Monday, October 23, 2017
Mass Shootings vs. Reporters
As soon as tragedy strikes a small town, privacy immediately becomes the most valued virtue. Even though the media still has a job to fulfill, reporters are the last people citizens desire to speak with. They view photographers as invasive, and as lacking a sense of empathy which is desperately needed during these sensitive times.
Newtown, Connecticut was one of the most sensitive stories to cover in history. An elementary school shooting in a small town left families, teachers, students, and people all around the world in mourning. The national news agencies did not stay in town long to cover the story, for they had other events to focus on. Local news, on the other hand, had nowhere else to go. The people wrote handwritten signs saying "no press", making it clear they wanted to remain alone.
These were adults who were drawing these boundaries, because they have the confidence to stand up for themselves. But, what happens when someone is placed in a position of uncertainty, and they are unable to compress their thoughts? Since this shooting occurred in an elementary school, multiple students were already traumatized. But, this did not stop some reporters from shoving their microphones right in children's faces, just to cater to the audience's emotions by placing a kid on camera.
Michael Calderone for Huffington Post writes, "While it's a journalist's job to quickly get information from the scene of the crime, there's something unseemly about asking children - perhaps as young as five or six years old - to answer questions on camera so soon after a tragedy involving their classmates. More problematically, such interviews can add trauma, experts said, while possibly helping spread misinformation, given that young children can be unreliable eyewitnesses."
Most of the time, the perpetrators of mass shootings have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. This is an incredibly sensitive topic, and there are some very strong factors writers need to be aware of. For a significant amount of people, mental illness is an ambiguous topic which not a lot of people understand. Writers should consult experts to comment on mental illnesses, rather than solely including exaggerated witness statements.
Donald Trump described the Las Vegas mass shooter who shot nearly 600 people and left 58 dead as "a sick, demented man." House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed his statement, and said that "one of the things we've learned from these shootings is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness."
In the 2016 book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, psychiatrists Liza Gold and Robert Simon report that less than 5% of shootings are committed by people with a diagnosable mental illness. This data suggests that the link between mental illness and mass shootings is nonexistent, and only exists in our imagination.
A familiar double standard exists in how the media treats violence by white males versus violence by Islamic extremists. White attackers are often portrayed as lone wolves with mental health issues, while Islamist attackers are simply terrorists. "There is a more general presumption that white people are good and innocent in American culture at large, and journalists come from that culture," Farai Chideya, a journalist who has been reporting on white nationalism for 25 years, told Huffington Post.