In the aftermath of the March 27 Nashville Christian elementary school shooting by a reportedly transgender shooter that left six dead, there was clear bias by omission on display — not just in the media, but also from our president.
When past mass shootings took place inside religious institutions, President Joe Biden mentioned the victims’ religious beliefs and often mentioned hatred against their communities — but not so in the case of Nashville.
Biden has yet to mention the Christian faith of the Nashville victims or point to any supposed hatred against this group, despite similar remarks he has made following other shootings. Days later, however, Biden did release a Trans Day of Visibility statement accusing “MAGA extremists” of “advancing hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target transgender kids and their families,” likely referring to bills that would limit transgender medical treatments for minors or restrict children’s presence at drag shows. The Nashville shooting left three 9-year-olds and three faculty members in their 60s dead.
Media outlets on the left did not highlight Biden's omission of that fact that the shooter targeted a Christian school, though outlets on the right, including The Daily Wire (Right bias), IJR (Lean Right), The Federalist (Right bias) and Breitbart (Right), did. Most outlets also omitted that Biden himself is a Catholic.
Some outlets, like Newsweek (Center), covered Biden joking about ice cream before making his first remarks on the shooting, and some Center outlets and many of those on the right also covered Biden joking about disagreeing with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) when asked if Christians were targeted.
Biden’s Past Comments on Mass Shootings at Religious Institutions
The Biden administration did not release an official written statement on the Nashville shooting on the White House website, nor has it mentioned the Christian faith of those targeted. It did release a proclamation decreeing that flags be put at half-staff, but did not mention the name of the school where the shooting took place.
Biden sent two tweets, one calling for an assault weapons ban but not mentioning Nashville, and another saying in part, “As a nation, we owe the families in Nashville more than our prayers. We owe them action.”
On March 31, four days later, the administration did release a statement and a fact sheet on Transgender Day of Visibility, along with social media posts. Biden received criticism from those who saw it as tone-deaf and one-sided to acknowledge Trans Day of Visibility but not the shooting victims or their faith.
Biden did not omit the faith of shooting victims for previous mass shootings that occurred at religious institutions. Biden could be holding back in the Nashville case due to authorities not having released the killer’s motive or manifesto, but he's been comfortable attributing to shootings to unconfirmed motives before.
Just weeks ago, for instance, Biden was comfortable attributing the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting to an unconfirmed motive and the targeting of a group — anti-Asian hatred — despite authorities saying the killer was motivated by sex addiction, not racism. Biden commemorated the 2-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shooting by stating, “we are determined to end the scourge of gun violence, anti-Asian hate, and all forms of racism and extremism in this Nation.”
In 2022, Biden was also not shy in mentioning the religion of victims of the attack on the 2012 Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which also resulted in six deaths. The motive of the shooter was unconfirmed, with Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards reportedly stating, "I don't know why, and I don't know that we'll ever know, because when he died, that died with him what his motive was or what he was thinking." But Biden released a statement marking 10 years since the shooting, saying it was “the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in our nation’s history. Tragically, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have only become more common over the past decade. It is up to all of us to deny this hate safe harbor. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America.”
In the case of the Nashville shooting, the only hatred or targeting of a group Biden mentioned in the days following was not of Christians, but of transgender individuals. He also has so far not mentioned that the shooting took place in a Christian school.
Back in 2021, both President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris released separate statements on the day marking the three years since the shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue that left 11 people dead. They both made the victims’ faith and hatred against the group a central focus in their remarks. According to law enforcement, suspect Robert Bowers made anti-Semitic comments during the shooting. Again, Biden was comfortable mentioning the victims' faith.
"The attack was the deadliest act of antisemitism in our nation’s history," Biden stated in part. "It was an assault on members of the Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash congregations, the American Jewish community, and our country. And it was a reminder that hate never goes away, it only hides; and if we give hate oxygen, it can consume."
