Blue Byline

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A dangerous equation: Killer + Media hype = Celebrity

Post by Brian O'Neill on July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm with 10 Comments »
July 24, 2012 4:32 pm

When I came across the U.S. map on the back of the Saturday News Tribune I assumed the dark and light shading of the states represented recent presidential polling. No so. It depicted the scenes of domestic mass killings from the Columbine killings in 1999 to the present day – in all 230 were gunned down in 22 separate incidents.

Though each shocking incident represented a significant loss of life, the total number was not enough to skew our nation’s homicide statistics. Public awareness of these traumatic events, on the other hand, has led to a disproportionate amount of fear. News agencies are partly to blame.

With each mass shooting comes the inevitable media spotlight on the killer. The public is spared no detail on these twisted lives, including the final gory climax of their homicidal fantasy.

It should be no surprise that public anxiety spikes after each new massacre. Whether it is the high body count, the random death by gunfire or the realization that such twisted sociopaths do live among us, the result is the insidious notion that death could await anyone in public places we normally would (and should) feel secure: schools, shopping malls, movie theaters.

Aurora, Colorado shooting scene/ AP Photo

There has been much discussion on ways to prevent future incidents, the most controversial being the ongoing debate on gun control. Advocates of more restrictive gun laws criticize a legal system that allowed the Aurora shooter to purchase an arsenal of firearms. Gun rights proponents counter that a better armed citizenry may have brought a quicker end to many of these shootings.

The U.S. has struggled to find balance, but in a country that produces so many firearms (5.4 million in 2009, according to legal limitations will only go so far. Until this larger issue finds a safe resolution, I can only think of one idea that has a hope of lessening the chance of repetition.

We have to stop turning killers into celebrities.

I first brought this issue up a year ago when a Norwegian lunatic killed 77 people, mostly children. For that column I cited the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting as an example. The VT gunman had taken numerous “glamour shots” of himself in anticipation of his upcoming fame. These images, which portrayed a deeply disturbed individual, were pounced on by news outlets and quickly found their way onto televised news and the Internet. That pattern continued following the Norway killings.

Fast forward to the most recent massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and even the least cynical person might wonder if the guarantee of instantaneous fame (or infamy) motivated the killer as he donned tactical gear, dyed his hair and used the opening of a blockbuster movie to carry out an orgy of carnage. The answer is self evident.

What if the media took a different tack? Instead of rushing to uncover his dirty secrets, interviewing his neighbors, finding out what type of underwear he prefers, journalists might take the more courageous stand and turn their back on the perp; no pictures, no biography, no front page stories dissecting his thoughts as if he were somehow important. Nothing.

That type of action would matter because the stereotypical mass killer (if there is such an animal) is a man disenfranchised from society. His hunger for celebrity drives much of his actions, and to deprive him of this is to rob him of his impetus for violent action. The potential for saving lives should be a compelling enough reason to throw a blanket over the media inferno.

Sure, failing to provide this news angle will cause a revenue loss. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that. Instead, if you want to learn more about the victims whose lives ended in a Colorado movie theater - Jessica Ghawi, 24; Veronica Moser, 6; Matt McQuinn, 27; Alex Sullivan, 27; Micayla Medek, 23; John Larimer, 27; Jesse Childress, 29; Gordon W Cowden, 51; Jonathan T. Blunk, 26; Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32; Alexander C. Teves, 24; Alexander J. Boik, 18 – their stories can be found at this link.

May they rest in peace. May their killer be quickly forgotten.


Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. As much as the news media have made celebrities out of these scumbags, it’s just as deplorable that our politicians gleefully dance in the blood to push their own agendas and to further their own careers.

  2. Chippert says:

    One thing that these atrocities have in common is the fact that they all were committed with legally obtained weapons and ammunition. I know, I know, here comes the gun control argument. The first line of defense that pro-gun people will argue is that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. However, these deranged or social misfits that generally commit mass shootings are not your common “outlaws” – not your normal thief, burglar, etc. You would have a difficult time arguing that the latest perp would find it easy to acquire the weapons he had and the amount of ammunition he possessed if he was forced to go to the black market for it. Experience in other countries with strict gun control laws, such as Ireland and Great Britain, show this to be true. I am not saying here that all guns should be outlawed. But you can’t argue that a 100-round clip, attached to a weapon that can fire rounds as quick as you can pull the trigger, while you are wearing full body armor is needed for personal protection of your home, or is needed to go deer hunting. It is time for sane laws on weaponry.

