Does Media Coverage of School Shootings Lead to More School Shootings?

Copycat Killers, Media Coverage, and the Fight Over Footage of the Seattle Pacific University Shooting

Comments

1
Jack Johnson - Cookie Jar sums it up pretty good...

I would turn on the TV but it's so embarrassing
To see all the other people I don't know what they mean
And it was magic at first when they spoke without sound
But now this world is gonna hurt you better turn that thing down
Turn it around

"It wasn't me", says the boy with the gun
"Sure I pulled the trigger but it needed to be done
Cause life's been killing me ever since it begun
You cant blame me cause I'm too young"

"You can't blame me sure the killer was my son
But I didn't teach him to pull the trigger of the gun
It's the killing on this TV screen
You cant blame me its those images he seen"

Well "You can't blame me", says the media man
Well "I wasn't the one who came up with the plan
I just point my camera at what the people want to see
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Man it's a two way mirror and you cant blame me"

"You can't blame me", says the singer of the song
Or the maker of the movie which he based his life on
"It's only entertainment and as anyone can see
The smoke machines and makeup and you cant fool me"

It was you it was me it was every man
We've all got the blood on our hands
We only receive what we demand
And if we want hell then hell's what we'll have

And I would turn on the TV
But it's so embarrassing
To see all the other people
I don't even know what they mean
And it was magic at first
But let everyone down
And now this world is gonna hurt
You better turn it around
Turn it around
2
Ansel, your editor is an idiot and a tool. S/he says “It’s not about publicizing him. It’s explaining how this happened, how he got his weapons, whether there were mental health issues, whether there are things to learn. That’s how we get to better policy.”

Then by definition, it *is* about publicizing him...

What are the common threads of these shooters? They're generally white males, late teens to early 20s, disaffected, and **they tend to have done extensive research on previous terroristic shootings, and they surround themselves with shrines dedicated to the 'martyrs' who came before them.**

You don't need a PhD to know that every time a media outlet publishes the name of one of these attackers, they take on guilt for the inevitable next round of shootings to be perpetrated by the next deranged person.

If people want to blame gun manufacturers for enabling this phenomenon through manufacture of death-dealing tools, then it is only appropriate that we blame the mass media every time they glorify these killers. They are responsible for manufacturing the antihero myth that is received loud and clear by the next shooter, who is silently waiting in the wings.
3
Great reporting Ansel! I especially appreciate your linking of unethical reporting to suicide contagion and how it applies to mass shooters in a logical way. This is an issue that has barely been covered by media organizations, so I hope this article gets a lot of eyes. This piece needs to be metaphorically nailed to the front door of every news station requesting the video described, as well as others making similar requests.

The argument that there isn't a scientific conclusion is a little disingenuous. It is simply a problem of the size of the data set. With suicide, you have over 30,000 deaths just in the US per year. This is a lot of data that can be analyzed. For shooters, it is not nearly that much. But if these news organizations want a little solace, their unethical reporting will certainly help build the mass shooting data set up to a reasonable size so that we can finally get a definitive conclusion. They can pat themselves on the back and realize that their sensational reporting helps science.
4
As a member of "the public" I have no interest in seeing this video, and do not consider myself to have a particular right to see it. (I certainly do not consider myself to have any need to see it, or any interest at all.)
If the shooter were at large, a still from the video would be enough.
The defense lawyers and prosecutors do have a right to see the video.
If there were a question about police actions or any other accountability issues, a case could be made for public release. But lacking any vested interest regarding public safety and/or government action, how do I have a "right" to satisfy my curiosity? And where does that right end?
"In the public interest" does not mean the same as "some of the public is interested."
5
Yes it does.
6
It's insane to think that just because a private video becomes the subject of a police investigation, it is a "public" document. This is most definitely NOT a sovereignty issue. The public did not pay for this video, nor were public servants involved in its creation. The fact that it's in a police department filing cabinet due to a tragedy does NOT make it public property.

Shame on the media for getting on their high horse over their supposed "right" to a snuff film. If the teevee stations do obtain this film and broadcast it, then SPU should sue the holy living crap out of all of them for copyright infringement.
7
As a former journalist, I can think of numerous times that my organization obtained horrific records of tragedies for the purposes of elucidating the impact and verifying the accuracy of official explanations of an event. This is one of those vital roles that a free press is supposed to play in a vibrant democracy. However, just because we obtained those photos/video doesn't mean that we published them.

Just because television media is morally bankrupt doesn't mean that the public should be robbed of access to potentially vital public information in the future. It does mean that organizations that prioritize their bottom line/ratings over the public good should be ostracized and taken to task.
8
I think the media is largely to blame for the rise in school shootings.

Why just merely kill yourself when you can be immortalized as a cable TV celebrity?

