I’m a consumer of news just like you are. After each mass murder, the news media shouts that attacks on our schools and churches are a growing epidemic. “Experts” appear on the news and tell us to turn in our guns to make America safer. Once we read past the headlines, then we can see that the media might not be interested in the truth. We are building mass murderers here in the US, and the news media is complicit in killing our kids.
It is easy to blame guns, but that doesn’t explain why we have mass murder today. Guns were far easier to get fifty years ago. They were also far more common. You could buy a gun at a gas station or at a hardware store back then. Children, even kids in New York City, brought their guns to school…yet we didn’t see mass murder like we do today. Many public schools even had shooting teams and shooting ranges on campus. The 1960s should have seen the USA buried in dead bodies if guns were the cause of mass murder. That isn’t what we saw.
The issue grows more confusing when we add in other factors. Mental health treatment is much more effective than it was fifty years ago. Despite what you may have heard, we know that mentally ill people who are treated are far less violent than when they go untreated. That should have made the past more violent than the present.
We’re told that mass murder is a recent epidemic. It is fairly simple to look at what changed in the last fifty years. We’ve actually faced and solved a very similar problem in the last few years. Simply look at the major reason mass murderers kill.
Mass murderers think they deserve public recognition. These murderers may be psychopaths with a distorted view of their own importance. Alternatively, they could be social outcasts who feel invisible. Mass murderers are willing to kill other people to be noticed. Sometimes they are even willing to kill themselves to be noticed. We’ve seen, and treated, a similar strain of this disease before.
We coined the term “celebrity suicide” to describe teenagers and young adults who killed themselves for the news coverage created by their death. They chose particularly graphic and public ways to die so their name would appear in the papers.
They were saying-
“You didn’t notice me when I was alive, but you’ll know my name when I’m dead.’
We noticed the phenomenon of “suicide for celebrity” when the prolonged and sensationalized news coverage of a suicide would induce a cluster of copycat suicides. Under public pressure, we developed guidelines for press coverage of suicide, particularly teen suicide. (Specific guidelines are here and
here.) The solution is straightforward; tell the news, but don’t mention the dead person’s name or sensationalize the story.
Journalists follow those guidelines when reporting on teen suicide…unless the murderer takes some of his classmates with him.
The sales manager at a news station knows he can count on a ratings bump after a mass murder. A school or church attack is a journalists dream. We have clear victims and bad guys. We have lots of injured people being transported for treatment.
The news media turns the murderer into a celebrity as they publicize his name and picture for days. We feel compelled to watch as we imagine how bad the victims and their families must feel. The next murderer sees this news coverage too, but his reaction is different. The next mass murderer thinks how good it would feel if that was his face covered in the news with a billion-dollars-worth of press coverage.
That is what changed in the last fifty years. Back then, we had a daily paper and a weekly paper. Color television wasn’t common. Today, we have a TV in every room. We get several updates a minute on our phone.
Sensational news coverage produced this epidemic of celebrity violence.
The media says they are committed to give us answers, but they are remarkably reticent to look in the mirror to find them. The solution to stop celebrity violence is to adopt similar guidelines that journalists use for celebrity suicide. Unfortunately, the news media is the first to report, but the last to change.
One group is pressing for these guidelines today. The guidelines are called “Don’t Inspire Evil”. Their message is simple and clear-
“Refrain from gratuitous or repetitious portrayal of mass murderers’ names and images.”
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