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 EffectIt 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.

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47 Responses to VA Journalist Shooting: Is The Media Responsible?

    • Sure the shooter is responsible, they made a choice to cause harm. However the media has acted as an enabler by producing “content” that is know to facilitate copycat events. They financially benefit from hysteria they create by how they report, and additionally benefit from secondary effect of inducing copycat events in a perpetuating cycle.

      Since it appears to be a well known effect in the industry, it seems reasonable to conclude that the “media industry” is making a choice to exploit these events for gain.

  1. In this case, yes, and not merely for the reporting of other shootings.

    The media has stoked the fires of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The funder of the movement, one George Soros, is in his lair, smiling and nodding that it is working as hoped.

  2. The media are not responsible for the shooting; the blame for that goes to the shooter. The media does bear the blame for exploiting the event for money. Along with the Brian Williams factor, it’s just one of the many reasons why the MSM are almost universally despised.

    • I liked this part:

      “…published in a the Journal of Mass Media Ethics…”

      “Mass Media Ethics”?

      That’s a good one!

    • “The media are not responsible for the shooting; the blame for that goes to the shooter. The media does bear the blame for exploiting the event for money.”

      No, Ralph, the media is partly responsible for these atrocities.

      “The consensus of social scientists since David Phillips’ groundbreaking work in 1974 is that highly publicized stories of deviant and dangerous behavior influences copycat incidents. Phillips’ and scores of subsequent studies showed, for example, that suicide rates spike in the week after an inappropriately publicized celebrity suicide. Contrast this trend with no increase in suicides in the week following a media strike that unintentionally suppresses such coverage.”

      The media plays up these massacres; other would-be murderers see the coverage are encouraged to commit a similar atrocity. This has been known for at least 41 years, just going by the David Philips research.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/josephgrenny/2012/12/13/the-media-is-an-accomplice-in-public-shootings-a-call-for-a-stephen-king-law/

  3. It would be wonderful if the media held themselves to these high standards. It would be wonderful if everyone voluntarily lived by such high standards. The results of trying to force anyone/everyone to do so is actually far worse, which has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history.

    Nothing absolves the murderer of his responsibility for his/her actions, of course. And nothing absolves people generally from their responsibility to defend themselves and others from such aggression.

  4. I would not say the media is responsible. I do, however, think they are a contributing factor that can boost motivation.

  5. I have read Cramer’s paper but not Coleman’s book. Cramer’s article suggest ethical models for behavior. What it does not provide, and what I have not seen, is evidence that this model of behavior by the media results in less violent crime in America.
    I haven’t seen any evidence that shows any reduction in murder or violent crime because of imposed media anonymity, and some countries have tried it. What I have seen is less spectacular methods of murder, but not less murder itself.

    • I doubt that the suggested behaviours would have a measurable effect on violent crime. The copycat effect is a particular effect claimed for certain small subgroups of actions. The number of homicides associated with rampage shooters is so small that the overall effect on crime rates would not be measurable.

      I think the effect on rampage shootings would be measurable. It is hard to quantify it without a serious self reform of the media. It would not require government regulation. Look at how careful the old media is not to mention the race of crime suspects. That originated from an AP guideline in the 1950s, as best as I can tell.

      We would only be able to measure the reduction, if the media started following the guidelines, after a decade.

  6. No the shooter is.

    With that said if they could guarantee the ratings I’m sure they would happily run a lottery and execute one young, blonde, white, female reporter a month. Not like there is a shortage of said reporters or a shortage of those willing to watch.

    They, through their predictable 24 hour news circus are to blame for making the murderer posthumously famous. An expected outcome not lost on the murderer I’m sure.

  7. I just dont care. Copycat effect or no copycat effect, these stories get high ratings because people (including me) are interested in them. I’d rather there be a copycat effect than the media unnaturally try to suppress the stories. So do they hold some responsibility? Sure. Do I care or would I have it any other way? Nope.

    Attempting to persuade the media to not cover this stuff to attempt to reach the ends of preventing future slayings is the same rationale that gun grabbers use to ban AR15s. You’re asking people to make huge adjustments for something that is seemingly and actually a minor drop in the bucket end that society will actually hardly even notice when it’s reached. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year for various reasons, will depriving millions of people access to firearms really be noticeable if you save 100 victims a year (if gun bans can actually do that?) Will attempting to shame media corporations into unnaturally not covering news thats of interest to people in order to save a dozen people a year from copycat slayings really be noticeable?

