No sooner were twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School gunned down than did the media report on the incident. And no sooner had the broadcasts begun than did the Internet explode in rage over the media’s sensational coverage of the tragedy.
Internet, your anger is warranted. The twenty-four-hour news cycle turns school shootings into theatrical events, the main character of which is unfortunately the gunman and not the victims. As the events of December 14th continue to unfold, however, I can’t help but ask: Are CNN, Fox News and the like merely entertaining the demands of their consumers, and are we, the consumers, in any way responsible for this trend of sensationalism in the media?
The night of the shooting, a powerful message by Morgan Freeman was shared over Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Freeman, who apparently died in September according to an Internet hoax, denied any relation to the well-written rant. I’m sorry Journalism majors, but good luck. The validity of a source is no longer dictated by fact but by the number of times it’s been retweeted. Regardless of its origin, I’d like to analyze not-Morgan Freeman’s argument.
“Congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next,” says the unknown author, who claims that the media’s over-coverage of school shootings only inspires “disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves” to commit equally if not more violent acts.
First, let me say that we don’t just consume media, we are the media. News coverage today depends on social networking sites and is driven by our interactions over Facebook and Twitter. Subject matter and commentary in the news are merely a reflection of what we are saying and what we want to hear.
Seconds after the tragedy took place, Facebook became flooded with discussion, both mourning the victims and accusing the mainstream media of acting too soon. Is it not the case, though, that our incessant status-updating, tweeting and post-sharing is what perpetuates sensationalism in the media? Is it me, or is the argument of not-Morgan Freeman self-defeating?
If news coverage of the gunman will only provoke future crimes, then why is it okay for thousands of Facebook users to spread such a message, an argument in which the author himself suggests that the next two targets be a day care center or a maternity ward. It’s a catch-22, and I know, isn’t this blog post only furthering the dilemma. My point is that accusing the mainstream media doesn’t identify but avoids the problem at hand. I agree that this crime was inspired by previous school shootings, but the sad truth is that the news can’t not report on it, and no matter how much television you watch, Columbine, Virginia Tech and now Sandy Hook Elementary will forever be on the public radar and cannot be erased.
In addition, consider the number of teenagers who read the Morgan Freeman hoax online as opposed to those who sat in front of a TV and watched the news. This self-proclaimed “brilliant” speech labels individuals who are inclined towards violence as “disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements.” Excuse me? Amid all this talk of trying not to alienate troubled teenagers, isn’t this viral rant doing just that? How are individuals who struggle with depression supposed to react to being pigeonholed into the same category as the perpetrators of school shootings?
I understand it’s a question of sensitivity, but why shouldn’t we discuss the gunman’s motives?
Does violent behavior better manifest itself in a broken home?
What can parents do to support their troubled teenagers? What can we do?
Are schools doing enough to promote tolerance in the classroom and prevent bullying?
In health class during high school, why did we spend time watching Marley & Me and Toy Story (seriously that’s all we did) as opposed to learning the importance of mental health?
Why is it that a majority of school shootings are committed by young males?
When is it okay to discuss gun control?
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and we, the media, need to ask them.