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Media and tragedy

How do you feel about the way the media deals with tragedies?


The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about Basketball Diaries?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory.

“Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

-Roger Ebert


Also, as I mentioned in an answer to another post, My sister is schizophrenic and maybe some of you remember me talking about what happened before-it was about a year and a half ago...she was in a bad way then, her meds were jacked up, she couldn't get an appt. with her doctor and her guardian (she is a ward of the state) wasn't doing much for her and she ended up setting her apt  on fire one night and left. Other apts also caught fire and it caused a lot of damage- though luckily no one was hurt.  They found and arrested her, but when they reported it on the news there was absolutely NO mention whatsoever about her illness- OR the fact that she was a ward of the state. They jsut made her look crazy-and of course the pics that were posted of her were NOT flattering in any way shape or form.  It was very frustrating to watch the coverage and read the stories -given that they left all that out


Asked by charlotsomtimes at 10:05 AM on Dec. 15, 2012 in Politics & Current Events

Level 45 (203,838 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (7)
  • It's bad enough that events like this happen, but the media coverage about it is brutal and usually one sided. Everyone has their own agenda and will use whatever it takes to push it. The one agenda no one seems to care about is mental illness. No one wants to take a stand and try to help people before they get to this point. Everyone is pointing fingers at violence in movies and video games, guns and a lack of god in society. The media puts a small footnote that the shooter might have had a mental illness, but never really talks about it.

    I also agree with Roger Ebert, this fascination with putting tragedies on the front page and playing them out over and over again on news channels isn't helping.

    Answer by kmath at 12:21 PM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • I agree with Roger Ebert. I do feel like this coverage isn't healthy and it does influence other people with severe personality disorders.

      I  think it's terrible that they are interviewing children right after it happened.  I also feel bad for the shooters extended family.  They are calling anyone with the same last name and wanting them to explain why he did it. 


    Answer by RyansMom001 at 10:44 AM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • I feel that the media for the most part sensationalizes and manipulates the information they have to get maximum impact and attention. Things in their stories (all of the major news networks) don't always have to be factually relevant or accurate, as long as it reads well and exudes emotion.

    It's easy enough to be emotional about a tragedy like the one yesterday, but more-so when inaccurate information is being spewed by news outlets just trying to be the first one's to report any piece of information.  For instance they didn't wait to get accurate info about who the shooter was, instead were reporting that it was the 24 year old brother of the shooter that had committed this crime.  And that the father was murdered.  They all orgasm to be the first to report something without considering that they don't have the facts to back them up.  


    Answer by QuinnMae at 12:26 PM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • Just a few words about speaking to the media being therapeutic, I witnessed a shooting (not fatal) and was haunted by the fact that I spoke so calmly about it afterward. I felt guilty about the recounting of the events I did in the first 24 hours after the event. I needed therapy to deal with the panic attacks I experienced in the week following. My experience was a drop in the bucket compared to what these youngsters and adults experienced and I bet their shock is also much more profound.

    These surviving kids need to be protected and media exploitation is not therapy.


    Answer by tessiedawg at 3:09 PM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • I feel that Roger Ebert is exactly right.

    I also completely agree with your frustration concerning the coverage of your sister. A family friend's son (John) was shot and killed as a violent intruder in his neighbor's home. The neighbor was vilified in social media by those that knew John before he started exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia. At no point did the media mention the fact that this disease played a huge role in John's death. Until we start telling the whole story in a real way there won't be any meaningful change.

    Answer by tessiedawg at 10:28 AM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • I agree 100% with Mr. Ebert.

    Answer by m-avi at 12:19 PM on Dec. 15, 2012

  • I feel speaking to the children in the media serves as a form of therapy for these children have gone through trauma, and if they are willing and able to talk about it, good for them. That being said the media overpowers the mind and emotions of such tragedies big time.

    Answer by older at 2:43 PM on Dec. 15, 2012