Who is ArcoJedi? A life-journeying Christian, ecstatic husband, proud father of four, web guru, all-around geek and Star Wars fanatic. Read these thoughts that he felt were worthwhile. Then wonder why he thought that way.

2017/10/02

The Role of the Media In Perpetuating Mass Shootings

Or... What Not to Do Next Time

There was once again another mass shooting today in America. And the blood hasn't even dried on the pavement this morning and there are already pundits of every conceivable flavor discussing the event and the larger issue of gun violence and gun control in this country. I tried really hard not to say anything. I quite purposely won't write about the details of yesterday's event or include names. Perhaps you'll see why. But I do want to talk about the controversy a bit.

First off, a preface. I think that all of the really divisive issues we have in this country are difficult problems to solve because maybe we've already solved all the "easy" problems. These more difficult issues have many layers and contributing factors from multiple angles. And some of them --racism, health care, drug addiction, the war on terror, global trade-- are so large and institutionally spread out that we can't even wrap our heads around them sometimes. Cannot-separate-forest-from-the-trees sort of problems? I'm thinking of a quote here...

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
― Albert Einstein

In addition to the complexity of these issues, in most cases there are big players on both sides with vested interest in the story being told their way. And emotion gets in the way of logic, and everyone gets more entrenched in their own beliefs and biases, we get defensive and things devolve into name-calling.

What I'm about to suggest regarding mass shootings and television news is not the sole contributing factor. But the news media does play some part in encouraging and glorifying the perpetrators of mass shootings. And they need to get their act together OR be made to using the clumsy hammer of legislation. Sure, we should probably have a rational discussion about gun control. Sure, we should probably have a rational discussion about mental health. But in addition, we should hold the news stations, anchors, producers and writers accountable for their role. And their contribution looks like this:

That's not pretty. There's more of the full program, and it's available in the UK via BBC iPlayer. For those that can't see either video, I'll summarize. Every time there's a mass shooting, everyone keeps asking why these events happen. But if you ask forensic psychiatrists, they know one answer to that question. There's always 24 hour coverage now, there's always big pictures of the suspect or suspects splashed in high definition, their social media accounts are raided for deeper meaning, their personal lives heavily scrutinized. In no time at all, the perpetrators become famous. And that's often what they want. I can't summarize it better than this section from the video:

We've had 20 years of mass murderers throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don't want to propagate more mass murderers

  • Don't start the story with sirens blaring
  • Don't have photographs of the killer
  • Don't make this 24/7 coverage
  • Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story
  • Try not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero
  • Do localize the story to the affected community
  • Make it as boring as possible in every other market

Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.

― Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Psychiatrist

When I saw the television news this morning and as I first learned of what had transpired overnight, I saw right away that they were doing everything wrong from this list. Sirens were blaring, the "record-setting" body count was the lead headline, there were shaky cell phone videos shown of the event from twitter streams,... and although they didn't yet have a picture of the perpetrator, they had the spouse's license photo. As an aside, since the spouse was out of the country during the shooting and had been ruled out as a person of interest, I'm not sure why that was relevant. Fast forward a few hours and there are now disheveled pictures of the perpetrator on Facebook and I'm sure other places. You could say that with social media, the responsibility the news organizations have has been spread around to all of us as well, but they could be the better example first and the rest of us would follow.

But as they say; if it bleeds, it leads.

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Lucas James Arconati

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