Is the Media Making Mass Shootings Worse?
Don McLaughlin, the mayor of Uvalde, Texas, announced in June that Robb Elementary School would be demolished. “You can never ask a child to go back or a teacher to go back in that school, ever,” he said.
What happened in Uvalde was a gruesome tragedy that relates to some of America’s worst pathologies: a fixation on violence, untreated mental illness, large swaths of alienated and angry young men, incompetent and unaccountable police.
These are all legitimate questions. But one question the media rarely ask is this: Is the press part of the problem? A growing body of research says yes.
“This is learned behavior and the media coverage is leading more people to learn it and to copy it,” says University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford, who has studied mass killers for more than a decade. “The more victims they kill, the more fame and attention they get. They’re being incentivized by the media coverage to be as destructive as possible.”
“There seems to be too much demand for fame in America,” Lankford writes in one paper, “and not enough supply.”
One of Lankford’s studies found that “winning a Super Bowl or Academy Award garnered less media attention than committing a high-profile mass killing.” Perpetrators get pictured more on front pages than do their individual victims, and there’s “a strong correlation between the number of victims harmed in these attacks and the amount of media attention that perpetrators receive.”
“The media’s rewarding [these high body counts],” says Lankford. “I think part of [the motive] is clickbait, essentially.”
Some of Lankford’s studies delve deep into the written or recorded statements that the murderers made about their motivations and attempt to measure to what degree fame seeking motivates spree killers. He points out that the duo who shot their classmates at Columbine High School in 1999 said they wanted to kill 250 people and discussed whether Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would direct the movie about their crime. Many subsequent mass shooters have cited the Columbine murderers as inspiration.
Lankford’s 2019 study found that at least 16 mass shooters since Columbine have voiced fame or notoriety as a motive and that the fame seekers average more than double the body counts, and many articulated a desire to surpass past records.
“They’re using their victims as the means to an end,” says Lankford. “And that end is fame.”
It’s not just Lankford saying this.
A 2017 FBI report says the “dominance o
Article from Reason.com