Why should mass school shootings get media attention?

Suicide is a very serious problem in many countries, but the media don’t often publicise suicides because of the “Sorrows of Young Werther” effect, which basically means the bigger the media sensation you make about suicide the more people will commit suicide.

A popular book in the 1700s, "The Sorrows Of Young Werther" Led to copycat suicides - this can be applied to media buzz detailing mass shooting sprees today. | Intentious

“The Sorrows Of Young Werther” effect can be applied to media buzz detailing mass shooting sprees today | Intentious | Image Credit: http://jamesharfordeuro3301.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/seminar-6-epistolary-extremes-goethes-werther/

The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774. In the book, [Spoiler Alert?] Werther shoots himself in the head, but does not expire until 12 hours after he has shot himself. This graphic, tragic and memorable portrayal reputedly led to some of the first known examples of copycat suicide.

A similar effect happens when there is a mass killing;  there are scum-bags out there who get high off the idea of leaving an infamous legacy in the psyche of a whole nation.

So what better way to achieve this than to kill 20 kindergarten children?

Publications like this just do not do any good: US Mass School Shootings – A History | ABC News  The piece even includes a video looking at “The Men Behind The Massacres”. Come on, really? Isn’t that exactly everything a school shooting killer could hope for and more?

The Columbine Massacre was turned into a  movie in 2002 (Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling For Columbine) which not only set in stone forever the names of the killers, but also lined the pockets of it’s producers with a cool $35 million. (On a side note, I find it more than a little disconcerting that Michael Moore is awarded because he chooses to make money out of documentaries centred around human tragedy. But that’s another rant for another day.)

Each time the media whip up a hysterical shitstorm and follow every breaking detail about a shooting spree and it’s killer, they’re encouraging copy-cat sickos to start planning their own mass murders, practically guaranteeing immortalisation.

What did Bowling For Columbine achieve to lower school shooting spree numbers? These tragedies occur more often than ever before the media encourage them by covering them in more detail than ever before.

Yes, particularly in Western culture a lot of people grieve by re-living the nightmare. Google searches for tragedies skyrocket; we’re all somehow wired to be drawn to macabre details.

A lot of people argue they would like to hear more about tragedies in the mistaken belief that it encourages themselves and others to raise more awareness to work on preventing them.

However, if you don’t believe that quite the opposite effect is happening, just take a second to think about this:

You don’t see mass shootings as much in say, department stores or at music festivals or at airports. It doesn’t happen as often in workplaces. Why do shooting-spree killers tend to choose schools and universities as their target? Because they’ve become the common expected place that to carry out this act. Citizens take it for granted now that if a killing spree has occurred, it will likely have been at a place of education.

It is the media that have ingrained that rule into us.

We’re not the only ones who believe this theory: here’s world famous movie reviewer Roger Ebert on the media’s behaviour while reporting these kinds of events:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?”

No, I said, I wouldn’t say that.

“But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?”

The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory.

“Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them.

I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1.

The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course, the interview was never used.

They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Source: http://kottke.org/12/12/roger-ebert-on-the-medias-coverage-of-school-shootings

For reasons unfathomable, the media do not exercise the same self-censorship they do over suicide.

To be honest, we don’t know why this is the case. Is it because perhaps the murder victims deserve international media publicity, even if publicising it over and over potentially puts other schools in danger of copy-cat killers?

Is it because not enough mass killings have happened yet and it’s still so unusual that we just have to Google it over and over, and over, again? Obama himself declared that the USA have endured enough of these tragedies. Not one soul disagrees there.

Yet when you look at the number of shares and status updates on Facebook mentioning the details, a killer has one hundred percent achieved his objective, and the media and individuals have directly contributed to that objective.

If this horrific practice is to reduce, if Obama wants to “prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics” as he said, it is our belief that we need to pass laws NOT to publicise them to the extent we currently do.

If not placing a media blackout on the entire tragic event, at the very least, as “unsatisfying” as it may be to John Smith reading at his computer, we should never, ever reveal anything about the killer to the general public.

Article by: Andrew Beato and Jason Sutherland


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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Crime, Events, People, Politics, Law

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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2 Comments on “Why should mass school shootings get media attention?”

  1. Anonymous
    December 18, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Completely agree with you on this. These things are way too publicized period! It should be said once and what happened and then dropped. Not sensationalized on every damn piece of information about it. As far as mentioning the suspect, don’t, just call them the coward and leave it at that. Do not mention their names, their families or any information about them. Maybe then, these individuals who want to be the next copy cat killer will get over it. When they realize nobody is going to even know them, only know about the victims.


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    […] Why should mass school shootings get media attention? […]

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