Media outlets have a serious mass shooter problem

In this edition of The Middle, a look at how outlets like CNN and MSNBC can inadvertently cause the next mass shooting/terror attack.

By Alex Kamczyc/ Edited by Julie Reidel

No one wants to inspire the next terror attacker, shooter, murderer.

No one wants to cause these atrocious events.


When we look at past events and what we know now from the various criminal’s (whom I will avoid naming in this piece) blog posts, social media accounts and things discovered in their homes a lot of them have drawn inspiration from terror attacks and shootings in the past. Other violent offenders that have been covered by media outlets like CNN and MSNBC.

Media outlets have to stop covering shooters, terrorists, murders the way they do. At the very least they need to find a new way to cover them because if they don’t a new shooter may be inspired to take action.

This week alone in Ohio there were two failed terror plots that had been uncovered on Monday. Both of whom have stated that they were inspired by past atrocities.

One of them, a 21-year-old man, reportedly spent months planning an attack and planned to massacre a Jewish synagogue on the sabbath. He cited the Oct. 27 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue as inspiration for his attack in Toledo. Saying that he admired what the shooter did and that no one would expect an attack in his area.

The other, a 23-year-old woman, was arrested after buying gunpowder and screws for a bomb she planned to build with her roommate. She planned two attacks, a bombing of a pipeline in Georgia and a mass shooting at a bar in Toledo. In the months leading up to her arrested, she made a pilgrimage to Columbine High School. She also had a correspondence with the Charleston church shooter, who asked her to send him Nazi literature to read while he was in jail.

They idolized these people.

Admired them.

Journalists gave them the fuel they needed through extensive coverage of who these criminals are and what their motives were. A media frenzy that follows only the worst of the worst shootings or attacks.

It’s a hard thing to shake, as a reporter it’s imperative you answer the who, what, where, when and why. Discover the truth to shine light on the darkness etc. etc. etc. I would posit that this is exactly what criminals like the two terrorists stated above wanted to have happen.

To have their names sprawled across every television in America — you can see it in their mugshots that were released. Smiles painted across their faces, because a terrorist attack, successful or not is still news.

This is where journalists begin start to slowly tread murky waters.

In a study conducted by Arizona State College, research suggests that if a mass shooting or a terror attack is in heavy rotation in media cycles that it becomes contagious. This opens a 13-day period where people are open to another violent shooting. Media coverage also creates an average of 0.22 new incidents.

Another study conducted by Nicole Smith Dahmen, examined newspaper content that followed three major school shootings. By looking through close to 5,000 photos from only 9 days of coverage the study found that, based on photo comparison of perpetrator and victim, news organizations gave a massive chunk of their time to the perpetrator, rather than the victims. That’s a ratio of 16 to 1.

The study goes on to say that due to this coverage of killers, it gives others thinking about copying them the validation that they seek. It gives them a goal and a mission to accomplish. Let’s put this in perspective on how dangerous media coverage of a shooter can be.

There is a mass shooting in America every two weeks, a school shooting every month.

If you needed further proof that how the media handles mass shootings and terror attacks in the US poorly, here’s a blog post from the Umpqua Community College shooting that occurred in 2015:

“On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

Straight from the murderer’s mouth.

Proof that how outlets like CNN and MSNBC can potentially inspire copycat killers.

It’s an ethical dilemma that journalists like Don Lemon and Megyn Kelly have argued over on twitter. Kelly, surprisingly enough, believed that journalists like Lemon should stop using the shooters name and shift focus to the victims and their families. Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” also took sides with her after denouncing the act of naming shooters on his show — days after Umpqua Community College.

Some reporters, like Anderson Cooper, have also established guidelines on when they should or shouldn’t name shooters. But it’s a slow process and many outlets still believe that because of their ethics they have to answer that important W question. Ethics can be re-written.

I don’t believe that naming a shooter, or at the very least profiling their lives to figure out why or how they could commit such terrible things. We already know why they do them, they’re seeking fame or glory or to be noticed for once. They figured out that killing defenseless people puts them on the fast track to getting that attention because of the media frenzy that follows.

By limiting the amount of air time they give these murderers and instead giving it the victim’s families you reduce the chances of someone copying the murderer. Unless reporters like Lemon can drop the ethics act and seriously ask themselves if it is worth it to cover who these killers are as extensively as they do then they will always give these criminals what they want.

A goal to meet, a mission to accomplish.

To be immortalized.

Alex Kamczyc is an award winning journalist covering politics and culture in Cleveland. He studied at Kent State University under Connie Schultz.

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