What is it about the American news media and their love for criminals, unethical people, bad news, and murderers? In February, PBS launched a boat-load of special programs
on mass murder including a profile, complete with childhood photos and video, of the origins of the murderer of the 26 killed in Newtown. They had lots of media company that week promoting the same kinds of coverage. One has to ask, “Why?” – Aside from ratings, of course.
Does humanizing the killer do anything other than confuse us and further assault the memory of those killed?
Did we learn anything new and useful? Or, did we just see a lot of people more important than you or me with their mouths moving, and hear a lot of low value information and speculation.
Why is it we make “30 second Saints” out of the victims, but we virtually canonize, popularize, and lionize the perpetrators? The more violent the crime, the greater the media fascination. There is no rationalizing it; there is no excuse or reason for it, except that the media just loves it and they think we do, too.
The media’s excuse is, “How can we learn to recognize risky individuals and avoid these situations in the future if we don’t explore them when they occur?” After nearly 60 years of television, 100 years of radio, 300 years of newspapers, and now cable television, the internet and new media, how much have we learned about violent people, violent actions, and the causative factors? The answer? Nothing. It’s about the violence and the audience violence generates.
Popular wisdom says that the people who become violent get their ideas from television, from movies, or from playing the evermore malignantly violent video games. A new Harris Poll
reveals that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe that there is a link between playing violent video games and teenagers showing violent behavior (58%). In the survey, the majority agreed that there was no difference between playing a violent video game and watching a violent movie (56%). Even absent any real evidence, the entertainment industry steps up and makes excuses.
The movie industry lines up its hired guns, big mouths and small brains to defend the innocuousness of assault, murder and gun deaths in movies. Some of the same crew goes on television to defend and even encourage violence on television as having little or no effect on people’s behavior. A friend of mine, who is a veteran, said that veterans of war might agree that the real thing is far more devastating than the scenes on television, movies and video games. But, for the rest of us, what we already see in these entertainment mediums is violent and graphic enough.
We are a victim-focused culture. We seem to love the production of victims.
The question is how much violence is enough violence? If there is indeed a tipping point through exposure to violence in a variety of forms, this should be studied. We should systematically look for those points, if they exist, where violent behavior can be triggered by violent examples. But of course, there are those among us who don’t want to know these things. Until January of this year, there were laws against studying gun violence
The American Academy of Pediatrics
reports that by age 18, the average American child will have viewed about 200,000 acts of violence on television alone. Here again the argument is that so much violence probably leads to desensitization, but admittedly there is no proof or data that such enormous levels of violence increase the likelihood of perpetration.
The media ennobles perpetrators and killers while forsaking the victims and demeaning the survivors by constantly euphemizing the crimes while glorifying the perpetrators.
Having decided to produce and promote all this gore, but to mitigate their complicity, and perhaps their boredom, the media, the movies and the talking heads use lots of substitute descriptions to avoid having to say the word “murder.” It’s the “tragedy at Newtown.” It’s the “horrific events at Newtown.” It’s the “unspeakable events at Newtown.” It’s the “huge sadness at Newtown.” Actually, it’s sadly and simply the murders or the killings at Newtown. Every time a broadcaster, writer or speaker fails to use the word murder, they are forgiving the perpetrator, demeaning the survivors, and diminishing the value and memory of those who were killed. And, the seeds of future violent behavior, and therefore the generation of huge future audiences, become possible.
Today we have the TIME Magazine
March 11th cover featuring none other than Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic runner accused of shooting his girlfriend. There he is on the cover, standing tall on his blade feet. TIME calls him “Man, Superman, Gunman.” This is the future perpetrator’s success poster. How many thousands of potential perpetrators now can ask themselves, “Who do I have to shoot, assault, kidnap or kill to make the cover of TIME?” Who knows? Maybe, if Pistorius is convicted, and the victim’s parents forgive him, as they have said they will, he’ll become TIME’s Gunman of the Year.
By James E. Lukaszewski
James E. Lukaszewski is the author of "Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication: What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Managment", available now at amazon.com
Labels: crime, crisis, crisis management, gunman, Harris Poll, media, murder, murderers, PBS, perpetrator, TIME, victim, violence, violent crime