Elliot Rodger has received the attention and fame that eluded him all his life. In addition to the tragic loss of life during his killing spree in California, that's one of the biggest misfortunes of this incident.
Multiple news outlets and entertainment shows repeatedly played Rodger's angry YouTube videos in order to provide insight as to what drove him to commit his acts.
News outlets need to change the paradigm of how they cover future incidents like this. Right now, they should voluntarily announce that in the future they will no longer show videos taken by people who go on to commit mass murder shootings or publish their final manifestos.
This scenario is nothing new. Before he killed 33 Virginia Tech students, Seung-Hui Cho mailed his 1,800 word manifesto, photos, and 27 videos to NBC, which repeatedly played his rants. In Cho's manifesto, he made positive references to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the students at Columbine High School in Colorado who killed 13 people and wounded many others.
The most important reason not to show these videos is the element of copycat shooters. In the future, troubled and angry people might see the videos of Cho, the Columbine killers, and Rodger and decide to get their 15 minutes of fame as well.
After the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting by Adam Lanza, Joseph Grenny wrote in Forbes, "Public shootings are a contagion. And the media are consistent accomplices in most every one of them.... The consensus of social scientists since David Phillips' groundbreaking work in 1974 is that highly publicized stories of deviant and dangerous behavior influences copycat incidents."
The media shouldn't totally ignore these videos and manifestos. They are newsworthy and merit some attention and analysis, since they give insight on why the crime was committed. However, they should be given brief attention and merely summarized, as opposed to playing substantial portions. The story can be told sufficiently without actually showing the shooter's videos. An announcer can give a voice over while short snippets of the video without sound from the shooter are played. This approach was done frequently by the media in propaganda videos released by al qaeda.
There are other situations in which media outlets don't tell the full story for various reasons, whether it's due to statutes or due to media industry ethical customs or standards. For instance, for many media outlets, the names of juvenile crime suspects are withheld whenever possible unless they are charged as an adult. Generally, media outlets will not give the names of people who allege rape or sexual abuse. Banning the showing of videos by killers should not be mandated by law due to free speech concerns, but it should become a common standard of media ethics.
To their credit, CNN's Anderson Cooper and FOX News' Megyn Kelly chose not to mention Rodger's name, air his photo, or play his You Tube videos. Also, YouTube took down all of Rodger's videos as of last week.
More emphasis should be given on coverage that focuses on the lives that were lost.
Matt Moore, who went to high school with Christopher Michaels-Martinez, one of Rodger's victims, told Adolfo Flores and Matt Stevens of the Los Angeles Times, "It makes me sick seeing those videos over and over again. By continuously showing the videos and stuff, you're putting the limelight on him and not the people he killed.... I want to remember Chris."
There are many factors that arguably play a role in mass shootings in the United States, including mental health, lack of gun control and insufficient background checks, isolation, and bullying. One of the other factors, instant fame and media attention, can be limited if the media were to voluntarily change the way they cover these events. Stop focusing so much on the shooters. It glorifies them and gives them what they want. It's also an invitation for others to follow in their footsteps to get their 15 minutes of fame.
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