogyny, and racism” are the real issues behind the majority of hate crimes caused by Caucasian men, not mental illness. Pointing fingers at mental illness is a way for people to weasel out of having a necessary discussion on these fatal issues and gives killers a crutch to place the blame for their actions on.

Chu struck at kairotic moment in time to intervene in the media’s conversation on mass shootings, being that his editorial was published only one day after Dylan Roof fired on African American members of a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The reader can easily pick up on the strategic pathos intertwined in his writing by the relevancy and charge behind his words. Chu utilizes fallacious, emotive language to force feed his opinion to his audience. By claiming that he “grits his teeth” at the mention of the popular phrase “the real issue is mental illness,” considering it a “goddamn cop-out,” “terrifying nonsense,” and “ignorant bullshit,” Chu fills in heated language and name calling for logical explanations that support his opinions. This piece is filled with emotion, especially in light of the author’s fiery language and the heat behind the relevant topic. It appeals to pathos of the audience, causing them to more so feel the passion in his argument rather than think through it logically.

Right off the bat, Chu proclaims that “we barely know anything about the suspect in the Charleston atrocity,” so how could we assume he is mentally ill? This makes logical sense considering the shooting happened only the day before the article was published. However, Chu continues to insert faulty statistics to back up his claim that the majority of  violent individuals do not have a mental illness diagnosis. The statistics he highlighted are not stated within the writing, but are referenced through a link. If the reader takes the extra time to look at these actual statistics, he or she will notice that they are extremely out of date, going all the way back to 1966. 2006 is the most recent date, being near to a decade old. He then goes on to claim that he never actually hears anyone with an “informed opinion on mental health” affirm that mental illness is to blame, only the media. By appealing to an anonymous authority, Chu makes a hasty generalization about what professionals in the mental health realm have to say. He fails to tells us who they specifically are and what their input is on the subject.

The picture of the three shooters above is the same one that Chu published in his article. These three men are some of the most recent, well known shooters in the United States. Their violent actions were blamed on mental illness by the media. Chu insists that white, male shooters are the only ones who are labeled as mentally ill when in reality, the racism, misogynism, white supremacy, etc.., taught by society, are more so to blame. However, notice how Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, pictured on the right is not white. He is Asian. Chu chips away at his own argument when he argues that only the actions of white, male shooters are blamed on mental illness, when he chose to picture and write about Seung-Hui Cho, and Asian, male shooter. What is especially ironic is that Chu himself is an Asian male. Either he identifies himself and the Asian race as Caucasian, or choose to ignore or overlook this prominent detail.

Another internal contradiction made by Chu consists of his opinions on the nature of referring to a killer as mentally ill. He considers this as a way for the public to “ignore anything they say about their own actions and motivations.” If someone is mentally ill than they are not deemed fully responsible for their thoughts and actions because their mind does not function properly. When we discredit the words of a supposedly mentally ill killer, according to Chu, it “gives us the authority to say we know them better than we know themselves.” Chu contradicts his own statement when he tells us that he considers the murderers’ crimes as “an attempt to get news coverage for their cause” and “to create fear within an entire population.” This is a self-contradictory statement because he claims to know the murderer better than the murderer knows himself, which is exactly what he scorned the media for doing.

While attempting to get his point across, Chu is a perpetrator of fallacious behavior. By making his arguments through emotive language, he sometimes fails to compose successful premises to logically back up his opinions. His use of outdated information, hasty generalizations, and internal contradictions take away from the merit of his argument. Without considering whether you think his opinion is right or wrong, one thing that I think most everyone can agree upon is the deceiving nature of Chu’s argument.  


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