I thought the entire world was about to come to a grinding halt yesterday. I was grabbing my lunch and checking Twitter, when I read that some nut walked into a Decatur elementary school with his AK-47 and started shooting.
What. The actual. F&*!
Michael Brandon Hill, a young man with a history of mental health issues, walked into McNair Discovery Learning Academy. What happened next is very instructive.
He had the clerk call call what the Atlanta Journal Constitution refers to as “a local TV station.” For people who know how to use Google, that “local TV station” was WSB-TV, which is owned by the same company as the AJC.
He reportedly told the person on the other end of the line that he wanted camera crews to start filming as he shot police officers arriving at the school.
I think we should all consider the implications of this young man’s desire for publicity. Continued, sensational coverage of school shootings is making them more likely to occur.
This suspect was clearly displaying suicidal behavior. He told the clerk at the school he was ready to die. (The clerk is a remarkable individual for having the presence of mind to talk this suspect out of going through with his plan.)
The suspect’s suicidal behavior should make all of us uneasy about the extensive coverage these shootings receive. People who think and feel as though their life doesn’t matter aren’t likely to have much regard for the lives of others. Everyone, though, wants their life to have meaning. In a school shooter’s twisted up logic, going down in some blaze of glory is an act of self-affirmation.
This isn’t just me talking here. There’s actually a set of guidelines on this stuff, produced by several different mental health and media organizations, but they all point to the same essential concern: glamorizing suicide is likely to increase the incidence of more suicides.
Newspapers are still incredibly wary of reporting suicides, though I’ve noticed the custom eroding more and more as traditional media compete with social media. School shootings inevitably become media feeding frenzies and the pressure ratchets up from there.
School shootings are suicidal behavior blended with delusions of grandeur. That is a lethal mix.
Whatever the competition is up to shouldn’t be a concern for responsible journalists and their editors. If all of the big national news organizations, like ABC, would take a stand on this issue, local media would be more likely to follow their lead.
I get that the story is amazing and the video is gut-wrenching. We all want to make our readers and viewers feel feels. But we have a certain responsibility to the people that we cover. If something we’re doing is putting the lives of innocent children in danger, we need to take a step back and reevaluate what our priorities are.
If you don’t think the media has engaged in glamorizing school shootings, consider Hill’s request to the clerk. He wanted to die and he wanted attention. That’s the bottom line of nearly every single school shooting I’ve read about.
If that’s what school shooters are after, why are media giving it to them?
Editor’s note: Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say that a nutcase being able to get his hands on an AK-47 is outrageous on its own terms. I believe the media coverage is the bigger of the two issues. Don’t go looking for that discussion on “a local TV station” though.