"We must always stand up and speak out against antisemitism with clarity and conviction, and rally against the forces of hate in all its forms, because silence is complicity,” Biden continued. He also stated that his administration would be “laying out our country’s first-ever comprehensive strategy to address domestic terrorism, signing legislation aimed at strengthening our efforts to counter unlawful acts of hate.”
Kamala Harris, for her part, called the synagogue shooting an “unspeakable act fueled by antisemitic hate.”
It’s possible that commenters thought that this was Biden’s official statement on the Nashville shooting, as the shooting was still fresh in everyone's minds and a major part of the news cycle that entire week. It hit a raw nerve with conservative commenters who wanted the president to acknowledge the Nashville shooting's impact on their community.
Graham Allen, host of “Dear America Podcast,” tweeted at Biden in response to the trans day post, “When will you stand with Christians as they were violently targeted and murdered?!”
In response to a separate Biden tweet that day in which he stated, “Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know,” Jenna Ellis, a conservative lawyer who was part of Donald Trump’s legal team, tweeted, “Still not a word about the Christians whose children were murdered?”
While Biden did not hold a press conference or issue an official White House statement, he did mention the shooting while delivering remarks at the Small Business Administration's Women's Business Summit in the East Room of the White House on March 27, the day of the shooting.
Some media outlets, including Newsweek, focused coverage on how Biden joked about ice cream at the beginning of the remarks. After this, he stated he wanted to “speak very briefly about the school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee.” Calling it “sick,” “heartbreaking,” and a “family’s worst nightmare,” he then pivoted to a call for gun control, stating, “We need to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping this nation apart” and calling on Congress to pass his proposed “assault weapons” ban.
Right-Rated Media More Likely to Cover Biden’s Omission, Joke
Most media outlets on the left did not cover Biden’s omission of the victims’ Christian faith.
Some outlets on the right, including The Daily Wire (Right bias), IJR (Lean Right), and Breitbart (Right) predictably did focus on this angle, with The Daily Wire running the headline, “Has The White House Even Said The Word ‘Christian’ Since The Nashville School Shooting?” IJR’s headline read, “There Is One Word the White House Has Refused to Say Since the Nashville School Shooting.” Relatedly, The Federalist criticized Amazon for its statement on the matter, saying “Amazon joined a growing chorus of voices pretending transgender people, not Christians, were the actual victims of the mass shooting.”
An op-ed in New York Post Opinion (Right bias) highlighted Biden’s omission, stating, “Biden and his White House just kept pumping out their trans propaganda right into the weekend. They said not one word about Christians all week, despite the fact that the Nashville shooting appears to have been a hate crime targeted at a Christian school; we can’t yet definitely assert the motive because the killer’s so-called “manifesto” is being kept from us, unlike similar documents in other massacres.”
Outlets in the center and on the right, including New York Post (Lean Right), CNS News (Right bias), Fox News (Right), RealClearPolitics (Center), Newsweek (Center), Western Journal (Not Rated), and Christian Post (Lean Right), covered an exchange Biden had with reporters early in the aftermath of the shooting in which he joked after he was asked by a reporter if he believes Christians were targeted in the shooting:
"I — I have no idea," Biden said.
"(Republican Sen.) Josh Hawley believes they were. What do you say to that?" the reporter responded.
"Well, I probably don't, then," Biden said.
"Probably don’t then," the reporter repeated.
"No, I — I’m joking. No, I have no idea," Biden said.
LGBTQ Nation (Left bias) took a different angle on this, running the headline, “Conservatives are seething because Joe Biden mocked Josh Hawley’s Nashville shooting theory.” While The Guardian (Lean Left) noted in a headline that the Tennessee governor “failed to mention gun control” in his remarks following the shooting, they did not run similar coverage of Biden’s religious omission. USA Today (Lean Left) covered Chris Christie’s response to Biden’s ice cream remarks.
Media outlets on the right were more likely to cover the White House’s omission of the Christian faith of those targeted in the Tennessee mass shooting. If you only read news from one side of the political spectrum, you could miss key details and perspectives.
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by News Editor Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias) and Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).