    • About 7200 people die every day in the US. What makes some deaths more important or tragic than others? Subjectiveness would be my guess.

      • Shock value and tragedy.

        Dying of old age at 90 is generally seen as the close of a long and hopefully full life, not a tragic “if only…”. Or, depending on the culture and times, something of a miracle that anyone managed to live that long.

        One can hope for a day when dying of old age is an aberration thanks to medical science and not social disintegration.

        • Death from aging is as depressing as any other to me. Let’s hope Kurzweil is right and Maris is very successful.

  8. Not only is it the media’s fault, it’s the leftists and this culture of victimology that they have created. Everyone can now elevate themselves to victim status. The only difference is if you’re on the left(which Flanagan’s ideology was) then they media will burry the manifesto. If the media/leftists think the killer might be on the right, they exploit it for weeks on end to push their anti-white, anti-gun owner, anti-Christian agenda.

    Even if there is no evidence of the killer being anything more than a complete whacko they still blame it on the right and white racism.

    This leftist, Flanagan grew the seeds of anti-white, anti-straight hatred in the manure of his own brain and watered them with the leftists victimology ideology. And I use Leftists and Media redundantly.

    And they haven’t learned a thing. CNN was back on air not two days later claiming the term “silent majority” is racist code word. The media are full of whack jobs just like Flanagan.

  9. While there may be statistical support for “copycat” shootings when reported on by the media, and while I despise these scumbags who hide behind the First Amendment to take shots at the Second, the people have both the right and the need to be informed. Even as despicable as many of these gore mongers are, they still serve that purpose.

  10. I believe they are culpable in two respects: 1) these guys seek notoriety and the news coverage gives them that. The news media should leave their names out of coverage. 2) They advance the “victim” agenda which these “unhinged” sociopaths use as justification for their retribution.
    The Virginia shooter case is a good example for both of these.

  11. If some vile little twerp who is looking for fame, or imagines itself in a competition with some other vile little twerp for the highest body count, can count on mass media for instant notoriety then yes, the media is playing a role. Mass media goes far beyond reporting news. They do it for money and their pursuit of an anti gun/civil rights agenda. If you feed a wild pig in the same spot every day, the pig will show up and eat of it’s own volition. It is true that vile little twerps and wild pigs make their own decisions. It is also true that rewarding behavior encourages that behavior.

    • Maybe all media reports should just say “vile little twerp” instead of the perpetrator’s name, and have a stock image for all of them — no name, no face, no individuality, thus no notoriety.

  12. As many have said already above, the ultimate responsibility lies with the murderer.

    That said, if said murderer calls out sensational coverage of precedeeding murders as a reason for doing so again, then “the media” might be thought of as an accessory or an enabler. As an example, Charles Manson never killed anybody directly but he was still convicted of first-degree murder because of the influence he had over the people who actually did the deeds.

    In this case, while “the media” generally (not always, but generally) doesn’t directly encourage people to commit crimes, it has to be acknowledged that words have power and there media exist to be heard.

    I’d say boycott would be a way of correcting bad actors in the marketplace, but old media are already doing a bang-up job of getting themselves put out of work.

  13. Well, I dislike it when the media try to ride in on a white horse and you know, point the finger, try to tell people what to do and think, contort facts to fit a narrative. That all sucks. They overstep their role, basically lie and proselatyze, and fail their basic function.

    But no, they’re not responsible for the recent tragedy. I don’t give them credit for being as good and powerful as they think they are, so I won’t point the finger and expect them to tailor their message some special way when something bad happens.

  14. I will note that media does have effects on human behavior for a myriad of reasons , I think it could probably be shown that constant media coverage of Donald Trump has boosted his position in the polling and peoples awareness and perceptions of him . I would venture to say that the glamourizing of these shootings or shall I say over coverage of the events , seem to have a impact on those who would participate in similar or even more destructive enterprises giving them perhaps a greater motivation to carry out their plans , but ultimately the person or persons who participate in the actual act are responsible . I have said on many occasions that the greatest deterrent to a repeat of 9/11 was the actual successful event of 9/11 itself . A terrorist always wants to outdo the last great attack so unless the whacko’s can do one better than 9/11 they won’t do anything at all . Their next act must have a greater impact and strike greater terror . It’s their MOO .
    There are copy cat killers out there that always want their minute of fame and if I was a reporter doing a live news story in todays climate of crazy , I would be acutely aware of what was going on around me and I would be armed .

