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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Media Over-Coverage of the Aurora Movie Theater Shootings

     Most people would probably take issue with the notion that the television media has over-covered the James Holmes's mass murder case in Aurora, Colorado. If television viewers didn't watch the minute-by-minute, day-after-day reporting of stories like this, we wouldn't have this kind of wall-to-wall, nonstop coverage. My opinion that this and other news events like it are over-covered is obviously the minority view. But regardless of whether or not the media has lost its perspective in reporting shooting spree cases, the coverage is intense, at times overwrought, and occasionally puerile. The consequences of  heavy media coverage of mass murder cases like this are not good.

     Because sadistic, sociopathic, narcissists like James Holmes are motivated, at least in part, by the pathological desire to call attention to themselves, the TV media plays into this need by making them famous. There is no better way of achieving instant, international fame than to commit a spectacular mass murder. Suddenly, James Holmes, an obscure college kid, while universally reviled, is an historic figure whose crime will affect the way the rest of us live. In a few years, people will be selling his art, letters, and other associative murderabilia online. His murder spree has already got us arguing about gun control, and before long we will be debating the death sentence. Who knows how many books, TV documentaries, and films his killing spree will inspire?

     By the conclusion of James Holmes' trial, there is very little we won't know about this homicidal sociopath. Every aspect of his life will be analyzed and discussed as though we are studying the life of Abraham Lincoln. More people have heard of Bonnie and Clyde than Marie and Louis Pasteur. While it may not be politically correct to say this, real-life crime is a form of entertainment.

     The intense media coverage of the mass murder of vulnerable victims may also encourage so-called copycat killers, other deadly psychopaths who crave recognition and fame. It might also tempt terrorists who have been obsessed with commercial aviation, to target places where people regularly gather such as theaters, schools, sporting events, and shopping malls. These venues present much softer targets.

     Intense media coverage of horrible crimes, particularly ones committed outside the inner city, spreads public fear that is out of proportion to the risk of becoming a victim. During the terrorist-like reign of the two Washington, D. C. area snipers, tens of thousands of citizens were afraid to drive to work, get gas, or go shopping, when in reality, a person's chance of being shot by one of these men was about the same as winning the lottery, or being struck by lightening on your birthday. This irrational fear of crime can be exploited by the police to further militarize law enforcement, and by politicians who are driven to pass costly, feel-good legislation that is useless. Moreover, as we have seen at the nation's airports, measures that have created a sense of false security have made flying a nightmare.

     Notwithstanding the fact that high schools and university campuses have beefed up security, since the Columbine killing spree in 1999, there have been more than 80 school and campus shootings. Armed theater guards will jack-up the price of  movie tickets without adding much protection.

     Regarding journalism itself, for news junkies interested in stories unrelated to crime, the intense television coverage of these mass murders diverts reporters from covering other news events. When O. J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend in 1995, dozens of reporters in Cuba covering the Pope's visit with Castro, climbed on planes to Los Angeles. Suddenly Castro and the Pope were alone. The biased and overblown media coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case actually contributed to innocent parents being persecuted by malicious and incompetent investigators. For months the Ramsey case dominated the news on cable TV. After awhile, this one-note crime reporting becomes repetitive, tedious, and superficial. When the cable networks get geared-up for a big story, they don't know when to stop. Well, it's time to stop.

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