  3. Well, thank God it’s called the bill of rights, not the bill of needs.

    PS, the Colorado shooter was not wearing body armor.

    PPS the 100 round drum magazine (not clip) the Colorado shooter used jammed, as they are wont to do. He would’ve done better using a simple 10, 20, or 30 round magazine(s).

    And yes, I can argue those things. There are approximately 20,000 firearms laws in this country. How about we enforce the ones we have, instead of having a knee jerk reaction to these types of incidents. I don’t see anyone getting up on a soapbox over the gun violence in Chicago:

    …that occurs daily. Chicago has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country yet is one of the most violent cities in America. How about we address the REAL problems in this country, instead of crying about more gun laws that won’t change anything (except make things worse)?

  4. Chippert says:

    The argument that “we can’t enforce the laws we have now” doesn’t hold water. We can’t even enforce the murder laws we have now 100%. Should we do away with those as well? Chicago’s laws are poorly designed and unenforceable for the simple reason is that the regions around Chicago do not have those laws. It is like drawing a circle in the sand on the beach and saying “The tide can’t cross this line”. In order to be effective, the laws must be nationwide and be designed to have at least a good chance of enforcement.

  5. It’s the TV 9/11 effect or how to terrorize a nation.

  6. wyecoyote says:

    Brian, I do like the suggestion that the media give the shooter no attention. I suggest that be inculded to celebrities as well.

    Only criticism is 4 firearms is an arsenal “really”? Glad you don’t see what I have in my house. Or what some of your fellow officers have.

    Chippert, so if one can not enforce current laws more laws would work? So if we can not enforce current laws on speeding we should make additional speeding laws. Chicago, dc, new York and a few others. Chose to ban firearms or hand guns it is up to their police to enforce. Not someone else’s.

    For the record according to the FBI 2010 crime stats a person is 5 times more likely to be stabed to death than killed with a rifle and twice as likely to be beaten to death by hands/feet than with a rifle. So if it truly were about safety those looking to add gun laws wouldn’t think about rifles.

  7. smokey984 says:

    The senseless and horrific killings last week at a movie theater in Colorado reminded Americans that life is fragile and beautiful, and we should not take family, friends, and loved ones for granted. Our prayers go out to the injured victims and the families of those killed. As a nation we should use this terrible event to come together with the resolve to create a society that better values life.

    We should also face the sober reality that government cannot protect us from all possible harm. No matter how many laws we pass, no matter how many police or federal agents we put on the streets, no matter how routinely we monitor internet communications, a determined individual or group can still cause great harm. We as individuals are responsible for our safety and the safety of our families.

    Furthermore, it is the role of civil society rather than government to build a culture of responsible, peaceful, productive individuals. Government cannot mandate morality or instill hope in troubled individuals. External controls on our behavior imposed by government through laws, police, and jails usually apply only after a terrible crime has occurred.

    Internal self governance, by contrast, is a much more powerful regulator of human behavior than any law. This self-governance must be developed from birth, first by parents but later also through the positive influence of relatives and adult role models. Beyond childhood, character development can occur through religious, civic, and social institutions. Ultimately, self-governance cannot be developed without an underlying foundation of morality.

    Government, however, is not a moral actor. The state should protect our rights, but it cannot develop our character. Whenever terrible crimes occur, many Americans understandably demand that government “do something” to prevent similar crimes in the future. But this reflexive impulse almost always leads to bad laws and the loss of liberty.

    Do we really want to live in a world of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras, and metal detectors? Do we really believe government can provide total security? Do we want to involuntarily commit every disaffected, disturbed, or alienated person who fantasizes about violence? Or can we accept that liberty is more important than the illusion of state-provided security?

    Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives. Liberty has meaning only if we still believe in it when terrible things happen and a false government security blanket beckons.

  8. peaarnold says:

    Brian, I think you are absolutely correct! When we try and find the changed variable that has led to the increase of these mass shootings it certainly isn’t weapons or laws. The weapons used in all these crimes have been available to the public for 50+ years. The restrictions when purchasing such weapons have also increased through the years. So why didn’t we see such crimes years ago? Clearly media coverage is a factor. Problem is…the media would have to do some self examination and police themselves. Sadly, I don’t think this will ever happen. They seem to relish their role of diagnosers and solvers of all of societies ills. BTW Brian, thanks for ignoring Mayor Bloomberg’s gun violence solution and not going on strike!

  9. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Take your child to church, and keep them away from graphic violence in the media.

  10. But there’s still freedom of the press which you guys are strangling
    with your encrypted telecommunications.

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