Posted by Marc Hodak on February 16, 2008 under Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

That is the question that inevitably comes up whenever a mass shooting occurs. These things occur so infrequently, however, and their perpetrators are often so indistinguishable from millions of people like them who never resort to violence that there may be no practical answer to “Why?”

Nevertheless, the need to know “Why?” is powerful. It creates a hunger for news about these incidents that springs, fundamentally, from the desire to control dangers around us. News services are only too happy to try to satisfy that hunger with saturation coverage, crowding everything else from our consciousness for a while.

The fact is, we don’t know why. All the coverage and analysis in the world won’t tell us why. One thing, however, seems likely: the coverage itself contributes to certain types of news-worthy violence, like school shootings. It may not be possible in a free society to subdue such coverage. The best we might be able to do is honestly acknowledge that we can’t help ourselves, and that our futile desire to know “Why?” prompts immense media coverage. An inherently sensationalist media will naturally try to satisfy that demand, even if it means prompting copycat violence. Politicians will always use these spectacular incidents, and the media access these events give them, to express outrage in front of the camera because, somehow, that is a necessary part of the story.

Unfortunately, we have honesty on neither level. Political entrepreneurs promise to make our world safer if we only give them more money and more power. The media continually rationalizes its over-coverage of these events as a social benefit.

But if the media didn’t alert its audiences to mass shootings, the public wouldn’t know how to look for and interpret the warning signs of a potential shooter, Newman said.

That’s a Princeton professor quoted by ABC News. I’m less concerned by patent fatuousness of the comment itself than I am by ABC News’s trying it out on what they must pray is a credulous audience.

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