Civil Discourse Now

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If we will not limit access to guns, how about responsible news coverage of mass shootings?

   On Wednesday, another mass shooting took place in the United States.
   Before the gun nuts get revved up, this blog will not address the absurd proliferation (oddly, “prolife” is the first part of the word “proliferation”) of assault weapons, etc., in this country. Instead, I want to address another aspect of the incident.
   An individual identified as a forensic psychiatrist appeared on The Charlie Brooker Show after a school shooting in Winenden, Germany, in March, 2009. In that shooting, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer killed 16 people (mostly students) before he committed suicide.
   Germany has been characterized as having some of the strictest gun control laws in the World. So all you gun nuts out there—yes, those laws apparently failed to stop Kretschmer from laying his hands on firearms and killing. However—this is a big however—overall Germany, in 2012, had 819 total fatalities from guns. The number includes accidental deaths and suicides. The rate of gun deaths per 100,000, population was 1.24. That same year the United States saw 33,636, deaths by firearms. Our rate was 10.64 deaths per hundred thousand.
   The forensic psychiatrist—whose name was not given on the clip someone replayed from 2009 coverage of the Germany shooting—focused on how to prevent these types of mass shootings.
   Think about CNN, MSNBC, Fox—and their minute-by-minute coverage of such shootings. People who are unbalanced might tend to look up to the shooters.
   Here are the suggestions the forensic psychiatrist made to the media as one way to lessen the occurrence of mass shootings:
    1) Do not start the story with the blare of sirens.
    Maybe the sirens almost are fanfare for would-be killers.
    2) Do not show photographs of the killer.
    One commentator said, especially as to repeated displays of a killer’s photograph, this makes the person into a nihilistic pinup boy.
    3) Do not make coverage of the shooting 24/7.
    The coverage is standard now, complete with animated, imagined re-enactments and “live” remotes of reporters standing outside a government building advising what they think might be announced at a nes conference that might take place.
    4) Do everything to avoid body count as the lead of the story.
    Maybe some people walk around and think: “They’ll really pay attention to me if I can kill X-number of people and beat that record from Virginia Tech!”
    5) Do not make the killer some sort of anti-hero.
    Maybe Charlie Starkweather started this trend a few decades ago. The kids—and some of them are kids—who end up as killers have problems. They look up to people who would shock the crap out of others.
    6) Localize the story to the affected community—but to the rest of the markets make it as boring as possible.
   The last point, all the points, really, if made mandatory, is something that runs counter to our notion of freedom of the press.  If we don’t know what’s going on, how can we stop it?
   Maybe we should let ratings deter broadcasters from the way in which mass shootings are covered. Unfortunately, there is a certain bloodlust in the United States. If executions were carried out on TV, that show probably would be Number One in its time slot—for a while. The American people grow easily bored. One season’s hit is on the next season’s list of shows canceled. I think people were opposed to the Vietnam War, after a certain point, say 1970, not so much because of the war itself, but because people were bored with all the coverage.
   The suggestions made by the forensic psychiatrist—and please let me know if someone finds out who the guy is or was; if he’s now disgraced or, himself, went on a shooting rampage, I know I’ll get an ear-ful—are suggestions. Paddy Chayevsky’s “Network,” some 40 years ago, predicted the entertainment division would take over the news division.
   Coverage of mass shootings should not be entertainment.

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