  15. Dean, thanks for publishing this. For years I’ve felt like nobody was listening when I said my own version of this, unawares of the book and study you mentioned. TV effects behavior. If it didn’t, why would advertisers pay $1 million for a 30 second ad on the Superbowl.

  16. I am going to differ from most people here.

    The media shares responsibility in part for all sensationalized shootings. The media has made an implicit deal with delusional people who feel that violence is the best way to gain notoriety. If the news coverage did not focus on the killers grievances, show his face constantly and delve into his “motivations” we would have fewer of these incidents.

    There is a morning talk show out of Sacramento here that I quite like. They occasionally have panels, where they will gather up people knowledgeable on a topic from their listener base. They held one panel on this very topic where they invited mental health professionals, from psychiatrists and nurses to social workers, some of them appearing only on condition of anonymity and there was a consensus: when a person goes so far off the deep end as a mass shooter has and they see violence sensationalized and glorified in the news they fixate on that as a way to gain the notoriety they seek.

    So, yes the individual ultimately is responsible, but we all agree that such people are mentally ill and mentally ill people need to be handled.

  17. The responsible party is the shooter, but the MSM who promote the fear propaganda from anti-firearm groups incite violence as mentally ill persons paranoia and or anger/behaviors are exacerbated by the barrage. You and I assimilate information appropriately, those challenged with MI do not.

    The anti-2A fear campaigns have blood on their hands, their propaganda is egregious.

  18. If you click on the link to the interview with Dr. Carson it is pretty obvious that the reporter was trying to goad Carson into repeating the CNN “party line” on gun control. Fortunately Dr. Carson did not take the bait. Which, I think, is impressive on his part.

  19. I have no problem with honest, unbiased reporting. I do have a problem with most of the current news sources interjecting their own political agenda into the news though. And sensationalizing the news beyond what is called for to promote that agenda or to get higher ratings. But, it seems that is a way of life now in our country. Too bad. I liked it better when I could just get the “News” without a lot of B.S.. And it gets VERY tiresome listening to all the Leftist Gun Grabbers acting like guns are the problem rather than the people pulling the triggers. Most of these Perps should not be allowed out in public at all. If a person is dangerous it does not matter which weapon that they use. They can cause death and maim people with almost anything.

  20. Like the pic. She’s showing her dad her o-face. Evil liberal blue house of (D) circle-jerk ad infinitum.

    Interviewee must feel lucky it took most of the perp’s rounds (and all of his hate, discontent, rage, and concentration to off-her and the camera-man).

    Another good crisis for liberal gun-grabbing pimps.

  21. I think “ethical journalism” is one of the most glaring oxymorons there is. Putting aside their overwhelming bias on a whole host of other issues, and sticking with guns and mass shootings, their reporting is reckless, irresponsible, and absolutely agenda driven.

    With this rather unique and notable exception, they’re singlemindedly foisting the false narrative that all white gun owners are racist lunatics out to kill as many innocent blacks as they can before our guns are taken away from us. Yet the overwhelming majority of gun homicides are black criminals killing other black criminals. I can’t recall where I saw the stat, but it said that the murder rate for white male victims is 1.5 per 100k, 4.9 for hispanic males, and a whopping 19.5 for black males. If you are a consumer of conservative media, these are discussed quite often, but never addressed in the mainstream liberal media.

    The vicious murder of Deputy Darren Goforth is going largely under reported, (15 .40cal shots at point blank range) and everyone is tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, that it’s a race based assassination.

  22. Of course the media bears some responsibility for giving them the notoriety they yearn. If the same media were to claim they have no such influence, I would remind them about the self-imposed ban on reporting election results until the polls close in the West.

  23. An example of the copycat syndrome is Martin Bryant of the Port Arthur massacre. In early police interviews he kept asking how many he killed (apparently he has never been told) so he could compare against Hungerford and Dunblane.

