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Gun Violence Debate: Media Coverage Affects Our Perceptions Of Gun Violence

Statistically the U.S. is as safe, if not safer, than it has been in the past 20 years for the typical “man on the street.” 

Yet there is a greater fear of violence, especially gun violence, than there was in the past. If crime has not increased and rates of violence are less than they were 20 years ago, we need to find the source of that fear.

Violence is an issue, but it really has actually decreased since 1993. If that is the case, and the Bureau of Justice indicates it is, then what has changed since 1993 to make our perceptions of violence increase? 

The answer is the media coverage of the events. In the past 30 years, more and more news stations have committed to broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Stories are also aired as quickly as possible. Facts are replaced by talking heads speculating as the story unfolds. Unlike the days when a story was researched and sources vetted prior to publication or broadcast, providing a complete picture; we now get chaotic half truths that make the already disturbing stories more confusing. 

Sensationalism is nothing new; newspapers have done this for centuries. The difference is what was once a daily occurrence is now front and center throughout the day. Think of all the television screens one passes throughout a typical day, and in our plugged-in culture, the news can be found anywhere: at the local coffee shop, in the lobby at the office, the break room, the restaurant. Even gas stations and convenience stores have the news broadcast to a waiting public. It becomes almost a subliminal message of fear and distrust.

Because the focus is on the strange, the unusual, the offender; we know little of the heroes at large. We hear about the shooters but not those who confront them. We hear about the criminals but not the police officers who arrest them. Stop and think about the affect this coverage has on the mentally unstable. The person who was destined to live a solitary, lonely, non-existence and would either die alone in anonymity or commit suicide can now become headline news. Americans know the names of these murders; Kleibold, Harris, Lanza, Holmes; I guarantee every person can identify at least one of those names with the murders they committed. Three of them took their own lives, because their goal was to commit suicide but to lose their anonymity doing so.

We as a society need to hold our media outlets to a higher standard. Rather than on the spot guess work, we need to demand accurate and verified reporting of event. I would prefer a reporter say “we have a report of a gunman at a school and are standing by to provide that story as soon as we know what is happening” than “we think” such and such but cannot confirm that. 

All they are doing is sowing the seeds of fear and mistrust. I understand the need to fill air time and not lose a “scoop” to the other network. But there is, or was, such a thing as journalistic integrity. Rather than being a talking head, I call on the network reporters to be honest and not guess or ask “experts” to guess as to what happened at a scene.

Further we do not need to have the names of murderers, the faces of their victims and their grieving families on television all the time. Let the families grieve in peace. Put up a memorial page on the website for the victims. Let the murderers’ memories be erased back to the anonymity they so violently strove to escape.

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