Profiting off tragedies

Published 10:05 am Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Today’s news media love to inundate their viewers and readers with stories of the various murders, robberies and other crimes perpetrated in our nation every day.

To turn on the television in the days or weeks following a particularly salacious crime is to expose oneself to every minute detail of the incident, along with a healthy dose of speculation and inaccuracies.

Why are as Americans so enamored with death and violence?

Why is our first response in the wake of a tragedy to glue ourselves to our television sets and consume as much information about the heinous act as possible?

Whatever the reason behind this phenomenon, its effects on the collective American psyche are clear.

Covering the violence excessively begets more violence.

For example, in 1977, Stephen King published a novel called “Rage,” under a different penname, in which a high school senior brings a shotgun to school and kills several of his classmates. In the two decades following, investigators connected no less than four school shootings to the book, claiming that the content inspired the shooters.

In 1982, news coverage of a murder who killed by lacing Tylenol with cyanide inspired several copy cat killers to strike, killing seven.

But the most outstanding example, is the string of murder-suicides that have struck the United States for the past 20 or 30 years, and has particularly spiked since 2007.

It seems that it happens almost monthly. A deranged or unstable individual kills or injures as many people as possible, then takes his or her own life. Then the news media dissect and report on every aspect of the shooter’s last days, and the factors that went into his decision to commit the crime.

In the course of doing so, they make it all the more enticing for another troubled use to commit a heinous act.

We’ve got to stop using our nation’s tragedies as a jumping point to increase ratings, page views or other markers of success that the media use to generate revenue.

Every time a perpetrator becomes a household name because of the atrocities they have committed, we encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

And every time the news breaks of another shooting, when we rapturously station ourselves to take in every plot twist and shocking turn of events, a little bit of our compassion dies.

For while we gossip over the juicy details of the shootings in Charleston or Chattanooga, someone is mourning the death of their friend, their parent, their child.

While one community experiences shattering grief and indescribable pain, we comfort ourselves by saying that nothing like that could ever happen in to us.

I pray for all of our sakes that that remains to be true.

WALTER FRANCIS is an intern at The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or