Friday, June 19, 2015

"The Media and Mass Shootings" - By Barbara Martin

Editor's Note: The following was originally published in December of 2012 in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Massachusetts. It was written by the late Barbara Martin and seems to be just as relevant this week as it was two and a half years ago, so I'm republishing it today...

I can remember watching sports on television in years past, and every so often an overzealous (and maybe intoxicated) fan would run onto the field. The crowd would cheer, and the network cameras would follow the fan around until he inevitably got clobbered by security officers. Admittedly it was fun to watch. Who would turn away, right?

As time went by, there were more and more fans running onto ballfields. Eventually the networks realized they were feeding the problem. The fans were seeking attention, and the networks were obliging them by televising their one moment of glory. These days, the networks turn the cameras away when a fan runs onto the ballfield. And not surprisingly, there are far fewer crazy fans running onto fields these days.

We have had a series of mass shootings in our country beginning with Columbine in 1999, and continuing with Virginia Tech in 2007. But we have now had three new attacks in just under two years (Tucson, Aurora, and now Newtown). The trend is not good. And what common factors can we see in all of these events? These attacks were all premeditated and well-planned. And all of them occurred in the age of around-the-clock cable news coverage.

Clearly, there were mental health issues involved in all of these cases. I am no psychologist, but it seems pretty clear that these mass killers want a grand spectacle, some sort of sick notoriety from their acts. They want to be famous, and it turns out the American media is happy to oblige them. As with the fans running onto sports fields, the American media are providing a platform for mentally ill killers to sensationalize their crimes.

The media’s coverage of the Newtown massacre was an absolute circus. In the first hours after the shooting, major media outlets got many of the basic facts wrong. It was reported that the killer had a child in the school. It was reported that the killer’s mother worked at the school. It was reported that there was a second shooter. The media reported at one point that the killer was 24-year-old Ryan Lanza and posted his photo on television and the internet. All of this reporting was wrong. Horribly wrong.

Yet despite being quite incompetent at their jobs, the media (particularly cable media) were enthusiastic about quickly pointing a finger at those who were supposedly responsible for this atrocity: the school should have had better security, our country should have better gun laws, etc., etc.

It is time that the American media stop and take a look in the mirror, and understand that it is part of the problem. A big part of the problem. Why is it that we have had three mass shootings in less than two years? In part, it is because these mentally disturbed killers know the media will fulfill their twisted desire for fame and notoriety.

I am not suggesting that there be no coverage of such events in the future. Hopefully there will be no more of these events. But if there is another tragedy, the media should treat it as such. And I would specifically recommend that the media not publish the name or photo of the assailant. The media should deprive the killer of his notoriety and simply refer to him as “a 20-year-old male assailant,” as was the case in the Newtown attack.

I am guessing the media would object to this limitation, but it is already voluntarily showing restraint in other areas. Recently, many press outlets have decided against publishing the names of the victims of sexual crimes. Presumably this step was taken to protect the privacy and dignity of the victim. If the privacy of a single victim is sufficient reason to withhold information from the public, wouldn’t the prevention of future mass shootings be an even better reason?

It is unlikely in this age of social media that the identity of a mass murderer could remain completely unknown, but the mainstream American media could easily adopt an industry standard that a mass killer’s name or likeness not be broadcast.

Other steps should be taken as well. Facts should be verified before they are reported. There should be no commentary, and especially no political commentary, for a long period afterward. And the entire event should be treated with dignity toward the victims and their families, and not as a media event. Public officials should utilize written press releases, and memorial services of any kind should be private.

These horrific events should be covered in a sober and objective manner, not sensational or political. The American media have it exactly backward, and it needs to change before more innocent people get hurt.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Posts

/* Track outbound links in Google Analytics */