The Bullpen

The media should be ashamed of its Connecticut coverage

What journalistic rationale could compel a reporter to interview young children at a mass-murder scene?

Matt K. Lewis

It's time to have a national conversation... about the media.

But first, let's recount how they've blown the coverage of the tragic school shootings in Connecticut: 

The media originally reported the wrong name of the alleged shooter. (The suspected killer was Ryan Lanza, they breathlessly reported. Turns out it was actually Ryan's brother, Adam.) Then, some in the media advertised Ryan's Facebook and Twitter pages. (This, of course, brings to mind Brian Ross' irresponsible and premature on-air suggestion over the summer that the Aurora shooter was a Tea Party member.)

As if those cases of egregiously mistaken identity weren't enough, producers and reporters began trolling Twitter, seeking to proposition friends and relatives of the victims for an interview.

Meanwhile, others staked out the young survivors, and then proceeded to conduct on-air interviews with these young children. This was unseemly and superfluous. As TIME's James Poniewozik wrote, "There is no good journalistic reason to put a child at a mass-murder scene on live TV, permission of the parents or not."

I don't blame the individual reporters or producers. They are merely players in a screwed-up game. And don't fool yourself: The media is responding to market demand that you help fuel.

But if you're wondering why the public dislikes the media, scummy behavior like this doesn't help.

And when it comes time for moralizing, the media predictably assumes that the availability of guns is the problem, without considering how journalists themselves might be contributing to the coarsening of our already-violent society. 

The entertainment-media complex promotes and glamorizes violence — for profit — in film and on TV. Meanwhile, the news media ensures that killers get the attention and fame they so desperately crave.

To be sure, a transparent society demands reporting newsworthy incidents — and this definitely qualifies. But it should be done responsibly. And that is not what we have witnessed. We have instead a feeding frenzy that is all about beating the competition — not disseminating information.

It's about being first, beating other media outlets, and making a name for themselves. It's a ghoulish mentality that stokes controversy and violence — for business purposes. It's a sort of "if it bleeds it leads" mentality that causes cable networks to create logos and theme music for such tragic events (all the while, they feign maudlin concern and outrage.)

Come to think of it, the media is guilty of doing what they criticize big business for — putting money (in this case, ratings, newsstand sales, and web traffic) ahead of humanity and decency. Just as greedy businessmen put profit and personal gain ahead of ethics, so too do our media outlets. 

Unfortunately, this is a pretty clear trend. George Zimmerman is suing NBC because — ostensibly to make a story seem sexier — they edited a tape to make it sound like he was introducing Trayvon Martin's race into a 911 conversation. (In fact, he was responding to the dispatcher's question about race.)

Earlier this month, a New York Post photographer snapped pictures of a man about to be killed by a New York City subway train. The photographer claims he couldn't have saved the man, and that he was trying to warn the train by flashing his camera. But that didn't stop a popular tabloid from exploiting the tragedy by putting it on the front page.

We live in a sick society, and we get the media we deserve. Connecticut was a prime example. The American public needed solemnity, grieving, and thoughtful reflection. Our media gave us the exact opposite.

The founding fathers never envisioned the damage that could be done by a 24-hour news cycle. The media incentivizes killers by giving them attention, and they put innocent people in danger. Clearly, we cannot sit by and hope this situation will improve. How many more deaths will it take before someone does something?

I know what you're thinking: Free societies are inherently messy. And what about the First Amendment? 

I'm not suggesting we completely abolish the media. But perhaps we should curtail it. Isn't it time for some common sense media control?

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