Two Articles on the Role of the Media in Mass Shootings

All,

I recently had an exchange with Dr. James Worth, a friend here in Lexington and part of our distribution list on an article I sent out last week (included below.) I thought you might find our discussion of interest. Thanks James for sharing your thoughts. Best, r

Rusty,

In my opinion the “Don’t Name Them” campaign doesn’t go nearly far enough. The young men who commit the vast majority of these shootings are angry, alienated, and disempowered individuals who want to hurt others in a way that makes them feel powerful and somehow important. It isn’t just their name in the media that they crave, it is knowing that they hurt people, that they caused pain, that they made a mark in the world, however black. The media plays right into this by incessantly interviewing the victims, vividly portraying their emotional suffering, and repeating over and over again how awful these crimes are. This usually continues days after the shooting and is no longer news. It simply reinforces in the minds of these disturbed individuals how they, too, can “make a difference”.

Report the shootings. Of course. They are newsworthy and it is important for the public to be aware of what happened. But, let the survivors and the families of those who didn’t survive grieve in private, which I suspect they prefer. Don’t play up the suffering and negative impact. We all know it is there. But, hyping the grief only increase the likelihood of more mass shootings.

James W. Worth, Ed.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Hi James,While I certainly agree with, and much appreciate you’re taking the time to make your comments on the articles, I feel the Media will always be the real problem, second only to the shooter, him/herself. And that both the electronic and print media will continue to be unwilling to take any responsibility for their actions or the ensuing consequences. I have often heard them justify their actions/news coverage at conferences and panel discussions as “the public has a right to know.” Would be more honest if they said “if it bleeds it leads” and selling air time, fear of being scooped by competitors and profits make it almost impossible for them to do otherwise.

The TV Media has made some progress with streakers and attention seekers at sporting events, but the profits in their coverage of terrorism are too great for them to ignore. Even the silly interviews of neighbors and family members, which you discuss in your comments, which add nothing to the public’s need to understand the facts and dangers of terror attacks, will probably never be off the table. I particularly recall, after a dozen Russian illegals were arrested in 2010, a neighbor being interviewed on nightly TV said about one of the Russian spies in Boston, “I can’t believe she could be a spy, she had such beautiful hydrangeas.”
Rusty
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Another of our colleagues, Dan Mulvenna, has taken the time to comment on these articles and the recent positing by Dr. James Worth which I thought you might find of interest. Dan is a former senior officer in the RCMP and chief of corporate security for two of the world’s major oil companies. He and I have been friends and teaching colleagues for more than 20 years.

Rusty,

In my view Dr. Worth is correct!  The “click-bait” media, who are into sensationalism and hype, and their networks who make big money off their exaggerated, hyperbolic coverage and now very much making news rather than just report the facts (which they never apologize for when they get it wrong but just move on to the next big “crisis”). They are “injecting steroids” into the toxic politicized environment we are all now living in.  And of course, the various social media platforms double down on all of this.

Let me give you a great example; the Editor of the New York Times held a closed town-hall staff meeting for his over 100 plus reporters about two weeks ago.  Essentially his message was, and I paraphrase “… We did great with the Russia interference – Collusion story this past two years, even won a Pulitzer, but we now have to move on, and we need to focus on Racism…”

As you  know I read the NYT’s every day – have done so for well over 30 years – so I have carefully watched for about two weeks now, the articles on the Editorial and Op pages, and the “news” pages [they has been a bleeding of more opinion reporting into the news pages these past several years as you know] as well as the NYT’s weekend magazine.  Surprise, surprise; Almost immediately, a spike in the number of stories on racism, some laced with hand-wringing and emotion-tugging about America’s racist past, AND today’s horrible racist incidents/environment.  This included devoting a complete edition of the paper’s multi-page weekend magazine to the issue. While there certainly has been racism in the U.S. [and elsewhere in the world] had there been a sudden surge in racism in the U.S.?  Not as far as I can tell.

Now everyone knows the NYT’s is a liberal paper – in a solid liberal city – I understand and accept that – have for years.  But it was and remains to a lesser extent now, the U.S. paper to read for national and international coverage and reporting.  But over the past decade it’s sterling journalism has steadily drifted from reporting news, AND deeply researched, largely apolitical investigations of issues, towards quick-breaking stories, lightly or anonymously sourced, less balanced and more opinionated.   In fact, it has become harder and harder to discern where the Op Ed pages end and the so-called news pages begin. There are still some serious old-school reporters on staff; I follow and trust them more.  I always look at who is reporting the stories and I can predict with a pretty fair degree of reliability, the tone and thrust of the articles by first looking at the reporter’s names.

Many of the new younger “journalists”, and some older ones of course, are not “reporting” news, they are “making and shaping” the news, with stories that are laced with their opinion and world-view.  I grant this is not news to most, but it is a sad commentary on the state of today’s journalism.  As you know all the journalists have their own “Twitter” and other social media accounts with their followers – on which they are even more opinionated at times than in their stories.  They are all seeking celebrity status.

The funny thing is I was blaming the Editor for diluting journalistic standards – until I learned that actually he was trying to hold back and temper the outcry that arose from the majority of his journalists at the town-hall meeting, who wanted much more aggressive action – they in fact have become activists and that is probably how they see the role of “journalists” today.

Of course, I could write the same story/complaint about the smaller “conservative” media outlets.

Sorry about my “screed” – just so disappointed with the so-called journalism – media “profession” today – and with the fact that that Dr. Worth’s sensible suggestions will never happen in the present environment.  The media has largely abandoned any pretense of being apolitical and view themselves more as activists than reporters of facts/events – although when challenged they will deny that and will protest that they are just reporting the truth as they see it – being totally oblivious to the reality of their own confirmation bias.

I note that some of them are now complaining that conservative activist groups are now researching reporter’s previous [public] social media posts, no doubt looking to highlight their previous comments/views.  They are proclaiming that this is unfair!  That it is an attempt to intimidate them.  Do they think they should have some sort of immunity as a privileged class!  That it is O.K. for them to do that to others, but that it should not be done to them?  This just illustrates their mindset, and their view of themselves as the enlightened ones with a “noblesse oblige” responsibility to the unenlightened masses.  Spare us please!

The solution is of course to make an effort and read a broader range of media, especially from the better international outlets for a more balanced view.

 So, while I totally agree with your Dr. Worth’s views – and wish it were so – we are going in the opposite direction.

 Got that off my chest!

 Regards

 Dan

 P.S. See I do read your stuff!

Wow Dan, that was quite a reaction, and well written! Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts into words.

I was reminded, as I read your comments, of a similar example to the one you describe above in a segment of a class I once taught at the CICentre on disinformation during the Vietnam War. It the class I showed a video about the Tet Offensive as described in the TV documentary, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War. The director of that documentary was quote as saying their video got it wrong about the Tet Offensive and that the North Vietnamese had actually been defeated in every battle, had not achieved any of their goals and the producers should do a follow up episode to set the record right. The producer replied that the American people now believed that Tet was an American defeat/NVA victory and that they should/would let it remain that way. I have frequently found reason to question the veracity and the ethics of the Media and my views were reinforced by that example and much of what I’ve seen and read since. Too bad, as they are an indispensable element of our republic.

I think you are correct when you point out that one answer to this problem is to read a broader range of Media sources, both domestic and international. In fact, I’ve made it a point to tell my students in the introduction to each class that “the truth is described as the average of all the primary and secondary sources you have read on a particular subject.”

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Best regards,

Rusty