April 23, 2007

MEGAN MCARDLE ON COPYCAT VIOLENCE:

In the wake of the Virginia tech murders, there has been a lot of editorialising about gun control and mental health interventions. But I haven’t found a single editorial addressing one factor we know creates these mass murders: reporting on the mass murders. In the next few weeks and months, even over the next few years, expect to see copycat killings inspired by Cho’s actions. The more saturated the media coverage, the more such events we are likely to get. But as far as I know, few papers have taken to advocating that we cut down on news coverage of these events.

That might cost them money.

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz:

I have rarely seen the kind of angry eruption that followed. Friends and family of the Virginia Tech victims were furious, but so too were millions of Americans who saw the news outlets as giving Cho precisely the kind of notoriety he had been seeking, in precisely the way he had taped it. Why give this madman the posthumous satisfaction? Why immortalize his vicious acts? Why encourage potential copycats? Why take the focus off the 32 innocent people whose lives were snuffed out? (None of the three newsmagazines, interestingly enough, put Cho’s image on the cover.)

Fortunately the networks quickly dialed back on the use of the video — in part, I believe, because they were taken aback by the intensity of the reaction.

Kurtz goes on to suggest, though, that the alternative was not covering things. But that’s simplistic. There’s coverage and there’s coverage. The coverage we got was screaming, pandering, ratings-bait. NBC could have presented the material later, and in a more somber fashion. They could have put the video online instead of broadcasting it in primetime. The reason why people were upset is that the coverage was exploitative.

I also have to disagree with Kurtz’s follow-on:

The media proved, as they did in the days after 9/11, that they excel at covering big, breaking news, freed from the need to pump up a minor melodrama involving Laci or Natalee or Anna Nicole and imbue it with national significance.

Actually, the 9/11 coverage was bad — and don’t get me started on the Katrina coverage, which as Newsday veteran Lou Dolinar noted probably cost lives with its overhyped false reports of snipers shooting at rescuers etc. After every big event, members of the press congratulate each other on their coverage. But in fact, it’s just Anna Nicole Smith with a bigger body count.

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