The Newtown tragedy that struck a little over a week ago still weighs heavily on many of our hearts. Unfortunately, however, a tragedy of any magnitude bears with it a curse: the media. How we react to a tragedy, whether we feel anger or sympathetic pain, whether we stay glued to the details or play it off like a minor notch in history, depends on the level of media attention.
Many have asked why. Why would anyone, any human being with a capacity for compassion, kill innocent children in cold blood? The media hears our question and feeds us gruesome details, not for love of news but for love of ratings.
Recently, a statement came out bashing the media’s reporting tactics, indirectly blaming sensationalist media for the shooting sprees that taint America’s history. The statement was originally attributed to Morgan Freeman, causing a lot of raised eyebrows. Now, we know that the statement was in fact made on Facebook by ‘Mark’ from Vancouver.
Here’s the statement in full:
You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why.
It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single ‘victim’ of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up,” this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours.
Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.
Someone thought it would be fun to make this statement viral under the name of a celebrity, but the matter of who said it has no bearing on its validity. It’s the sad truth.
There’s an idea in the investment world called “the greater fool theory,” which applies to a person who makes an investment based on the possibly unfounded and altogether noble idea that he or she will be able to eventually sell it at a higher price.
The extension of this theory to the world of news was made by Aaron Sorkin’s TV show The Newsroom. The main character, a news anchor, makes it his goal to do “real news.” He is described as a greater fool by a critic for believing he can transform the slants and agendas of news networks, but a friend says to him, “The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.”
It’s a lofty pursuit, but each of us can play a part in transforming the media. It starts with refusing to play into the intense polarization overwhelming our political conversation. We can start discussing, start listening, and stop belittling. Stop believing our own ideas are superior, and start believing that other people have something worthwhile to say.
The media seeks to give the people what they want, and up until now, we’ve been telling them the wrong thing. We’ve been telling them to feed our emotions, but let’s tell them to feed our intellect. Let’s tell them we want the neutral, unbiased facts.
Let’s all be greater fools.
Elena Novak is a junior Creative Writing major at Florida State University and the FSU Village Square ambassador. She is also a staff writer for the FSView & Florida Flambeau, pursuing a career in writing and investigative journalism. She believes herself to be a greater fool and hopes to bring the unadulterated facts to the people.