Foreign Intelligence Brief #411: Turning Murderous Twats Into Nihilistic Pin-Up Boys

In 2009, in the wake of the Winnenden school shooting in Germany that killed 15, Charlie Brooker reminded us of the mechanics of the mainstream press in such tragic days by quoting Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz. “We’ve had 20 years of mass murders 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 the 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.” 2009 was a long time ago, and there have been so many mass shootings since that the Brooker clip and Dietz’s quote have sadly become regular rebukes. Will news networks and newspapers ever take it upon themselves to heed the words of the experts, or does the need to sensationalize for ratings and hits make larger societal considerations laughably quaint?

PS. If you think wall to wall coverage of this kind of carnage is a sickness exclusive to the American media, the British are just as bad, and so are we. The screenshots after the jump are from Vancouver’s mainstream media, taken this afternoon…

There are 9 comments

  1. Whoa, you’ve GOT to be kidding me. Somehow the media focusing on the merciless slaughter of 20 children and seven adults as a major news story implicates us in the carnage?
    Right, we forgot, our job is to make a murderous rampage “boring” everywhere but in tiny Newtown, Conn. — and God help us if we cite how many people died or try to examine what kind of person would commit such a monstrosity.
    How about you decry what forced us to cover this in the first place: the clear need for powerful guns to be out of the hands of crazy and dangerous people, and resources to help troubled souls before they go over the edge and cause one of these tragedies.
    No, let’s shoot the messenger instead (sorry for the analogy, but it fits). Sigh.

  2. So you disagree with the forensic psychologist? That’s fine, but be a dear and drop the wounded bluster and adolescent sighs, Joseph. You might write for The Province, but you don’t have to comment like one of its readers.

  3. Disagree with him? Not exactly. But I see no value in his trying to conjure a world where we don’t report extensively on these things. What he suggests the media do is an impossibility in the digital age. (Oh, and my sighs are regrettably hard-won. not a mark of adolescence. We get this crap a lot.)

  4. I grant that what Dietz suggests is an impossibility, but his larger point stands while yours sits (it has nothing to do with “the digital age”). You “get this crap a lot” because The Province sensationalizes tragedy like the printed step-child of Geraldo Rivera and Nancy Grace. Any counter-argument on that score would be an embarrassing exercise in self-immolation, but be my guest…

  5. A writer of The Province taking offense when it is pointed out that the publication is little more than BC’s own version of News of the World? Color me shocked, I always thought they were in full acceptance of where that rag stands in the journalistic hierarchy.

    On the topic of the article, I quite agree and I have to say that social media has become a problem as large as journalism in terms of spreading this trouble around. I had it out with several friends who blindly posted the news to their facebook wall with little more commentary than “Oh Dear” yesterday. What purpose does that serve? Other than voyeuristic shock value this tragedy has little to no resonance here in BC, making an overbearing focus on it arguably demeaning to those people who ARE effected by it.

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Our culture feels entitled to the minute, gory details of every murder, suicide, and tragedy. We *expect* bios into the lives of the killer, interviews with the victims, motherfucking blueprints showing ‘the path of the killer’. It’s heinous. We have come to expect (and feel entitled to) this culture of hyper sensationalism, where these horrors become little more than dark entertainment. Try to deny this.

    If media organizations (I think calling The Province ‘journalism’ is too much of a stretch) want to do something other than profit off of these events, then 100% of the coverage should be focused on raising the deeper issues (gun control, how we support the mentally ill) and supporting the victims (profiles on the community, financial support, whatever is appropriate).

    And if citizens want to do something other than experience this sick sensationalism, then we need to stop reading stories focusing on the body count, or how many bullets the shooter was carrying, or any of these other idiotically-irrelevant details. We need to demand that our media and our politicians looks at the deeper causes for these events and do whatever they can, based off of scientific evidence, to prevent them from happening again.

    Here in BC, the shockingly public suicide of a teenage girl is what it took us to start talking about bullying in a way more serious than wearing a pink shirt to work. Will the murder of these children have the same effect on America? Will it spur them to reject the 24-hour news cycle in favour of addressing the structural collapse of their welfare net and the attendant problems of ignoring mentally-ill, heavily-armed young men?

    Sadly, I have little faith in this happening. Once in a while a tragedy so horrific might jolt us into action, but we’ll see. As long as The Province, the Globe and Mail, CNN & the rot are profiting off of their coverage of these events, we’re fucked.

  7. Roger Ebert on media coverage of mass killings. 2003.

    Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

    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.

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