Saturday, July 21, 2012

Does the Media Give Murderers What They Want? (Updated)

I have always been interested in the media and broadcasting.  Back in the late 1980s, when I transferred to the University of Kansas from Seattle Pacific University, I had intended to major in journalism.  Unfortunately, life kind of got in the way, and I never had chance to do much beyond one broadcasting class at KU--taught be a teacher who made little attempt to conceal her sexual relationship with one of her young broadcasting students.  (Truth be known, I also couldn't stand living in the Midwest.  An hour from the ocean and mountains is too far for me now.)

One area of interest has been the interaction between law enforcement and the media.  Back when I was spending a lot of time with the police (for career development reasons), I quickly realized that officers tend not to think too highly of the press; they're right up there with defense attorneys, I suppose.  Law enforcement often seems to view the press as a hurdle to be overcome rather than a partner to help keep society safe and free.  More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that the sensationalistic way crimes and tragedies are reported does encourage and promote more of the same.  From focusing on murderers' background to using words that carry a positive connotation--e.g. brazenly--rather than words that really describe the cowardice of crime.  

Back in the 1970s, I remember reporting was somewhat different.  In fact, I remember this especially the way crimes concerning children were reported--or not reported.  I remember when I was really young, my mother called the local television station in Yakima to scold them for going too quickly from a story on a lost child to a more routine piece; standards and expectations were a little different then.

After the tragic Aurora, Colorado shooting, I suggest we take a long and hard look at the way the media reports.  Are they, for example, giving the shooter the notoriety he so craves?  (Remember, revenge doesn't work if one doesn't know the name of the attacker.)  If other sick minds see this notoriety, aren't they perhaps encouraged to do the same?  I am no psychologist, but the copycat phenomenon does seem to be a legitimate concern.  Addressing the problem becomes terribly complicated, however.  

When I raised this general concern with a Statesman Journal editor last year, or so, his response was to essentially agree that it was a problem, but he went on to say that the newspaper had no intention of changing its approach in any way.  The public, he said, had a right to know the truth.  And they do.

Is there a way perhaps to make the information available, but not as immediately consumable?  In other words, the mass murderer could be referred to as only by his first name in a piece, then the complete name footnoted elsewhere?  I suggest it is terribly important to dissect the backgrounds of killers, but this doesn't necessarily have to be done in such a way that they are immediately and clearly identified.  

I don't know what the answer is...but the media should take a degree of responsibility for the culture of violence it has helped shape.


Shared Accountability and Militant Atheism 

49 Reasons Redux

Morgan Freeman Hoax


  1. I don't know that we can do much to keep crimes like this from happening. They are a modern phenomena that I would guess comes from a combination of living in a highly mediated environment that technology provides. Combine an isolated, sick person who is not connected to living, breathing humans, like most of us are, and you get a recipe for a killer who kills strangers easily, because everyone, including himself, is a stranger.

    Only in modern times do we see crimes against strangers committed because of where the people are, not because of who they are.

    The horror of the crime for all of us is not only the loss of life, but the violation of public sacred spaces that movie theatres and schools and I hate to say it, fast food places are.

    I believe that our modern culture with its explosion of technology has a very dark side to it. Unlike the face to face of immediate human relationship, mediated experience of tv, radio, internet and newspapers can depersonalize ourselves and others. While this rarely leads someone down the path of criminality, for some very unstable people it will.