A Sensible Measure from the Brady Campaign to Reduce Mass Shootings: The Media Should Stop Naming The Killers

May 1st, 2016

One of the most under-discussed aspect of mass shootings is the so-called “copycat effect.” The deranged individuals who seek to inflict such mass carnage often worship and idolize those homicidal maniacs who came before them. One solution to clamp down on these killings is one our sensationalistic media is least interested in: stop broadcasting the name and photograph of the killers!

For example, Sun News–dubbed the Fox News of Canada–exhibited great self-restraint in reporting on a violent shootout up north.

After a shooter murdered three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and left two others in critical condition in New Brunswick, the Canadian network refused to show his name or picture. The network ran an editorial Friday to give the reasoning behind the decision.

“It’s easy to report on the life of the killer, to scour his deranged Facebook page, to speculate about motive, but doing so could actually encourage the perception that his heinous acts are somehow justified,” the editorial reads. “We will not help give this killer his blaze of glory.”

Many shooters express a desire for attention or fame before their killings; the two Columbine shooters hoped Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would make a film about them. In the wake of mass shootings, media outlets descend on a community and seem to barrage the airwaves with details about the perpetrators — what they said on social media, how they dressed and what video games they played.

“With the unwitting cooperation of 24/7 media, he will become a national villain,” Vox‘s Ezra Klein wrote about the UCSB shooter two weeks ago. “And other sick young men will see him get the renown in death that they have have never been able to receive in life.”

This is exactly the right approach, but as I’ve discussed here and here, the American media has no interest in exhibiting such self-restraint. Indeed, the nonstop wall-to-wall coverage of mass shootings–with a focus on who the killer is, what his social media profiles say, and how his manifesto reads–helps to enable the next generation of shooters.

In a rare instance of agreement, the Brady Campaign has come out against this media sensationalism:

Researchers studying the phenomenon of mass shootings are increasingly convinced that these events can be explained through the metaphor of viruses — someone sneezes, the germs spread, others get infected, and so on.

Mass shooters intensely study their forbears. They often reference each other in their online ramblings and attempt to honor — or surpass — them in their own rampages. In this metaphor, social media and news organizations are spreading the germs.

A common trait among mass murderers is the desire to achieve immortality. Deranged individuals who plan mass shootings often glamorize previous massacres, and seek to emulate those murders. The murderer at Newtown maintained a “score sheet” of previous mass murders. The Columbine shooters hoped that Quentin Tarantino would make a movie about them. The shooters at Virginia Tech and Columbine, in their manifestos, made explicit references to earlier shootings, and sought to inspire other mass-murders.

Brady urges the media to reconsider their breathless coverage of these tragedies:

Until the news media agrees to stop naming mass shooters, their notoriety will continue to spread, particularly to disturbed people susceptible to those images.

To that end, the Brady Campaign’s effort includes a PSA and an online petitionto encourage media outlets to stop using the names and images of shooters.

“The media also has a role to refrain from memorializing monsters by splashing the names and faces of shooters all over television, newspapers, and the Internet,” Gross said.

I couldn’t agree more. Studies show that when the media deliberately decreases coverage of suicides, the rate of suicides drop. Likewise, media coverage of celebrity suicides increase suicides. NIH has published guidelines about media coverage of suicides.

This is a conversation the media should take up, considering how serious they are about stopping and prevent mass shootings. Gun control is not the only avenue.