A reader writes:
In a soccer/football match, the media won't show pitch invaders on camera because of the fear that it will encourage others to interrupt the next game. Neither my wife nor I can understand what is so difficult about this, as it relates to spree killers. It seems obvious.
Regarding your reader's comment about Tarantino's so-called "violence porn," it is worth noting in his defense that the guy also wrote the film Natural Born Killers, which is specifically about the perverse way that our media culture incentivizes this kind of mass killing by turning its perpetrators into celebrities.
It's really bothering me that any of readers would call for a "total media blackout" at the scene of a mass shooting like this. It's bothering me even more that a number of your readers consider the men and women doing their best to convey the scope of the tragedy as evil, exploitative individuals. I don't know if you've ever been on the scene of a murder or fatal fire and had to talk to family or relatives there. I have.
It's the most difficult thing I do. (The fact anyone could think I'd enjoy that means we reporters have to speak up for our profession more.) I NEVER interfere with anyone responding to the scene, and I'm cautious about approaching those who may have been affected. When I do, I get extremely nervous, and I try to be as polite and sensitive as possible when asking to speak to someone. If someone says they're not interested in talking, I thank them and don't bother them any more.
But you'd be surprised how many people welcome the opportunity to speak. Many of your readers assume the families in Newtown are passive actors, simply being exploited by the reporters there. But those suffering from tragedy need to know that someone is paying attention, and need to raise their voices against what happened. I once witnessed a riot at a funeral in Brooklyn; far from feeling intruded on, the victims I spoke with seemed determined to share their stories about what they'd seen and what injustices they'd suffered. I suspect a similar dynamic is going on in Newtown: If something like that happened at my kid's school, I know I'd want the whole damn world watching and pressing for answers. I'm sure some reporters have overreached – it's inevitable with the number of people there – but many Newtown residents welcome their presence.
Frankly, if I wasn't telling the victims' stories, I wouldn't be doing my job, and you wouldn't be getting an accurate picture of what happened. With a "total media blackout" at Newtown, would we even be having a discussion about our absurd gun laws? Or the much-needed improvements to our nation's mental health system? I strongly doubt it. We're struggling with these issues because many of my colleges are in Newtown, doing the best they can to tell the world what's happening there. That's not exploitative. That's honorable.
Another shifts focus:
Instead of blaming Hollywood, can we instead start to look at the example that our government has been setting? Our television stories and blog feeds have been filled with real deaths and torture of soldiers, civilians, terrorists and "terrorists" for almost 10 years now. Is there currently a stronger, more consistent purveyor of real violence than the US government? If we put the onus on Hollywood for depicting fictionalized violence in a manner that puts our young, our mentally suggestible and vulnerable at risk, then what onus do we put on our government for being engaged in wars that have now produced almost a decade worth of violent documentary footage?
It's sad to think that 15-18 year olds today have lived the majority of their lives with the US in a perpetual state of war. Surely that has to have a more meaningful impact on their lives than playing Doom and Halo with their friends.