I have a modest proposal for our networks and news shows and the rest of our 24 hour media: don’t tell everyone about every shooting.
Make a pact to hold your peace. Be rogue and go silent. Decide ahead of time to treat the next story as a non-story. We don’t need to know every bad thing that happens everywhere.
Local reporters, local stations, local pundits—go ahead and report on local news. If a shooting happens down the street, we should know about it. We may need to take precautions. We may have friends in the neighborhood. Our lives may be directly affected. But why turn every local tragedy into a national nightmare?
This isn’t about indifference to suffering or refusing to hear about other people’s problems. This is about putting sanity ahead of selling advertisements. It’s is about journalists prizing accuracy over urgency. It’s about media outlets having enough self-restraint to realize a ratings explosion isn’t worth the price of panic and misinformation. We don’t have to stop the world yet again to let another killer have his day. I’m not saying we cease trying to find solutions to widespread societal problems. But it’s usually difficult to tell what those solutions are in the moment. The grief and sadness are obvious, the sensationalism and posturing don’t have to be.
No one considers it insensitive that we don’t hear about every car accident or every cancer case or everyone who falls off of something—even though Americans are more likely to die by each of these means than by mass shootings. It’s not making light of horribly bad news to point out that nothing whips the media (and then the rest of us) into a frenzy like horrible things happening in the world. Scandals, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, abductions, shootings—we are bombarded by bad news every day. Must we hear all of it?
Telling everyone everything about every shooting is a bad idea for at least two reasons. First, because it unnecessarily alarms people. And second, because it unnecessarily encourages copycat behavior.
As to the first, we face an enormously greater risk of being killed on the highway in a car than being shot by a madman in the mall or in a movie theater. Let’s not inspire fear where it is not warranted.
As to the second, why make the worst people in this country the most well known? I’m not surprised that a deranged and evil person ready to end his life would want to make a big splash doing it. Why not get some revenge? Why not be the star in your own reality television show? Big time headlines, no earthly consequences.
I suppose it’s impossible, on this side of the social media revolution, to completely quarantine information. But I bet we could do more than we think. Do you remember the last time you saw a streaker flash his nasty business across the field at a sporting event? I don’t, because the broadcasts don’t show them anymore. They look the other way. They don’t dignify the wacko with 3.5 seconds of fame. I don’t know, maybe crazies jump on the field all the time and we just don’t see it anymore. But I doubt it. Some smart person realized at some point that if a streaker streaks in the woods and no one is there to see it, the streaking is a lot less fun.
Couldn’t we try the same thing with shootings? Why not simply look the other way—not in the local circle of care, but on the national level of political pandemonium? Call the police. Stay out of harm’s way. Let friends and family and pastors and neighbors weep with those who weep. When all is said and done and all the facts are in, look at the big picture and try to make a difference. But no more fear for those who should not be afraid. And no more fame for those who deserve none.