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Mass Shooting Coverage and Glamorizing Murderers

When I first heard about the Isla Vista shooting, I said that I wouldn’t write about it. In a sense, my initial decision to avoid this topic was in the same spirit as this Ezra Klein article from Vox.com that implores the news media and their audiences to stop giving these killers the attention they so desperately desire.

It was also in defense of this spirit that I got in a minor Twitter debate with Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce and Mediaite.com reporter Luke O’Neil. The suggestion was that rather than worrying about the media making murderers famous it’d be better to “not give them fame making tools,” meaning guns.

Of course, Mediaite.com is littered with posts about the shooter, Elliot Rogers, and the almost two dozen videos he posted on his YouTube channel. Comedian Jim Norton – who I interviewed earlier in the year, where this specific topic came up in the discussion as something he cares about – tweeted a picture of the New York Daily News’ coverage and mocked it, claiming annoyance that the “tiny photos of the victims are interfering with the glamour shot of the true media star [the shooter].”

Although it’s not simply about glamorizing the shooter, it’s about capitalizing on a kind of emotional voyeurism that our over-filmed world provides. Across the internet, cable and network news images from one of the locations of the shooting captured by a store security camera are endlessly broadcast. CNN even (in a moment of macabre self-congratulation) bragged that they weren’t even showing “the worst part.”

This in no way furthers the story that a news audiences needs to hear nor does it add to the larger discussions of mental illness, gun control, and violent misogyny that after such an event are at least relevant to the discussion, if not a mite insensitive in the immediate aftermath of the event. All this particular video does is confirm that when shots ring out, people flee and cower in terror. So powerful, it’s like we were there.

I am neither suggesting that stories about these incidents of mass violence are not news-worthy or not important to examine. Yet, that’s not what’s happening here. These frenetic looky-loos seek not to inform or create empathy, but instead to allow themselves and their viewers to feel a kind of rage and/or sadness by proxy.

During our discussion on Twitter, Mr. O’Neil said “killers terrorists and asssassins have always been made famous, before cable, internet,” and he is absolutely correct. Only it is the immediacy and saturation of this coverage on those latter two media that remain particularly egregious and, according to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, dangerous.


Photo by Jim Norton via Twitter

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.