Does media coverage of gunmen inspire more shootings?

After last week’s mass shooting at a community college, an Oregon sheriff told the news media he wouldn’t be uttering the gunman’s name.

The sheriff isn’t the first person to raise the question of notoriety as a possible “contagion” in mass shootings. Tom and Caren Teves, whose son Alex was among those murdered in the Aurora movie theater shootings, have begun a campaign called “No Notoriety,” which aims to raise journalists’ awareness of the possible link between media coverage of the gunman (especially photos, manifestos, recordings, etc) and subsequent shootings.

There is some evidence that shooters are inspired by each other. The gunman in Oregon wrote about the guy who killed the two TV journalists in Roanoke — and what he had to say was somewhat admiring. Similarly, the Sandy Hook gunman who took the lives of 20 children and six adults was apparently inspired by the Columbine killers.

But what about our obligation to bear witness, to tell the truth as we know it? Can we meet that obligation without contributing to a cycle of violence (disturbed individual + guns + fame = more shootings)?

CNN has done a pretty good job in this piece of summing up the arguments on these difficult questions. It’s your ethics moment for tomorrow. Read the CNN piece. Think. And then comment here.

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One Response to Does media coverage of gunmen inspire more shootings?

  1. I posed a similar question in a tweet yesterday, where I linked to an LA Times article written by Matt Pearce.

    http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oregon-shooting-name-20151004-story.html

    The Roseburg News-Review’s publisher Jeff Ackerman raises an interesting point; “Evil has a name and face”, citing Hitler and Charles Manson as examples. It would be close to impossible to fully report on a story AND exempt names of those who arguably do not deserve any sort of recognition, even if that be infamy. Evil DOES have a name and face, and it is a journalist’s duty to report the news. However, society would benefit from a shift in the way stories pertaining to gun violence and other acts of terrorism are reported. Instead of plastering disturbing manifestos or footage of the violence, we should be raising awareness on the topic, and on prevention of such tragedies. Maybe that begins with a larger conversation on the stigma of mental health. Perhaps we should focus on gun violence. In any case, when it comes to gun violence and senseless shootings, I want to see what journalism as an institution can do for citizens on the grounds of education and prevention.

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