The media simply refuses to acknowledge the blood on their hands.
9
@7: When it's police reports, police photographs, records made by public servants at public expense, then public records are involved. When a private citizen turns over evidence to assist in an investigation, it is ridiculous to treat that as a public record. In fact, it is counterproductive, because people will hesitate to provide valuable evidence if they know it's going to be splashed all over the evening news by salacious, money-grubbing teevee morons.
10
I am still uncertain about public disclosure of names, videos etc etc but this article is useful and well-done, Ansel.

Should we not disclose police brutality videos? I am not sure if same principle applies.

And how far do we go? Does publicity around Robin William's suicide discourage suicide? or encourage more middle-age middle-class white males to make suicide au courant?
11
@10: Contrary to public belief, middle age white males are the highest suicide risk by far, except for 85+ year old white men and young Native American men. Look at the bottom two charts here:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en…

Compare and contrast a person like Robin William's demographics (white, male, 63) to the everyone else. Compared it to teenage and young women and you will see almost a tenfold difference. And if you want to see the very magnitude of the problem, look at the very first chart, which resembles a mountain.
12
Spot on

MSM needs to stop pursuing If It Bleeds It Leads news

And focus on those who stand up and fix stuff
13
@11
I wasn't joking. See WaPo:
http://tinyurl.com/lmq4clw
14
Charlie Brooker, Newswipe, Episode 1

The whole thing is brilliant, but this link takes you to the relevant section:

http://youtu.be/B63ahmTAesM?t=24m35s

(...and this is from March 2009.)
15
Whether this correlation exists or not (and it's very questionable in my mind), I don't want the courts (or the cops or any government entity) to be telling us what we can and cannot see. Next time it might be a video that puts the cops or a politician or a judge in a bad light, and someone will want it suppressed. The First Amendment can be messy, but it's a far sight better than the alternative.
16
You did not address the issue of the public's "prurient interest."
17
Why did you name the UCSB shooter and not the SPU shooter?
18
Excellent piece, I agree wholeheartedly.

My little piece of tangential evidence: Years ago I did a research piece for one of my history classes. I chose to analyze the effects of terrorist attacks on target populations. Unfortunately I found that terror attacks are very ineffective in totalitarian countries but very effective in "free countries." The research I found suggested that this was because the media is responsible for the overall effect, and by extension the effectiveness of the attacks. In countries where the media is strictly controlled by the government the perpetrators simply disappear and the dead are quietly buried. Unfortunately, in "free countries" the terrorist, victim, and action (in that order) are plastered over the news, thus maximising the social unease and inspiring future terrorists.

The research that I read suggested that the best way to fight terror is essentially to ignore it.
19
This is truly not meant to be a pro or con argument about 594, but when I read this assertion:

"Most agree that universal background checks would help somewhat—Washington State voters will be considering a universal-background-checks initiative this fall, Initiative 594"

I'd like to know specifically which school shooting or spree killing you believe would have been stopped by more stringent background checks. Admittedly I haven't done a ton of research on the topic but to my knowledge almost all of these murders circumvented the typical Point of Sale background checks by stealing the guns they used.

The Cafe Racer shooter (who shall remain nameless) passed a background check to buy his guns long before his sanity slipped away, and even if he'd gone through a background check right before his killing spree he likely would have passed it due to our lack of any meaningful mental health support network.

I don't want to be "that guy" but when you name-drop a controversial ballot measure with vague claims that it would somehow help to prevent these types of killings, even if it's dressed up as popular opinion, there should be some accompanying content to back it up. Without factual context statements like that are just self-congratulatory platitudes for the people who think that "doing something" is the same thing as coming up with an actual solution.
20
It is a relief to learn that Judge Halpert overturned Commissioner Carlos Velategui's decision. Legal opinions should be reasoned applications of the law to the facts at hand, not irrational, emotional "rants" reflecting the peeves, fears, and bias's of those who render them, no matter what their age. Velategui's age (near seventy he claims) is totally, utterly irrelevant.

About five years ago, The Seattle Times did a series of reports on "Your Courts, their Secrets." Velategui received special mention for having, I believe, the second most improperly sealed records at the King County Courthouse. It wasn't hard to understand why. Velategui routinely rubberstamps the requests of his colleagues (the guardians and their attorneys) thus encouraging and even furthering their crimes against the helpless victims (persons with assets who have been determined by the court to be incapacitated) in their care. In my mother's case, he threatened to seal (improperly) my thirty or so page analysis of fraudulent fee requests of the guardian and its attorney, while keeping public his findings, ("I don't see any problem here,") and maintaining the pretense of transparency. Needless to say, my analysis received, at best, an abbreviated glance, five seconds at most. The pretext for sealing was, as he put it, "She's been everywhere, talking to everyone."

In the fifteen years since my mother had the misfortune to land in Velategui's shameless excuse for a courtroom, nothing has changed. I've followed his "career" closely. He continues to use the hard earned assets of the incapacitated folks before him as a feeding trough to reward his greedy friends and colleagues. He should have been removed years ago.