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COLUMN: Don’t blame the media for national tragedies

When the dust settles after a tragedy like the shooting in Newtown, Conn., we fall into a familiar pattern of mourning.

In no particular order, we do the following:

Convene around the American flag, using national pride as a salve on our broken hearts; send our pain out into the ether, whether it’s in the form of prayers, thoughts or a few forlorn tweets; initiate a discussion on gun control, which perhaps leads to some newly restrictive legislation whose teeth later get filed down by the pro-gun lobby; and at the behest of some crack celebrity psychologist, get all antsy about the mentally ill, heaping even more stigma onto a population already maligned, misunderstood and silenced.

But as the ritual comes to a close, nary a single culprit is in sight. Who did this to us? The answer might seem elusive, but, in reality, it’s sitting right under our noses.

Feeling deprived of justice, we take up arms against the messenger — the media.

Fingers get pointed at the latest entry in some war videogame franchise or some metal singer’s blood-drenched lyrics or the newest Hollywood gore fest.

Some blame the news, wrongly equating its constant coverage of violent crime with an endorsement of that violence. If the news didn’t give so much attention to criminals, maybe there would be less crime, or so the proposition goes.

When we’re done complaining, having long forgotten the names of those who lost their lives (did we ever know them in the first place?), we again huddle around our screens eager to continue consuming the same media we just finished condemning.

To blame perceived societal dysfunction on the media is a cop out, and it’s something we’re generally too eager to do.

I’ve sat through classroom discussions where everything from racism to materialism to the purported breakdown in social norms is wrongly attributed to something as innocuous as the music played on the radio.

The media portrays, glorifies and perpetuates nothing that doesn’t already have a firm foothold in our culture. It’s society’s magic mirror, showing us our hearts’ desires, whether they are dark, luminescent or something else altogether.

If what comes from the media is violent, bizarre or trivial, the only explanation is that the culture we’ve nurtured is as well. Certainly nothing the media does should be beyond reproach, but none should lose sight of the fact that the media is only what we allow for it to be.

Looking in the mirror and seeing something as painful and gruesome as the shooting in Newtown, Conn. is not pleasant, but it is our reality.

If we can’t stand it, let’s change it.

2 Comments

  1. Sure, we can’t place all the blame on the media, just as we can’t place it all on any single entity. Nevertheless, the media is a large player in a culture of violence and death that certainly contributes to the problem of real violence. I’ve heard the argument that media is just “giving us what we want” before and I don’t buy it. Media needs advertising dollars and advertisers are giving us what makes us insecure so we think we need things we don’t actually need. I doubt many people, having thought about it, would say they actually “want” that. Most of the time we want what we’re told we want.

    We should all bear some of the responsibility for what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. We can each do something small, today, to build a culture of love, peace and understanding that undoes the culture of violence and death.

  2. I don’t blame the media for news events. I do blame the media for sensationalizing those events. Covering one story for 3 to 4 weeks with little to no new information seems excessive. Putting any and everybody who might have been involved on tv and asking them how they feel seems excessive. Someone’s child was just killed, do you really need to put them on camera and ask them how they feel just so the viewing public can see them break down?

    Coverage and updates of an event are fine. Sensationalizing a story for profit and exploiting the survivors and victims seems wrong to me.

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