American Culture

Sandy Hook: a media feeding frenzy

Media vulture? No, male Andean condor.

Media vulture? No, male Andean condor.

Like everyone else’s, my heart is with the victims of Sandy Hook. Whatever else is said surrounding every conceivable side issue, this is the one thing on which I believe we can all agree – that this tragedy is first and foremost about the victims, the family and friends, the colleagues. Our sincere condolences and wishes for them to find peace in these darkest of times are a hallmark of simply being human. We share in their grief.

My second thought on hearing of the tragedy was that, with all the predictability of an atomic clock, the mass media would jump on this new 24/7 news extravaganza with a feral fury. Naturally, this outpouring of journalistic fervor would fly in the face of admonitions against the very way the media typically indulges its feeding frenzies.

In the above interview (starting at 1:40), Dr. Park Dietz, President of Park Dietz & Associates, a forensics consulting firm, outlines several things media should strenuously avoid if they are not to propagate this sort of senseless violence.

“Don’t start the story with sirens blaring.”

Here, CBS might not have the sirens blaring, but the sensationalism is still evident in their presentation.

“Don’t have photographs of the killer.”

So AP offers us the service of a photo from seven years ago:

“Don’t make this 24/7 coverage.”

Sandy Hook 24/7 News Coverage

Sandy Hook 24/7 News Coverage

Think that’s bad? Turn on the TV.

“Do everything you can to not make the body count the lead story.”

NY Post missed the memo.

“Not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.”

“[He] was armed to the teeth with legally purchased guns and went from obscurity to infamy.” – Brian Ross, ABC News

“I’ve been powerless all this time, and now I’m going to empower myself.” – Brad Garrett, ABC News Consultant, former FBI agent, on profiling Adam Lanza and speaking for his motivation.

“Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market.”

This must explain the AP, CBS, and ABC coverage, for example. Their broad reach will naturally serve to localize the news, right?

“Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we can expect to see one or two more within a week.”

Saturday: Terror at California mall as police arrest man suspected of shooting 50 rounds in parking lot

Sunday: Bomb threat reported at Newtown church

At this rate, it promises to be a tense week as we watch the headlines, and that’s just the news. If only the hype were limited to news. Where there’s news, there’s editorial not far behind (if not way ahead). As one might expect, the opinions, often deeply quaffed as and in lieu of news are flying fast and furious. As a fellow bearer of strongly held beliefs and sharer of equally strong opinions, I’m sure I’ll find more to say in that regard. For now, it’s enough I repeat this admonition to the media, though it should fall on deaf ears. No amount of decorum, no amount of civic responsibility, will contend with the overpowering draw of ratings and dollars. The media vultures, with their train of pundits, myself included, will continue to trot out personal tragedy as national sensation. Like good little consumers, we’ll gorge our rubbernecking impulses, almost as though we hope for the next horrid headline to slake our media bloodthirst. But don’t worry. We, the pundits, wonks, bloggers, and “social critics” will do our best to fill in the dead spaces in between. An epic battle between passionate gun control advocates and equally ardent 2nd Amendment exponents already promises to overshadow every other legitimate and significant concern for the time being.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.


Image credit: Photo of male Andean vulture by digitalART2, licensed under Creative Commons.

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