On Oct. 1, Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. experienced the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon’s history when a 26-year old opened fire on a classroom, killing nine and injuring nine others. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in December 2013, there have been 15 cases in which someone has opened fire on campus with malicious intent.
Every time incidents like these occur, mainstream media erupts with conversations regarding gun enforcement laws, the National Rifle Association, mental health treatment and the background of the perpetrator. There is no doubt surrounding the importance of debating how the firearm market is regulated and how mental health is treated in this country. Placing so much attention onto the personal issues of the shooter; is of no significance in regards to the larger issue of how to prevent future shootings. More often than not, media outlets spend more time covering the personal history of the shooter and the activities they did in the days prior to the incident than they do on what effects the incident has on relevant issues, such as the state of mental illnesses and gun control. By creating a faux-celebrity status for the shooter, more mentally unstable people may consider committing a similar atrocity.
The fact that school shootings in the United States have been on the rise is a testament to the mishandling of these situations by the American public. Or, more specifically speaking, the mishandling done by the media outlets that millions of Americans get their news from. Earlier this month, many television news stations covering the Umpqua Community College shootings also covered a recent blog post written by the shooter. The post was made in regards to the shooting of two television show anchors.
“I have noticed that so many people like [the shooter] are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world seems to know… His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet… Seems the more people you kill the more you’re in the limelight,” Harper said.
Channels such as CNN and MSNBC labeled the blog post the workings of a mentally ill person and covered more details of the shooter’s personal behavior. Despite these labels, the media outlets that showed the blog post made one of the biggest displays of media hypocrisy in recent history. Although most likely mentally unstable, the shooter was right that “the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.” In this scenario, the mainstream American media was the source of the limelight.
In a press conference after the Umpqua shootings, Sheriff John Hanlin stated that he would not “name the shooter. I will not give him credit for this horrific act of cowardice. Media will get the name confirmed in time … but you will never hear us use it.”
Just as Hanlin said, the media did confirm and report the bane of the shooter, immortalizing him for the American public. Coverage of the perpetrator often overshadows that of the victims, sending the message that their lives are not as important as that of the perpetrator. Mainstream media should be more conscientious of the dignity of the affected, instead of jumping to negative reporting. Worst of all, the media continues to mishandle coverage of these events, which are becoming increasingly common. The immortalization of mass murderers only serves to inspire copycats and is an insult to victims and their loved ones. In the only country on earth where these atrocities happen regularly, one would think that the journalistic approach used to cover these issues has adapted.