A few weeks ago, on OTM, host Bob Garfield interviewed Tom Teves, father of one of the Auora, movie theater shooting victims, about reporting mass shooting events, in light of yet another mass shooting at a school in Oregon. Following the death of his son, Teves started an initiative called No Notoriety which wants to change how the media covers these events.
This is what the group wants:
“Limit the name and likeness of the individual in reporting after initial identification, except when the alleged assailant is still at large and in doing so would aid in the assailant’s capture.
Refuse to broadcast/publish self-serving statements, photos, videos and/or manifestos made by the individual. Elevate the names and likenesses of all victims killed and/or injured to send the message their lives are more important than the killer.
Recognize that the prospect of infamy could serve as a motivating factor for other individuals to kill others and could inspire copycat crimes. Keep this responsibility in mind when reporting.
Agree to promote data and analysis from experts in mental health, public safety, and other relevant professions to support further steps to help eliminate the motivation behind mass murder. Recognize that the individual’s name and likeness is irrelevant to media coverage of such acts unless the alleged assailant is at large.”
It reminds me of the push years ago to change how the media reported on suicide. It’s now well established that certain suicide coverage leads to more suicides, the National Institute of Mental Health even suggests guidelines for how to cover prominent suicides. When famous people commit suicides, the suicide rate increases. Suicide clusters (multiple people in a community committing suicide, after being inspired by the first) are well documented in academic journals.
The suggestions around reporting on a suicide focus on not dramatizing the event or highlighting the response to it (as to not encourage people to martyr themselves) and should include links to suicide prevention tips and mental health resources. The No Notoriety initiative is very similar, minimizing the prominence given to the perpetrators of such acts and promoting resources. Those don’t exactly strike me as huge impositions to ask of the media.
Unfortunately, Garfield’s response was to push back and challenge why the media should alter how it covers topics and claimed that its responsibility is to provide its readers/viewers with the facts of the case, not prevent more shootings. You know, because tradition and stuff.
To which I say, that makes you a terrible goddamn person.
The media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It influences what goes on in the world, whether that is the goal or not. Journalists certainly don’t seem to complain very much when they break some story about corruption and the authorities launch an investigation or a politician resigns. That means you have to take some responsibility on the other end to.
Journalist filter out lots of extraneous information when crafting pieces. Garfield himself didn’t mention, say, the birthday of Teves, what he (Garfield) had for lunch, what the weather was like. Just because it’s information that could be included doesn’t mean it should be included. The story can stand on its own without giant photos of the perpetrator’s face and frequent references to their poorly written manifesto.
It’s this sort of conservatism (not in the political sense) that society will look back on and say “What the fuck were we thinking?”