By now, it’s a familiar scene in the news world: person commits terrible crime, kills innocent people, and by the next day, everyone knows his name.
The same photo is plastered on TV screens and social media sites everywhere. Sometimes there are videos that circulate. Speculation of motives escape the mouths of anchors and make headlines everywhere.
Something seriously twisted is happening: the media is transforming heartless killers into hot celebrities.
When a 24-year-old mass murderer shoots up a movie theater with the intent to terrorize and destroy, he should receive a life sentence, not a massive hoard of fan girls and love letters from his twisted fan club.
Unfortunately, this trend in media terror sensationalism dates far back.
“America puts killers on the cover of Time magazine, giving them as much notoriety as our favorite movie stars,” Marilyn Manson wrote in a 1999 article for Rolling Stone following the aftermath of the now-infamous Columbine school shooting.
And usually, this fame and notoriety is exactly what these killers are aiming for when they commit their crimes.
In 2014, when a young man shot and killed 6 people out of anger in Isla Vista, CA, he made his grievances well known via video the night before. These videos were then aired on news outlets nationwide.
Just a few weeks ago, the man who shot and killed WDBJ reporters on live television carefully planned out his viral attack – fully intent on becoming a national sensation. In a grotesque twist to the attack, he filmed a first-person point of view video which he then posted on Facebook and linked them on his other social media sites.
“See Facebook,” he stated simply and gravely.
Unsurprisingly, the video went viral, with the help of television and online news outlets.
In the days following the attack, his picture aired on prime time television news seemingly endlessly. Details of his mental health and speculations of his motives were talked about like it were last night’s episode of CSI.
Although these tragedies do spark conversation about important issues such as mental health awareness and gun control, the way in which they are reported create more problems than they help solve.
The media’s glorification of these criminals help foster the idea of instant fame. It tells the world’s lost and lonely souls that if they can create enough terror, their name will be etched in the history books forever.
Grotesque details of the killings, the murder weapons, the biographical retelling of the killers’ tale may inspire copycat killers and create a horrific chain reaction that may never end.
It is not to say that we should ignore these incidents completely – it is imperative that they be reported and accounted for – but this must be done responsibly, and sensitively. As reporters and journalists, we hold a responsibility to the public that we serve.
The chain can be broken, and it is up to the media to start the remedy.