Mass Shootings: Journalists Are Accessories After the Fact

After the New Zealand massacre, the media need to consider a serious problem about how journalism encourages mass murderers.

It’s interesting that a voice from left, investigative reporter Mark Follman of Mother Jones wrote in DaTimes that journalism is part of the problem—a stance I’ve taken for years.

“There is a growing body of forensic evidence that mass shooters emulate their most infamous predecessors. Not only is this copycat problem far more serious than is generally understood, there are now clear indications that some individuals who plan and carry out these crimes are influenced by sensational news coverage of prior attacks,” he wrote.

A recent analysis of media coverage from three school shootings demonstrated that the media focus on the perpetrator rather than the victims. A researcher analyzed nearly 5,000 photos from nine days of news coverage. The results were shocking: the number of photos of the shooter was 16 times greater than photos of the victims.

But there’s more. The FBI analyzed 160 cases in which subsequent shooters also sought more than inspiration but also operational details—details that the media reports provided.

Journalism tends to look for a motive for the mass shootings. Most of the time there isn’t one. That was true for the Las Vegas shooter. In New Zealand, the wingnut described himself as an eco-terrorist who supported Chairman Mao and wanted to start a race war in the United States.

Reporters need to stop acting like mini-Freuds to dissect what makes these people tick. Journalism should ignore the motivation because it doesn’t matter.

The media justify the wall-to-wall coverage of mass shootings because they’re “news.” While that might be true, such events result in increases in ratings. Perhaps it’s time to limit the amount of coverage, which may mean a reduction in ratings and lost revenue but may result in fewer incidents.

Live streaming is another significant problem that must be addressed. Nearly 20 services support live streaming. The most prominent services—Facebook, Twitter, and Google—couldn’t stop the 17 minutes of live video from the New Zealand shooter and couldn’t eliminate it from the Web for at least a day. The massacre footage still exists in the darkest corners of cyberspace.

Although I don’t usually support government intervention to correct a problem, lawmakers must move quickly to restrict the unedited flow of murders, rapes, and other crimes that litter the digital space.

Here’s my solution. Stop using the killer’s name. Journalism doesn’t use the name of rape victims or juvenile criminals, so there’s a precedent for ethical intervention.

Stop using the shooter’s photo.

Stop trying to find a motive.

The media aren’t responsible for mass shootings, but they have become accessories after the fact.