Renee Garfinkel

How The Media Can Help Reduce Violence

In a blogpost elsewhere ( I referred to the research that confirms the similarity between terrorists and rampage killers in the U.S., such as the Newtown mass murderer.

Here’s what we know: Both rampage killers and terrorists are planned, organized, and – most importantly – both are motivated to become famous by making their grievances known as widely as possible. Terrorists and school shooters see themselves as the star of a large public spectacle of destruction that spews out their resentment, their humiliation, and their grandiose self-righteousness onto an unworthy world. A political ideology and community support terrorists, but in other respects they are brothers to the non-ideologically driven rampage killers.

The media play a role in these deadly dramas. There is too much research demonstrating their powerful impact for the media to hide behind a journalistic claim of neutrality or even-handedness. Here’s what journalists should do when covering a mass shooting/killing event (per Ari Schulman, Wall Street Journal, November 9-10, 2013):

• Never publish a shooter’s propaganda
• Hide their names and faces
• Don’t report on biography or speculate on motive
• Minimize specifics and gory details
• No photos or videos of the event
• Talk about victims but minimize images of grieving families
• Tell a different story, too. (E.g., a story that describes someone in the same position who rejected violence, a story of peacebuilding, mutual cooperation, solution-orientation)

And here’s what NOT to do:

A textbook example of media coverage designed to romanticize terrorism and enhance the publicity terrorists seek is the NY Times magazine cover back in March 2013. A media watchdog group analyzed and criticized the 8,000-word article that accompanied the photo, but the picture speaks for itself: it features smiling, attractive, mostly young people who are threatening random violence against a civilian population.

The media face increasing scrutiny for their role in promoting and maintaining violence in our complex, global society. A paper by the non-profit Center for Global Nonkilling called Nonkilling Media examines the violence that pervades our entertainment media as well. While I don’t agree with all their points of view or their all their conclusions, I applaud the efforts to hold the media accountable for the power they wield.

More importantly, I honor those media who use their power responsibly, and for the good.

About the Author
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, television commentator and podcast host of the Van Leer Series on Ideas with Renee Garfinkel