These places sound too familiar; Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Santa Fe. Each place saw a murder, but not just any kind. These were mass murders, and the bitter fruit born from our age of celebrity. Kids…and some adults…murdered to become famous. Our mass media filled the air with the murderer’s face and the murderer’s name. That media coverage lasts for days. That compelling media coverage sure sells a lot of advertising.
Unfortunately, that sensationalized coverage does more than make money for the networks. The media exposure rewards the murderer with fame. That fame sows the seeds of the next mass murder. Together, the murderers and the news media are a match made in hell, and their union is killing our kids. Some of us want to stop it before it happens again.
The best time to stop a mass murder is before the attacker enters a church or a school. As bold as that sounds, it has been done many times. We learned that lesson with celebrity suicides where young men and women would kill themselves for the notoriety they receive after their death. We put media guidelines in place to stop it, or at least greatly reduce it. We learned not to give suicides the wave of publicity that caused a cluster of copycat deaths. We almost learned the lesson to deny suicides the notoriety they crave…unless they kill some of their classmates before they kill themselves.
We get the mass murders we pay for. Today, each mass murder is followed by a billion-dollar advertising campaign that grows the next narcissistic murderer. Fortunately, the media guidelines to stop celebrity violence are already in place. The guidelines are so simple that even a hurried editor can understand them.
Who condemns this cycle of senseless violence fueled by media publicity? Media watchdog organizations are advocating for reform. Also, organizations representing doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, criminologists, behavioral scientists, religious leaders, and some foreign news agencies have signed on. That is certainly a good start, but it is only a start. We know for a fact that mass murderers study their predecessors and intend to gain fame by surpassing the death toll of prior killers. The Sandy Hook killer had written studies and made spreadsheets of prior massacres that investigators said would have qualified as a Master’s Degree paper! Murderers are learning as they go, and we have to learn faster.
Our major news networks have not signed up to the new guidelines. Companies like ABC, MSNBC, PBS, NPR, CBS and CNN have not signed on to any of the efforts to stop celebrity violence. That seems unbelievable given the concerned faces these network reporters wore while they talked about the murderer day after day. Don’t they want to save even one life? Maybe they just want to sell advertising with “if it bleeds, it leads”.
Groups who advocate for armed defense have for years endorsed media guidelines asking for restraint after a mass murder. Those groups include the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, and Gun Owners of America. The organizations who train first responders in our schools and churches, including FASTER Ohio and FASTER Colorado, supported these media guidelines to help control celebrity violence.
I searched the list of supporters and I noticed that several organizations were conspicuous by their absence. They include the gun control groups Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence. Time and again, these groups said we should take action even if it only saves one life…but not this time. Like the major media, these gun control groups need more mass murder to get the public attention they crave. Like the murderers themselves, without mass murders who would know their name?
Don’t tell us how much you care: Show us! Actions today speak louder than weepy interviews after the next mass murder.
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