    In the media, the general line is “splatter sells” and “the public has a right to know”. But in over-reporting the incidents, they are encouraging more incidents.

    Down under the local news is giving the story lots of coverage hoping to “maintain the rage” in a hope to influence local gun laws, because a review of the 1996 NFA is under way, and to hopefully influence US gun laws as well.

    Information about Flanagan and how he legally bought the guns after passing the background check is not surprisingly scarce.

    By controlling the narrative, the media hope to control how people will think and how they will act for an outcome that suits their agenda.

  24. Yes of course the media is culpable, which is exactly why they are in denial and actively diverting attention to the gun, to Katrina anniversary, to the deranged with grief dad, whatever the “look there goes a squirrel” topic needed to get past the 3 days half-life of the story.

    Later there will be some relfective navel gazing by some old grandee of the left- Dana MilqueToast at WAPO, or some equally useless twit at NYT, to attempt to provide “balance” and deep insight, as to the mistakes made…

    But we all know they are full of $hit, and have been…for a long time. Which is why credibility polls, surveys, dropping ad revenue, stock price Nielsons and viewer counts falling off the cliff for MSNBC, CNN, CBS etc continue…to show no one trusts the media now, except a few brainwashed LIVs on Hollyweird Blvd, chap wearers in SanFranistan, or in the Nabobs of Elite Parlors in NY and DC Ruling Class … koolaid drinkers to the end of the Progtard Narrative.

  25. It’s not the media’s fault. Insane and/or violent people are unpredictable. If the logic behind faulting the media is valid, then so is the logic behind faulting gun manufacturers and gun sales and even guns. But that’s not the case.

    For as few major shootings as there are compared to the rest of our population, we can (thankfully) feel safe here. I don’t see thousands of legally insane or mentally handicapped people buying guns to copycat other shootings.

    And how is this a copycat? Sure, “nothing is new under the sun”, but I don’t recall the last time someone did this specific type of shooting (trying to get live on the air, shooting a camera crew and anchorwoman, etc).

    The root of the problem has been, is, and always will be that of the heart. Bad people do bad things, period. What did Cain kill Abel with? A rock or his hands probably, as they didn’t have weapons yet. There had never been a murder before: who was he copying? It has nothing to do with if he was copying or not: it’s because Cain was angry at Abel and wanted to kill him.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong so much as you’re slightly missing the root of the problem.

    There is no prevention or early detection that will find and diagnose all evil people (and even then, we’re all sinners, so we’re all evil anyways, just in various manifestations). Maybe some psychological tests can sort of “predict” violence, but even if this were Minority Report and we knew the future, knowing the future doesn’t change the fact that we have a choice in the present.

    Bottom line: it’s because we are all evil, and because human beings are unpredictable. The heart of man is what needs fixing. And Jesus is the only cure.

  26. When anything spectacularly violent/sad/awful occurs everyone loses starting with the victim and spiraling out to everyone else. Except the media!

    Sad thing is the station will likely net profit from this event. I’ll bet their ad buy prices are up.

  27. I personally think that one more thing should be added to your list. The sick individuals name should never once be mentioned. Only referred to as “the criminal” or “shooter”. I feel like if they were to die anonymously I feel like a lot of the sensationalism would be curtailed

  28. The recent killing of two TV newspersons in Virginia by a mentally unstable man has resulted in the usual “dancing in the blood” by leftist politicians and their media minions, eagerly assigning collective responsibility for this heinous act to America’s 100 million law-abiding gun owners. In the same spirit, I propose assigning collective responsibility for these crazed killers’ actions to the people who glorify these murders: the news media. This latest killer admitted his rage was inspired by the extensive media coverage of the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, SC. He also praised the 2007 Virginia Tech killer and the Columbine High School killers.

    To stop this media glorification of mass murderers, I propose that Congress make it a Federal felony for any news media outlet, Facebook, Twitter, or any other news source to publish the names and photos of any mass murderer, thus holding the media collectively responsible as accessories to such murders. Hey, this may be tough on the media’s First Amendment rights, but if we can save just one life, it will be worth it.

  29. Best bit:

    “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.”

    Time to start suing every media outlet that mentioned a spree-shooter’s name if that shooter is mentioned by another as example, inspiration, or at all.

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