In The Wake of Mass Shootings, The Media Must Do Its Part to Stop the Glorification of Killers
Our nation faced another massacre, this time at Santa Fe High School in Texas, that left ten people dead and ten more wounded. It should go without saying that these tragedies occur far too often and each is more heartbreaking than the next.
In the wake of every mass shooting, the country tears itself apart in search for answers. The left pushes for gun control while the right pushes a focus on mental illness and increasing school security. And there’s renewed frustration with lawmakers asked to “do something.” Despite the STOP School Violence Act that was passed by Congress and the gun reforms Florida made after the Parkland shooting, many still feel it’s not enough, since these shootings are still happening.
But while our elected officials remain largely stagnant on this issue, perhaps we in the media can make reforms of our own.
When a mass shooting is active, it’s obviously the media’s instinct to cover it minute by minute and report any updates as they occur. When the suspect is identified, we become obsessed with knowing everything about the killer; their name, their age, their race, their religion, their social media history, where they got the gun, if there were red flags, any hint of a motive. This is all information we should know, but there comes a point when our responsibility as journalists morphs into inspiration for future mass shooters.
Whether you look at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, or Parkland, the similarities in execution are striking, and there is a strong case that some were inspired by others. The shooter involved in the Sante Fe shooting reportedly wore a trench coat, which was worn by the Columbine killers. This shooter said in his affidavit that he left certain individuals alive so that they could “tell his story,” as did the Charleston shooter when he slaughtered nine people in a church. These monsters inspire one another, something studies have shown, and the media may be playing a role in that.
A handful of the press has adopted a “no notoriety” type policy, something the families of Parkland victims have urged the media to consider after the Santa Fe shooting. Back in 2014, in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting, Megyn Kelly vowed to not say the name or show the face of the mass murderer on her then-Fox News show The Kelly File, a practice she has since continued on NBC. The Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro adopted a similar policy after Parkland, citing a study done by professors at Western New Mexico University concluded that a “cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame.”
Shapiro further explained the rationale behind the decision:
“We will still report the backgrounds of mass shooters, biographical details, the type of weapons used in such shootings, how such weapons were obtained, and other details that could make a difference in the public debate with regard to policymaking. But we will not contribute to the unintentional glorification of shooters themselves by giving their names and faces airtime. Instead, we will continue to focus on the victims of such awful attacks, and the heroes who all too often must give of themselves to stop them.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper was actually confronted on Twitter by JT Lewis, a young man who lost his brother in the Sandy Hook shooting, about implementing such a policy.
Hey there. Hope you’re doing ok. I hear ya — I didn’t mention his name once on my show today, and CNN mentions it sparingly, but I think not reporting it at all isn’t an option for journalists.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) May 18, 2018
Tapper does bring up a good point. Is it really “not an option for journalists” to not report the name and face of these killers? You surely can make the argument.
Maybe there’s a middle ground between Shapiro’s stance and Tapper’s.
What if we establish a cutoff of showing the names and faces of these murderers. As the tragedy unfolds, we report on everything we know about the shooter, including his name and face, and we then allow newspapers to report them the following day for their readers. And after that, any future reporting on the shooter omits their name and face — unless it is urgently newsworthy. At the very least, their names should be omitted from headlines, their faces from the front pages. On one hand, it’s important to know the individuals who commit these heinous acts. On the other hand, you remove the long-term glorification these criminals seek.
This shouldn’t just apply to mass shooters. This could easily be implemented for all terrorist attacks no matter if they use a gun, knife, bomb, or vehicle. In the end, they don’t belong on the cover of Rolling Stone, they belong in Hell.
It’s easy for any of us to condemn our leaders for their inaction. And it’s even easier to demonize your political opponents simply because you don’t agree with the solutions they’re proposing. What’s difficult is acknowledging what you yourself can do to prevent a shooting like this from happening again. And if the government is incapable of creating meaningful change, we should set an example.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.