The media is culpable for tragedies like the one in Charleston this week. The killers are responsible for their actions, but the media knowingly plays a significant role in causing these tragedies. And, they have the power to stop them from happening.
Take four high profile cases: Dylann Roof (Charleston), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), Seung-Hui Cho (VA Tech), and Jared Loughner (Giffords shooting). We know they have five things in common.
I. Access to guns. Let’s start here, since the media’s go-to theory is that gun control will solve the problem. Access may be a contributing factor, but to believe it plays a major role, we must accept at least three unrealistic premises:
1) Means and the motive are the same thing. Normal people aren’t overwhelmed with uncontrollable urges to kill simply because they could. If that were so, why don’t scarves compel you to strangle, or matches insist you commit arson?
2) A person determined to have a gun would be deterred by gun control. If someone is intent on using a gun to kill, why would they be too afraid to commit a far less serious crime, like stealing or illegally buying one?
3) If a gun couldn’t be had, these individuals would abandon their plans of mass murder. Even the media admits these incidents are months or years in the making. If they couldn’t access guns, they would just plan it differently.
II. Age. These individuals are young, usually in their early 20s. It’s one of the most puzzling things about them: they have their lives before them, and they throw it all away. Maybe they don’t understand “this too shall pass”. Their troubles seem eternal. Or maybe experience hasn’t yet taught them compassionate.
III. Failure and Rage. They are/were failures in some way, and that infuriated them. They were disappointed in life, angry about the failure they experienced. So angry that they felt justified hurting innocent people.
IV. Isolated loners. These guys were not popular. Maybe they were picked on. They had no concerned friends to challenge them or give them a reality check. No one noticed them at all.
Without friends, jobs, or hobbies to occupy them, they spend months and years concocting elaborate, terrible crimes.
V. Motive. This is the key and it’s where the media is complicit. These individuals share the same motive: they want to be Important. They’re nobodies who want to be Somebody and what is an angry failure going to do with that? They don’t have the brains or talent to achieve anything – at least they don’t think so. So they turn to the easy way: notoriety.
The media will gladly bestow notoriety on anyone who will commit a terrible deed, with the justification that it’s negative coverage. As if the killers cared! It’s attention! The media will make them important. Everyone will know who they are.
This topic came up on The Diane Rehm Show this morning. A caller named James asked the media not to say the shooter’s name.
“That emboldens other people who want to get their little15 minutes of fame by doing other similar horrible acts,” he said.
The idea she encourages these crimes wasn’t new to Diane’s guest, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, and the suggestion made her defensive. She spluttered: “Look, it’s news, you know?”
“But how are we reporting the news?” Diane pressed her.
“Again, I don’t believe that this guy is being glorified in the media,” Tumulty stammered. “I think people are horrified and I think if we ever reach the point where we live in a society where people are not horrified and transfixed by somebody doing something that that young man did the other day, then that — then we are really in trouble.”
Nice try, Karen Tumulty. As I’m sure you know, we’re not talking about regular people ceasing to be horrified by your gruesome tales. At most, you desensitize us. It’s the young, angry failures who want notoriety that are motivated by you to commit horrific crimes. Seeing their names in print or hearing them spoken on the news is glorification enough.
Yes, we are “in trouble” because media coverage, like Tumulty’s, guarantees future tragedies. The ratings are too good to ruin by following the caller’s simple advice. We know, from the killers themselves, that media coverage motivates them. That star-making role must be addressed before we assess possible contributing factors, like gun laws.
Note: James Holmes (Aurora), Lee Malvo (DC sniper), Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (Columbine) meet some, but not all, the criteria. Malvo, Klebold, and Harris weren’t loners, for one thing. James Holmes’ story never sounded right to me. Anyone else have an eerie feeling we are seeing through the looking glass?