Media are having a field day. The adage ‘if it bleeds it leads’ has seen the too familiar story of a ‘crazed killer’ performing a ‘senseless’ act equipped with ‘firearms obtained legally’. This is mainstream media GOLD. James E. Holmes’ smiling, normal, American face is plastered over media about 10 times more frequently than those of his victims as media attempt to connect myth after myth of a stereotypical highly intelligent loner with a screw loose who called himself the Joker and imitated an attack on Gotham. A perfectly constructed narrative for the horror movie that mainstream media have become. And readers/viewers are sucking it up.
It would be easy to forget that professional journalism has ethics for its practice. That journalism consists of filtering, analysis, and accuracy. Make no mistake: it is unethical to show repeated wire images of anguished parents as they searched to discover what happened to their children. Whose fault is it that those images are even available? Ten years ago a professional journalist would tell you that this kind of thing would be the result of bloggers. But it’s not turning out that way at all. AP and Reuters take images that will sell to media organizations. And media organizations buy what will sell to its viewers. The harder to see, the harder to comprehend, the more agonizing the image, the better the impact. The image of a man asking media if they know where his son might be only to have it photographed by multiple news people and printed repeatedly internationally is the absolute worst imitation of journalism possible.
Where does the responsibility for this intrusive, horrible reporting lie? With those who produce it, or those who buy it?
These are real people’s lives, not actors. But the public seems to have a hard time differentiating between real tragedy and that of reality television, or even of pure fiction. They want all the raw details, not a journalistic, ethical response. They want it fast, pure and bloodshot. If it feels like a movie, then it can be shocking and… entertaining? And if we can say the guy who did it was so dissimilar to ourselves, then it’s easy to call him “monster” or “Pure evil.” So that’s what media do. Make him different. Make him a monster.
And ensure nobody has any focus on the truth behind why this happened.
Murder like this is only seen in America. The land of the free, the home of the brave.
A land free enough to say it is a right for its people to bear automatic weaponry. An AR-15 that could, as my church pastor said this morning, kill everyone in the church in less than 60 seconds. Sounds like cowardice to me, not bravery. Bravery is facing an adversary unarmed.
But that’s an individual. What makes for a brave country?
A brave country is one that examines its society and dynamically creates laws so that all its people can grow and prosper. A brave country is one where the rights of the many outweigh the rights of a few. In a moral society, the rights of any single person can not impinge upon the rights of others to the extent they fear for their own safety. This imbalance has created a society where patriotism is amazing, strong and brilliant and I hear people say “you make your own luck” and “this is the land of opportunity” – yet one in nine children live in poverty, the minimum wage is not enough to live on (even if two people in a household are on it), prejudice is rife, and people have a price put on their heads due to healthcare and insurance being out of the affordability levels of so many of its people.
The distance between the haves and have nots show not only a lack of understanding, but a lack of willingness to even attempt to walk with their fellow citizens. Divisions over politics. Divisions over religion. Intolerance. Yelling. Blame.
It unnerves me that James Holmes held the same University of Colorado student ID card as I, right up until last month. The truth that my ‘known’ level of personal and family security – that we will go about our daily lives with expectations of well being – is no more than a fragile soap bubble waiting to be popped at any moment terrifies me.
If America as a society is to move forward, it needs a media which will responsibly provide informed debate and in troubling events such as this shooting, links to support services, mental health agencies, and means through which citizens can productively and cooperatively respond. People want to do something. They want to help and recognize the victims. When media create a whirlwind of blame and little avenue for productive conversation around associated issues or opportunities to help, then a lynch mob is born.
Nothing changes. Focus remains purely on the tools of murder instead of why they are used. The next person who might commit an abhorrent killing sees this media coverage and does not see opportunities to attend to their own health issues but instead a few impressions about what impact they can have.
And everyone’s freedom is lost.
In the USA: The National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800Suicide (1-800-784-2433)
In the USA: Mental Health Hotline numbers
In Australia: Lifeline: 13 11 14
In Australia: Kids Helpline: 1-800-55-1800