lI wonder how it will end.
Here we have a series of horrific crimes. In each case, we know what happened, how it unfolded, who perpetrated it and why, and who suffered from it. The common denominator is the motive, which is the killer’s desire for importance, to be achieved via media attention. It’s hardly a complex plot, and yet… we can’t seem to stop these crimes from occurring.
It’s a maddening riddle of modern life.
What is the media’s crime?
The media sells its collective attention to a targeted audience of buyers, in exchange for the spectacle of innocent suffering. Their buyers are represented by a persona they call the Lone Wolf.
The Lone Wolf persona is an isolated, suicidal young man who recognizes he is a failure. He’s a loser, who is obsessed with a desire for importance. He has a fringe ideology which often dictates who his victims will be and allows the Lone Wolf to imagine he is a martyr to a cause.
There is a marketing campaign by the media and the message is, We can make you matter. The most infamous example is their product placement of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone. Do something horrible enough, and we’ll turn you into a rock star.
It might be formulaic but while it lasts, the media provides white glove service to these killers with wall-to-wall coverage, manufactured rumors, and breaking news alerts. And somewhere in the fine print a clause guarantees the media the right to drop the Lone Wolf quickerthanthis when a more interesting story emerges.
The Lone Wolf often supplements this coverage by documenting his preparations on videotape or listing his beliefs on his Facebook page. His final actions nearly always illuminate the media’s central role in the tragedy: the VA Tech killer dropped a package of videotaped rants in the mail to NBC on the day of his rampage. Dylann Roof posted pictures of himself wearing badges that show his loyalty to extremist groups. Omar Mateen paused repeatedly during his murder of 49 people, to post on Facebook and search the Internet for terms like “shooting”, “Pulse”, “CNN”, and his own name.
What does the media get out of these transactions?
It feels like a million-dollar question: why do they instigate evil? The answer is disappointing. It’s not a single thing, like the Lone Wolf’s consuming desire for attention. It’s just a lot of self-centered, uninteresting reasons. There is the pressure of filling a 24-hour news cycle, the desire for better ratings, the competitive desire to have the most gory story, playing to the public’s grotesque fixation on violence, a chance to advance a political agenda, etc.
This is no way lessens the gunman’s guilt. It simply shows they aren’t the only culprit.
If the media did not instigate these crimes, 90% of them probably would not have happened, or have been on the horrific scale we saw. If they stopped glorifying these events, future crimes would be prevented to a large degree. The question we should be asking is who specifically will we hold accountable? Who do we stop from rewarding these Lone Wolf killers? Is it only the Nancy Graces and Ted Turners of the world, or is every station manager and producer complicit?