In the aftermath of the Roanoke live-TV shooting, before the bodies were buried, the old media was using the deaths to raise ratings and promote their political agenda. They piously failed to mention their own responsibility . . .
The “Copycat Effect” is a well known and researched phenomena. Endless promotion of these tragic events and the publicity given to the perpetrators is far more of a causal factor for mass murder than the Second Amendment-protected gun rights. We have known for decades that it is media attention that is the driving motivation for most of these public mass shooters.
The copycat effect has been demonstrated and documented over and over again. Clayton Cramer wrote a paper on this subject in 1993, published in a the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 9:1 [Winter 1993-94]. It won First Place, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Ethics Prize, 1993, Undergraduate Division.
It has been widely written about in other publications as well, such as the Wall Street Journal. In 2004, Loren Coleman wrote the The Copycat Effect. It detailed simple strategies for mitigating the effect and reducing the number of these mass public killings. They could be implemented without any significant chilling effect on the first amendment. The AP could simply include these requirements in its writers’ guidelines. Here they are:
- The media must be more aware of the power of their words. Using language like ‘successful’ sniper attacks, suicides, and bridge jumpers, and ‘failed’ murder-suicides, for example, clearly suggest to viewers and readers that someone should keep trying again until they succeed.
- The media must drop their clichéd stories about the ‘nice boy next door’ or the ‘lone nut.’ The copycat violent individual is neither mysterious nor healthy, or usually an overachiever. They are often a fatal combination of despondency, depression, and mental illness.
- The media must cease its graphic and sensationalized wall-to-wall commentary and coverage of violent acts and the details of the actual methods and places where they occur. Tapes of people jumping off bridges, and live shots of things like car chases ending in deadly crashes, for example, merely glamorize these deaths, and create models for others.
- The media should show more details about the grief of the survivors and victims (without glorifying the death), and highlight the alternatives to the violent acts
- The media must avoid stereotypes in portraying the victims or the perpetuators. Why set up situations that like-minded individuals (e.g. neo-Nazis) can use as a roadmap for a future rampages against similar victims?
- The media should never publish a report on suicide or murder-suicide without adding the protective factors, such as the contact information for hot lines, help lines.
- The media should reflect more on their role in creating our increasingly perceived violent society. Most of our lives are mundane, safe, and uneventful.
The Cramer article has been around for 20 years, and won a prize for ethics. The book by Coleman has been available for over a decade. Any thoughtful person can see the obvious connection between making anti-heros of public shooters and the potential to tip unbalanced people over the edge, into an act that they see as immortalizing their otherwise miserable lives.
It is clear that the media would rather keep their power to use these events push for more restrictive gun laws than prevent innocents from being murdered. As Cramer noted, the coverage of school shooting is at least eight times as large at that of similar mass homicides that do not involve guns.
In a strange twist, the old media actually benefit financially from these shootings: Newtown Media Buys. When media personalities try to pressure candidates to push for more restrictive laws, as happened recently with Dr. Carson, candidates should push back by asking why the media continues to promote public shootings for their own benefit.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.