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December 19, 2012

Is Saturation Coverage Encouraging Mass Murderers?

The Blaze linked an episode of the BBC production Newswipe With Charlie Brooker which featured a forensic psychologist named Park Dietz who warned against creating the next mass killer with saturation coverage. Dr. Dietz from the video (embedded below the fold):

We've had twenty years of mass murderers, throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, "If you don't want to propagate more mass murders, don't start the story with sirens blaring. Don't have photographs of the killer. Don't make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize this story to the affected community, and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.

He elaborated further in an article about him appearing in The Independent:

"Here's my hypothesis," he said. "Saturation-level news coverage of mass murder causes, on average, one more mass murder in the next two weeks." The reason, he says, has something to do with the USA's size. In a country so large the likelihood of one or two people snapping becomes quite high.

"It's not that the news coverage made the person paranoid, or armed, or suicidally depressed," Dietz said. "But you've got to imagine this small number of people sitting at home, with guns on their lap and a hit list in their mind. They feel willing to die. When they watch the coverage of a school shooting or a workplace mass murder, it only takes one or two of them to say - 'that guy is just like me, that's the solution to my problem, that's what I'll do tomorrow'. The point is that the media coverage moves them a little closer to the action.


And Dr. Dietz views are echoed by none other than Roger Ebert, linked in The Blaze article above.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

(Emphasis added.) Should there be some rough ethical/professional guideline for the coverage of mass murders? Of course CNN and other news outlets are aware that panic and infamy are what many of these mass murderers want and that there is a good chance the next killer is making a mental note right now, "Here is how I can get on TV." But it appears the immediate opportunity to score political points outweighs the risk they might be encouraging another mass killing--an act they would undoubtedly view as causally remote anyway.

From @BenK84's link dump. Follow me on Twitter.

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posted by rdbrewer at 03:24 PM

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