Whenever I have written about school shootings (or other such incidents) that have happened in this country in recent years, the one thing I have always avoided is giving too much information about the shooters or putting their pictures in my articles. The reason is quite salient – other similarly warped individuals are watching and are thrilled to see the pictures of killers. The more exposure these maniacs get, the more likely they will spawn copycats. What do you think is happening now in this country?
Today there was a school shooting in Oregon (the 74th “school shooting” since Sandy Hook in 2012). Before that there were the cops shot in Las Vegas this week, and we can go on and on in regards to these indiscriminate killings. The point is that the number of these shooting horror stories has steadily increased because of the media’s coverage. Instead of just getting pictures of those lost, we get numerous photos of the killers plastered on print tabloids and newspapers; they also can be found all over the Internet. If potential killers out there are looking for incentive, the media is only too willing to provide it to them.
You can note that I am leaving the topic of gun control out of this equation. Someone with infinitely more knowledge and experience in that area can deal with that subject, but for me the camera is the ultimate weapon here because pictures not only speak 1,000 words but they are forever. Images of these assassins can be saved, printed out, enlarged, and gracing the walls of every looney-tune requiring inspiration.
I am thinking back many years now, but I have seen a consistent pattern with these kinds of killings and even political assassinations going back to the assassination of President Kennedy. Just as an expatriate loves running into a fellow expat in a foreign land, these psychologically unbalanced people thrive on seeing those of a similar bent appearing on TV, in print, and online. What greater incentive for those people who want their 15 minutes of infamy than to see other criminals get such widespread exposure?
The concept of death by media has now supplanted the notion of death by cop. It used to be common for a berserk individual to taunt cops into killing him. Now an infinitely more appealing way to become known is to do something criminal – like killing innocents by flying planes into buildings or standing at a parade with a bomb in a backpack – knowing for certain that your image will grace all sorts of media for days, weeks, and years to come. They kill others and then almost always end up killing themselves. The dead are just collateral damage in a quest for notoriety that will last forever.
My feeling is that the perpetrators of heinous acts should never be depicted in publications of any kind. The media should limit the story to the heroes who may have interceded (or come to the rescue after the fact) and the victims. By going into detail about the killers and their lives and publishing their photographs, we are only encouraging others to do the same.
If you doubt the truth of this, let’s look at the case of Charles Manson. Here’s a fellow who should never have been seen ever again after his conviction and sentencing, but I just searched for him on the web and got 3,110,000 results in less than five seconds. Want an even scarier example? I searched for Son of Sam and got back 146,000,000 results even faster. If you click on “images” for either murderer you have an infinite array of photographs from which to choose. A similar thing happens for James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, John Hinckley Jr., the 9-11 hijackers, and so on. Because of the past frenzy of the media to cover these killers, stories and images are readily available to those who may use them to recruit others or to stoke their own warped fantasies of glory.
I know people will shout about “freedom of the press” and its First Amendment protection; however, there has to also be a sense of decency and decorum when it comes to events that include victims. If you recall how the press descended en masse on Newtown, Connecticut, to cover the school shootings there, you may have cringed as I did when news anchors took up space in the streets of town. This kind of sensationalism makes it seem as if they are covering a parade or sporting event instead of a story about personal loss, sacrifice, and suffering.
As long as the media glorifies these mass murders and shooters with multiple stories and photographs, and as long as the audience seems to have an unquenchable thirst for such fare, the cycle will continue and more deaths will be inevitable. I think people should eventually begin to realize that the motivation for these things – besides allegiance to fringe groups or mental illness – is a sick version of fame. This ugly cycle of violence will no doubt continue as long as death by media is made available for free and on such a widespread basis.
Perhaps you can let your voice be heard, calling on your local channels and the networks to change the way they report these kinds of stories. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need to “get into the mind of the killer” as I heard on one local TV report, delving into the background and childhood of this maniac or that one. I want to hear about the victims, like those Las Vegas cops who were just doing their jobs and having lunch when they were gunned down. Let’s hear their life stories, and allow the world to see what decency was extinguished by these assassins. Why should anyone waste a drop of ink or a second of air time on lives that were not worth knowing about?
If you agree, reach out and let it be known that you’re as mad as hell and not going to visit their websites, read their newspapers, or watch their TV channels anymore. The only way to stop death by media is to let those in charge know that we won’t support any news outlet that glorifies criminals with stories and images. A change is desperately needed and the only way to make it happen is to let your voice be heard.
Photo credits: cbc.ca, abcnews.go.com, businessinsider.com
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