Thursday morning I saw a picture of Cho Seun-Hui looking like an action hero splashed across the front page of The New York Times and we've all seen the TV coverage. This week we have had a media feeding frenzy and frankly it endangers our kids. We've certainly been aware of the copycat effect fueled by intense media coverage of school killings since Columbine. But sadly, with the media, if it bleeds it leads... even when this almost certainly contributes to future tragedies.
I don't advocate government censorship of the media, but I do want the news media to prioritize the best interest of the public. There is a difference between reporting and sensationalism. The media's most vital service is to keep the public educated so that we can participate in our communities as well informed citizens. News is not just entertainment, it is central to our democracy so what is covered and how news is covered is key. Ultimately we as citizens need to speak up when the news forgets that they hold a public trust. As consumers of the media we need to let the media know our priorities. I'm already deeply troubled that the media has in countless cases abdicated its role of seeking to expose the truth in favor of he said/she said journalism that neglects to actually investigate and share the factual data that could allow me to evaluate the truth of what the talking heads are saying. This week I believe the media feeding frenzy contributed to undermining my children's safety and our community's safety. I'm writing my letter to the media, how about you?
My colleague Katie, who I shared my musing with, sent the following to me - "I have to admit I really disagreed with you until this morning, during my usual shower think, when it occurred to me that by shooting 33 people, Cho got EXACTLY what he wanted - to have his voice heard and his diatribe published by the news.
So, for me reading this post, I want it to specifically put 2 and 2 together -- it is not wrong to cover this tragedy, it is actually important that kids know about what to do with isolated psychotic people (we are in the real world!) BUT, by publishing the multi-media "manifesto" of the killer, the news basically met the demands of a terrorist. Something that can only encourage more of the same terrorist like behavior.