Yea Or Nay? Would This ‘Modest Proposal’ Reduce Sensationalized Killing Sprees?

Written by Rob Morse on September 29, 2017

We now have celebrities who don’t sing, act, or dance. They are famous for being famous. More and more people want to join them, and it is a growing sickness.

The investigation isn’t complete over the latest murderer in a Tennessee church, but we do know the usual pattern. The typical mass murderer was socially isolated, depressed, and narcissistic. He murdered others to receive the attention he thinks he deserves.

If you doubt the desire for attention shared by celebrities, the news media, and these murderers, then remember that Rolling Stone magazine used a photo-shopped cover of the Muslim murderer who bombed the Boston Marathon. Our media will do anything to get attention. Sadly, we now see murderers who are inspired by the media attention they receive. I have a modest proposal that may save lives while keeping our rights of free speech intact.

Media coverage can be a problem unto itself. There was a time when political splinter groups hijacked airplanes in mid-flight in order to get media coverage. Recently, a violent racist killed innocent black men and women in a church because the murder wanted the media to publicize his beliefs. Bombers often leave a manifesto that gets published after they kill. They want their name and ideas to explode across the news after they’ve detonated their bombs in our midst.

What should we do in a time when narcissists will murder innocents for the media attention the narcissists crave? Human nature is the same around the world. We can learn what other countries did. Canada prohibits publishing the name of young criminals and young suicides. Refusing to publish the perpetrator’s name denies the narcissistic murderer the public payoff he wants. This reduces both the incidence of youth violence and the incidence of subsequent copycat crimes. In the US, we have similar laws that prevent the news from publishing the victim’s name or personal information in cases of sexual assault.

We have two problems with implementing a prohibition like this in the United States. We explicitly protect the press from government censorship. We want to respect the public’s need to know current events. In theory, these events might lead to political decisions, so voters need to be informed.

The media is complicit in sensationalizing their news coverage. We see it in their weather alerts and in their coverage of violent crime. It is true that if it bleeds, it leads. Then, the space between the advertisements is full of “murder…and more murder when we come back from this commercial break.”

And that is precisely why I’m willing to trust the media to show restraint.

We’d never tell the media that they can’t run a non-stop murder-fest. Instead, I propose that the media is banned from running a commercial advertisement for a full hour after they show the face or mention the name of a murderer. Websites that show the murderers name and face can’t have advertisements on that page.

I’m not restricting free speech at all. The media is free to inform us, or to sell us soap, but they cannot legally pretend to do one while in fact they do the other. We simply require that the media tells us what we need to know in the name of the public good…and not sell sensationalism for profit.

Yes, the media can show us murder all day long…and run commercials every seven minutes too, but they can’t show the murderer’s face or mention his name.

There you have it. It is a modest proposal. Let me know what you think.

I expect this proposal to go nowhere. There is a third player in this tale. We’ve talked about the public and the press. We didn’t mention politics. The media-whores in our legislatures would rather see more murders than upset the reporters who help politicians stay in office.

photo credit: Georgie Pauwels Morning Newspaper via photopin (license)

Share if you agree the sensationalizing of violent crime is a problem with today’s media reporting.