Media Feeding the Demons

Murder Made Me Famous”
Media feeding the demons.

By Jeff Knox

Sitting in a fast food joint at DFW Airport, eating a breakfast bowl, while waiting for my ride, I happened to glance up at the TV. Of course it was playing CNN, and I noticed a series of almost iconic photographs flashing across the screen. Not only did I recognize most of them, I could name them, and describe their crimes. They were all famous murderers, and what I was watching was a promo for a cable series called “Murder Made Me Famous.

Here’s the description of the series from the channel’s website:

Murder Made Me Famous is a fact-based crime documentary series that examines killers who gained public notoriety when their crimes generated intense media coverage and made the killers household names. The unnerving psychology behind murder has long been source material for television, books and movies but why do certain killers capture the attention of millions?”

If it bleeds it leads, says the old saw about news coverage, and unfortunately, bloody massacres don’t only lead in newspapers and on TV, they also lead in ratings. People are sucked into the horror and it becomes a symbiotic feeding cycle. The attention given to murderous degenerates is so pervasive that it’s virtually impossible to get away from it. Saturation coverage, with its speculation and salacious details being rehashed every 15 minutes for weeks after an event, then regularly dredged back up for another “in-depth” look every few years for decades, makes the murderers some of the most recognizable and wellknown people in the world. And that fame and notoriety is known to be a major motivating factor, and inspiration to others to seek similar fame by committing heinous crimes of their own.

Polls say that fame and celebrity have replaced wealth, power, athletic achievement, even happiness, as the most desired life-goal of the post-Baby Boom generations. Simply “being famous” is now considered a great achievement, even if the fame is based on some negative, embarrassing, or criminal event.

Media movers and shakers know all of this. They know that there is a direct correlation between the amount of coverage they give to a murderer, and the likelihood of copycats. When they were presented with a similar correlation several years ago, regarding suicides, media leaders came together and developed reporting guidelines designed to minimize the occurrence of “contagious suicide.” But the temptation – of money, ratings, and political gain – is too great, and few reporters or outlets have done anything to even attempt to address the issue of “Rampage Killer Contagion.”

All of the major news outlets are guilty of exploiting murder for ratings. They cross well beyond careless and callous, and demonstrate almost a gleeful indifference to the role they play in promoting these heinous acts, even as they point accusing fingers at innocent gun owners, gun makers, and the NRA.

Changing the way the majority of media report on suicides, has resulted in less “suicide contagion,” saving countless lives and untold tears. Their refusal to even seriously discuss adoption of similar rules for their reporting on mass murder events, is dispicable.

At its core, a mass shooting is almost always an elaborate suicide. Few perpetrators have any exit plan other than a hail of bullets. Evidence shows that some killers are literally attempting to run up a gruesome “score” to increase their notoriety by exceeding the carnage – and news coverage – of some previous murderer. This has prompted an array of psychologists, psychiatrists, social scientists, and, to their credit, a few members of the media, to call on the Society of Professional Journalists, and all media to adopt something like the suicide reporting guidelines when reporting on mass-murderers. So far these calls have fallen on deaf ears, and every time there is a mass-killing that receives heavy press coverage, we know that there will be copycats striking within days or weeks.

It is past time for mass media to stop exploiting murder for ratings. It is time for them to stop repeatedly naming suspected murderers and showing their photos – over and over and over again. Stop speculating on motives, assigning rankings, comparing one atrocity to another, and publishing lunatic manifestos. It’s time for them to adopt guidelines such as those repeatedly submitted to the Society of Professional Journalists in a petition called the “Don’t Inspire Evil” initiative, or the several other, heavily researched, scientifically backed proposals that have been put forward in recent years.

Adopting a few reasonable, sensible, voluntary changes in the way the media reports on murders would unquestionably save lives without interfering with anyone’s rights. But the media and politicians would rather blame gun owners, and demand we surrender our rights to schemes that have never worked, and have historically failed to protect anyone. That’s hypocritical and immoral.

Unfortunately, change is unlikely so long as the media can use sensational coverage to get eyeballs for their advertisers. Perhaps it is the advertisers that need to be persuaded.