Learning of these senseless acts brings much sadness. Today, two retail employees were shot dead by an assailant in a Columbia, MD mall before he was killed, possibly by his own hand.1 Details concerning this incident dominated many forms of information media, especially television. This caused my analytical girlfriend to make an insightful suggestion which may not be well-received by the ratings-conscious media enterprises, but deserves thoughtful consideration.
The suggestion is to minimize news coverage of such events. Local information streams for those in the area immediately affected by the crimes should still have access to critical updates of people they know or if the situation is on-going and could impact a greater area. However, by restricting news coverage, the opportunities for achieving notoriety by other deranged potential criminals would be greatly reduced.
Granted, some individuals are so incapable of discerning right from wrong that this will not prevent them from committing heinous deeds. And, while psychiatrists may not be able to prove empirically how many crimes this would prevent, this suggestion has some basis in human nature.
Misguided Desire for Notoriety can be a Motivator
This parallel is not to trivialize the tragedies which kill some and devastate the survivors. Nevertheless, it may be of a similar cause and effect. A few decades ago, major league baseball was experiencing a significant increase in the number of fans deliberately interrupting a game by accosting a player or enjoying the spotlight by running around trying to avoid being caught, and not always while clothed, unfortunately. MLB increased its security measures at stadiums, but it also prohibited visual coverage of the disruption for televised games. These misdemeanors have become fewer since.
What is Gained by Saturating Coverage of Non-National Security Tragedies?
For tragedies of a local nature, people deserve to know in “real time” with constant information of what is happening to their families and fellow citizens as well as whether the situation has become contained. Those in a position to provide assistance also need to be kept informed of the latest developments. However, they usually have specialized and more direct means than television for their updates.
For everyone else, constant news coverage is truly ”immaterial, irrelevant and incompetent” to borrow in-court words of objection from the Perry Mason series. All that is necessary for outsiders to know is that the events have happened. This can be accomplished simply by text on the television moving news flash on the bottom of the screen. At this point, those who may have relatives or close friends in the affected area can take steps to learn of their situation. The rest of us “believers” can turn to prayer.
Any more coverage than that is simply “immaterial and irrelevant.” It will not increase the aid to those who need it at that moment. It can also have a negative effect by creating a sense of despair and helplessness in some people or possibly desensitizing others who have a perverse interest in calamities. If it instigates those at risk to carryout similar crimes, then that would make the reporting “incompetent”.
Motivations to commit felonious crimes originate from many sources. Unfortunately, creating a 100% safe environment in a free society is not possible. However, we must continue to look for new, civilized ways to discourage these tragedies from occurring. One way could be as simple as the restriction of on-going news coverage of unfolding crimes. It has real possibilities in creating a healthier society.
1 – Information as of 6:30PM today, the day of the shootings