For far too long, towering behemoths of cable news empires and small local news anchors alike have been complicit in the plague of mass shootings that's terrorized the United States. Every few weeks, like clockwork, the nation collectively mourns the latest terrorist plot or school shooting, asking why these tragedies keep occurring while the answer stares them in the face; hyper-sensationalized media coverage.
It's long been established that the media, if it acts irresponsibly following a tragedy, can inspire similar attacks in the future. What's less understood among the public is how purposeful these actions often are; sensationalist coverage that plasters the face of terrorist onto the TV set of every American living room isn't a byproduct of the media's coverage of these events, but rather the entire purpose of it.
The so-called "media contagion effect" is insidious and sinister, and it's only growing larger over time. Until ethical journalist and editors in America's newsrooms step back and realize their role in our nation's annual shootings, which seem to take place every passing month, our national plight of gun violence will only continue.
Unfortunately, it often seems the only thing that draws higher ratings than the blood of innocent Americans needlessly spilled in our streets is the faces, names, and past of the men who killed them.
|Killers featured more prominently than victims (TIME)|
With as many as 20 to 30 percent of all attacks ignited by the coverage of past incidents, it's wholly untenable for American and international media to continue down its current path. In other nations, they've already learned their lesson; Germany, for instance, has done a significantly better job than most in the West at denying attackers the attention and message-proliferation they so desperately seek. Better to let these men die without broadcasting their names and faces to the world; better to let them rot unmourned, and to focus our thoughts and emotions on grieving with the loved ones rather than on hating the perpetrators.
None of this even begins to touch on the related problem of the media's portrayal of shooters or terrorist based on their race or religion, either. When young, disenfranchised White men are driven to the point where they slaughter innocents with firearms, they're often labeled "loner outcast", while young men of color who do the same are virtually instantly labeled as terrorist or criminals. As an epidemic of mental illness drives young Americans towards massacres, a similar illness haunts the newsrooms throughout our nation, compelling journalist and editors to sensationalize or whitewash their coverage based on what may generate the most clicks or sympathy.
Far too often, journalist like to console themselves that they're doing a public service when it comes to broadcasting the identities of mass murderers; the public has a right to know, they insist, and we would be failing our responsibility to disseminate the truth were we to not broadcast this information. The reality, however, is that nothing of positive value is gained from the incessant broadcasting of murderers, and we have quite literally everything to lose from it instead.
If journalist wish to report the truth, let them do so; let them report the names and faces of those children slain in whichever school shooting will be visited upon us next. Let them report the names and faces of those dozens of Americans slain by gun violence each week in our cities and towns. Let them report the names and faces of our heroic first-responders, who selflessly plunge themselves into harm's way to save the lives of others.
Until they learn to report the truth like this, we can only expect more shootings.