Personal Liberty Poll
Following a deadly shooting rampage in Moncton, New Brunswick, which left three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers dead earlier this month, media in the nation across the United States’ northern border reacted to the tragedy in a way that many Americans would never expect from their own mainstream media. The Canadian Sun News Network decided to do its part in ensuring that the killer, who is very much alive and in police custody, remains an anonymous nobody.
“We will not help give this killer his blaze of glory,” the editorial staff wrote, arguing that media’s infatuation with exploiting sensational violence and the people who perpetrate it plays an enormous role in expanding a culture that fosters copycats, one-upsmanship and a perverse promise of historic notoriety for the next mass killer.
“Sun News Network will not report the name of the killer. We will not show his photo,” the editorial explained:
When it comes to mass murderers, too often, it is attention and infamy they crave. Luckily, shootings of this nature are rare in Canada.
And in the US, they account for less than one per cent of all gun-related deaths. Far more people have been killed in the bad neighbourhoods of Chicago than were killed in all the mass shootings combined. But these rare incidents are never forgotten. And with the rise of social media, they’ve become a spectacle.
It’s easy to report on the life of the killer, to scour his deranged Facebook page, to speculate about motive, but doing so could actually encourage the perception that his heinous acts are somehow justified.
Following the deadly Newtown, Connecticut shooting in December 2012 that left 26 dead, including 20 children, it was discovered that the perpetrator kept a “score sheet” of previous mass shootings.
Did he hope his name would be placed at the top of the list?
This bizarre act is not uncommon. In fact, experts have found a clear path of influence running through some of the most infamous shooters — from Columbine, to Virginia Tech to the Colorado Theatre — including explicit reference to previous killing sprees and calls to empower future “celebrities.”
…When we make the killer’s name and face famous, are we setting the stage for future mass killings?
In the media, it’s a dilemma. We feel an obligation to tell the public what is going on. Our job is to inform. And like the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.”
…Mental illness, gun control, warning signs, will all come up. These are legitimate points of discussion. But for us in the press — and for society at large — let’s take an honest look in the mirror to see if our hyper-interest might be contributing to this very disturbing phenomenon.
Reader comments beneath the online editorial were overwhelmingly positive. “This is exactly what I have been hoping the news media would do for quite some time now — remove the notoriety incentive and quite possibly remove the mass killing,” wrote one reader, whose remark typified the feelings of many others.
American media has shown no capacity for judicious self-restraint in exercising its immense power. It is a business, and any pretensions of serving the public welfare — to which our news media, both in print and over the airwaves, has a long history of paying earnest lip service — is completely dictated by the profit motive. That’s fine, if only the media were honest with the public (and would stop deceiving itself) about that very fact.
What Sun News Network is proposing is for media to wield its power in good faith, despite the prospect of garnering fewer Web views or TV tune-ins from bloodthirsty oglers. It’s a cultural judgment call that no government should ever be charged with making on media’s behalf, and it’s the right one.
Here’s hoping against hope that American broadcasters and news publications, which set the tone that Western media emulates, will see the long-term value in that decision and follow Sun News Network’s lead.
–Staff writer Ben Bullard contributed to this report.