The media ought to be held to some standards for the way they cover such incidents. There’s a public interest in reporting information, but it’s got to be done analytically, seriously.
Unending sensationalism that pointlessly multiplies electronic imagery is good for ratings, it has a fall-out:
1. It endangers the lives of the survivors and violates their privacy. That’s why I am not posting video footage of people at the scene, unless it’s specifically about the police response.
I that notice photos of university officials have been posted on the net. I’ve avoided that because photos and unnecessary personal information posted publicly could pose a threat to their safety or their family’s. I’ve posted their names – that’s more than enough for public information.
2. It disregards the privacy of the dead and the privacy and feelings of the injured,
3. It unfairly makes a kind of folk anti-hero of the perpetrator, thus further victimizing the dead and injured, which is why I am not posting the Cho video or photographs. Included in this are sensational statements such as those made by Geraldo Rivero, defending the right to publish the Cho video, as necessary to inform the public of his exceptional evil. This is simply disingenuous. The heinousness of the crime is evident, as is Cho’s mental condition. Additional lurid imagery only sensationalizes the story. And knowing, as we do, the violent effect of such media overkill, it’s also reprehensible.
Some experts have spoken up on this, too late, unfortunately.
4. It incites other deranged or attention-seeking individuals to imitate the crime.
5. It obscures or distracts from the larger questions of law and power involved.
6. It blurs the line between entertainment and reality in a very dangerous way. News reporting becomes primarily a commodity rather than a service with professional standards.
7. And most importantly, by presenting often traumatic images of crisis, state power and citizen helplessness, it provokes the terrorized siege mentality that will call for greater state power (protection, it will be termed) AND the nervous exhaustion, bewilderment and compliance that surrenders critical thinking and self-reliance.
The ultimate result is to strengthen the warfare-welfare state.
Traumatic imagery is used by states to manipulate their own and foreign populations during war time or in the run-up to war. That is the rationale behind Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, National Defense University Press, October 1996.
Here is something I wrote in my book on Abu Ghraib about the use of such imagery in the service of the warfare state:
“Instead, it is at the public’s imagination that the new war is directed, with its black psychological operations that erase the boundary between civilian and military, war and peace, state and non-state.” (p. 189, The Tower of BabeAfter the Columbine shootings 8 years ago, there were 450 copycat threats, plots or shootings, according to Loren Coleman, a suicide prevention and school violence consultant, who is also the author of the Copy Cat Effect, a book about the effect of mass media coverage and the replication of violence.
Washington State University, Vancouver (graffiti threatening V Tech type violence, 4/17)
St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas (nonspecific threat, location not specified, 4/17)
University of Oklahoma, Norman (scare over man later identified, 4/17).
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (telephone bomb threat, no mention of V. Tech, 4/17)
University of California at Hastings, College of Law, San Francisco ( online shooting threat 4/18).
Canyon Middle School, Alameida County (bomb threat on hotline by 13 yr old on 4/18).
Provo High School, Utah (at least one bomb threat, 4/20)
Cranbrook High School, Bloomfield, Michigan (scare over unidentified man)
Central High School in Rapid City, South Dakota (reports of a man with a gun in a parking lot)
North Dakota State University, Fresno, North Dakota (duffel bag found outside bus shelter)
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (bomb threat in Smith, specific times and locations, mentions VTech, 4/19)
Bogalusa Middle and High School, Louisiana (man threatening mass killing in a note mentioning V Tech, 4/17)
Schools in Greenbay, Washington.
University of Maine, Bangor, Maine (telephone bomb threat 4/18)
Riverton High School, Riverton, Kansas (5 students held in shooting threat posted on MySpace in commemoration of Columbine, 4/19)
(online bomb threats, 4/20)
Commerce City, Colorado
San Diego State University
(shooting threat, 4/17)
University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado (Student arrest for verbal remark suggesting sypamthy for V Tech killings 4/17)
University of Missouri, Missouri (two shot and hospitalized, 4/19)
Great Falls High School, Great Falls, Montana (phone bomb threats and note threatening shooting worse than VTech, 4/17)
(Hostage situation, perpetrator and hostage killed, 4/21)