Who Lived, Who Died: Who Tells Their Story?

02/21/2017 03:16 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2017
photo by kimann

I borrow a line fragment from the beloved smash-hit musical Hamilton for this post’s title, to help ask for change on behalf of all victims of mass tragedies whose names, faces and lives remain sidelined as the media continues to grant predominant coverage to the perpetrators.

Coverage of violent, tragic events makes for reality-based bad news feeding frenzies. In our entertainment-addled society, the Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites loom large in our hearts and homes. Presidential elections have morphed into pop cultural reactionary phenomena. Why and how we allocate our time and support has become as convoluted and confused as the plethora of choices and options we face every hour of every day, in a nation where quantity time and again trumps quality.

We are media addicts. We consume via multiple devices and in all venues everywhere the products of a 24/7 info world, in which traditional media outlets must compete ever more fiercely against the infinite, vastly watered down and chronically un-vetted resources of the Web and its wild child offshoot, Social Media. In desperation, these news and media outlets have taken to publishing anything they think will work, aka generate sales/revenue. And thanks to the mass’ dark side propensities and bad guy fixations (nothing new), it works. When it comes to publicizing violent perpetrators, I believe this affects things on additional levels, which we as a consumerist society must reconsider, where I believe we can make a productive difference.

Four days after the Santa Barbara shooting tragedy in which six people were killed and fourteen were wounded, and barely two years after the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy in which twenty children and six adults were murdered, I published a Huff Post piece entitled, “Open Letter to the Media: Change How Mass Killers and Violent Perpetrators are Covered.” My article floats out there in the virtual world as a minor work by a relatively unknown writer, as obscure now as it was back then.

Since the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, there have been over 200 additional school shootings. Mass public attacks occur on a regular basis – nearly daily in recent years. As one tragic event after another is reported, with ongoing spotlighting of the perpetrators and their accomplices, I am left wondering if we as consumers of tech/media are at horrific risk of getting too accustomed to all of this. How bad does a story need to get before we, news/media consumers and propagators, are motivated do something definitive about it?

I suggested in my 2014 article that there be an official policy change, that all media across the information spectrum put the victims before the perpetrators. I re-post and re-share the article whenever a new mass killing occurs.... More recently, perpetrators’ family members have been sought out and even granted unscripted air time. Victims’ families, for the most part very regular people trapped in the glare of calamitous headlines and perpetrator spotlighting, are subsequently defaulted to the sidelines, marginalized alongside their lost loved ones, who at best are rostered with brief mentions and image parades, if at all.

Notoriety is a media fed beast fueled by our consumption, a perpetual motion conundrum. Violent perpetrators, victims of their own verifiably malfunctioning minds, rely on the coverage they are granted. They anticipate it and count on it. Media coverage is elevation and memorialization, regardless of the details and spin behind it. Violent perpetrators are also further inspired by the buzz and the news and count on media coverage for purposes of propagandizing and incentivizing, a long-held set of facts, easily tracked and observed.

I ask for support to help make a change in media coverage, which will depend upon the voices of others with broader platforms and bigger audiences. Please, share this article; share the idea. Let us put the victims before the perpetrators and starve the beast that is media fed notoriety.

How? The media needs to adapt an official policy as regards the ID-ing of perpetrators. Their backstories – the how’s, the why’s, the issue and conditions – should continue to be discussed, openly and bluntly and with no PC-beholden dilution of accuracy. Perpetrators’ names, faces and personal details will continue to have their appropriate places and times, but only very selectively so.

Concurrently, we need to continue to champion the Arts and Free Speech as conduits for expression – no matter how extreme – for they provide vitally relevant alternatives to destruction and help in the building up of self without the violent cutting down of others.

If the media continues on their current information dissemination prioritization, then their motives need to be questioned. Does the math – the cost of every life lost versus the values of sales, stockholder share prices, likes or re-posts – need to be calculated as a deliberately incurred price of doing business?

My Proposed Perpetrator Information Sharing Policy:

  • Do not refer to any perpetrator by name. Refer to the perpetrator only by location, victim number and date (primarily with the number of fatalities; numbers of the injured as discretionary second mention). I go so far as to suggest the means of destruction not be mentioned outside of full coverage media releases, for in our info-deluged culture, any mention of any device or means is tantamount to a “how-to” and/or endorsement. For example: “The 2012 Sandy Hook 26 Perpetrator.” “The 2016 Breitscheidplatz, Berlin 12/56 Perpetrator,” or, “The Christmas Market Berlin 12 Perpetrator.”
  • Do not reveal the face of any perpetrator. Ever. Obscure their faces via pixilation, shadowed silhouette, or show no face at all.
  • Do not grant press or airtime to perpetrators’ families but for acceptance of their condolences.

Instead:

  • Show/publish/memorialize the victims’ names and faces, and those of their loved ones as they permit it.
  • Grant press and airtime to victims and their families. Tell their story.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
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