Saturday, October 03, 2015

Umpqua Shooting: More Blood on Media Hands

The media knows that the more attention they pay to mass killing perpetrators, the more incentive they create for more mass killings.  The effect is known as the "Copycat Effect".  It 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 than the Second Amendment.

CBS news relates the latest evidence that media coverage of his name and face was one of the primary motivations for the Umpqua shooter.   From
In one post on the blog about Vester Flanagan, the man who killed the reporter and cameraman in Virginia, Mercer apparently wrote, "I have noticed that so many people like [Flanagan] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."
Over 20 years ago,  Clayton Cramer wrote a paper on the ethical problems of promoting mass killings in the media.   It was 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.

Loren Coleman wrote a book, The Copycat Effect, in 2004.  The book details simple strategies for reducing media incentives for mass killings. 

(1) 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." We may wish to "succeed" in relationships, sports, and jobs, but we do not want rampage or serial killers, architects of murder-suicide, and suicide bombers to make further attempts after "failing." Words are important. Even the use of "suicide" or "rampage" in headlines, news alerts, and breaking bulletins should be reconsidered.

(2) 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. School shooters are suicidal youth that slipped through the cracks, but it is a complex issue, nevertheless. People are not simple. The formulaic stories are too often too simplistic.

(3) 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. Photographs of murder victims, 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 ­ down to the method, the place, the timing, and the type of individual involved. Even fictional entertainment, such as the screening of
The Deer Hunter, provides vivid copycatting stimuli for vulnerable, unstable, angry, and depressed individuals. 

(4) The media should show more details about the grief of the survivors and victims (without glorifying the death), highlight the alternatives to the violent acts, and mention the relevant background traits that may have brought this event to this deathly end. They should also avoid setting up the incident as a logical or reasonable way to solve a problem.

(5) The media must avoid ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural stereotypes in portraying the victims or the perpetrators. Why set up situations that like-minded individuals (e.g. neo-Nazis) can use as a roadmap for a future rampages against similar victims?

(6) 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, soft lines, and other available community resources, including email addresses, websites, and phone numbers. To run a story on suicide or a gangland murder without thinking about the damage the story can do is simply not responsible. It¹s like giving a child a loaded gun. The media should try to balance such stories with some concern and consideration for those who may use it to imitate the act described.

(7) And finally, the media should reflect more on their role in creating our increasingly violent society. Honest reporting on the positive nature of being alive in the twenty-first century might actually decrease the negative outcomes of the copycat effect, and create a wave of self-awareness that this life is rather good after all. Most of our lives are mundane, safe, and uneventful. This is something that an alien watching television news from outer space, as they say, would never know. The media should "get real," and try to use their influence and the copycat effect to spread a little peace, rather than mayhem.
David Kopel, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal, wrote about the copycat effect and Coleman's book in December of 2012. 

The media cynically benefits from coverage of these events.  The media benefit from ratings and from politicization of the event.  The old media use these events to further their agenda to impose severe restrictions on gun ownership and use.  The restrictions called for often have no relationship to the mass killings committed. 

After the Sandy Hook shootings, where the shooter murdered his own mother to obtain the weapons used, the call was for "universal background checks" (UBC), a code for collecting data for universal gun registration.   UBC legislation which would have preserved the privacy of gun buyers, was defeated by those who claimed to want UBCs.  The proponents insisted that serial numbers and weapon types and models be recorded.  The only reason to do so would be to promote a later registration system.

Such systems are already being used for piecemeal gun confiscations in California and New York.

The media's reward of mass killers with copious air time and celebrity status is exacerbated by the Obama administration's desire to use these events for political gain.  Even before any details are known about the shooters, their motivations, or whether legislation would have had any effect on them, President Obama is on the air, calling for more laws restricting gun ownership. Such showmanship encourages mass killers; they know that they will be receiving national attention for an extended period.

The media and the Obama administration has blood on their hands.  After 20 years of publicity, they know the copycat effect.  They know that there are simple measures that would minimize it, and which would not significantly effect First Amendment rights.

Saving lives takes second place to their political agenda and their profits.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.     Link to Gun Watch

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