Every time another mass shooting occurs in the United States, the mass media floods the news cycle with every detail about the killer’s background and motivations. Every time, the shooter is immortalized and each victim is reduced to a mere statistic. It’s a vicious cycle that we’re all too familiar with, and the mass media contributes to it by sensationalizing mass shootings.
When TV and news outlets turn mass shooters into larger-than-life figures, it encourages others to do the same. At this point, any potential mass shooter knows that following through on their plans will give them and their beliefs guaranteed publicity on a massive scale. The gunman who committed a mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store in May 2022 wrote that one of his primary goals was to “spread [his] ideals.” Every time a mass shooting happens, shooters like him are rewarded by having their ideologies widely published.
Some campaigns have advocated for the media to bring attention away from the perpetrators of mass violence, including No Notoriety, founded by Tom Teves and Caren Teves after their son Alex died in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012. They’ve established a media protocol that calls for minimal publicity for mass killers that the campaign hopes will “reduce future tragedies.” No Notoriety has garnered considerable publicity from features on several major national news outlets, a 2020 TED Talk and from collaborating with Don’t Name Them, a similar movement developed by the FBI.
In an interview with The New University, Tom Teves compared media coverage of mass shootings to car wrecks in that the easiest way to reduce such a dangerous spectacle is to report responsibly.
“You’re sitting in traffic. But when you finally get by it, you look at the car wreck and create traffic… We [have to] stop giving them car wrecks to look at,” Teves said.
The mass media needs to stop giving mass shooters the attention they crave. A list on No Notoriety’s website highlights 14 mass shootings where the perpetrator was inspired by another act of mass violence or was motivated by the desire for recognition. For example, the Virginia Tech gunman referred to the Columbine shooters as “martyrs” and sent a manifesto to NBC News.
Tom Teves argued that a top motivator for mass killers is to be “famous,” and that the mass media continues to motivate them with the attention that their thoughtless coverage generates.
“They’re literally telling us themselves that they want to be famous. And the media continues to give it to them… the single greatest motivation they have… is that [they] want to be infamous. So why are we giving it to them?” Teves said.
Until the mass media stops making every mass shooter so popular, there will continue to be copycat mass shootings with the incentive of infamy.
In the rare case where a mass shooter is not killed or taken into custody, the mass media should be responsible for broadcasting their name and appearance so that they are caught. Otherwise, there’s no reason to circulate their image. Regardless of whether the killer escapes or not, explaining how they did it in depth and detailing their motivations is pointless and dangerous. Publishing their plans and ideals only provides a blueprint for other potential mass shooters and serves to empower like-minded individuals to commit violence on a similar scale. The public record will ensure that no killer is completely erased from history, but that’s better than turning each mass shooter into a national sensation.
In the wake of tragedy for the victims’ loved ones and communities, the shooter’s name is often the only one that’s remembered. The mass media has routinely made the victims’ lives seem insignificant in comparison to the person who slaughtered them. They need to advocate more for the ones who lost their lives by telling their story. They need to publicize the true warning signs and statistics surrounding mass shootings so that more of them can be stopped before they occur.
Media consumers should not engage with sources that give unnecessary information about mass shootings. The mass media has consistently broadcasted events of mass violence in such a careless manner because it creates more interest, which translates to more profit. The mass media needs to do their part by prioritizing public safety over money. We can force these for-profit news corporations to report more sensibly by taking away their income through only interacting with sources that responsibly cover events of mass violence.
The mass media has acted as a catalyst of mass violence through repeatedly promoting the motives and strategies behind such acts. It’s evident that they are responsible for some of the lives lost in these tragedies. It may be too late for the deceased and their loved ones, but it’s certainly not too late to prevent the next mass shooting. Fame has encouraged mass violence; taking it away is an essential step towards a safer future for all.
Daniel Waters is an Opinion Editor for the 2022-23 school year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.