Through Thom Tinted Lenses

February 21, 2010

MEDIA, ACCESSORY TO MURDER? by Thom Reese


There was a tragedy in Austin TX this past week. A small plane was flown deliberately into a public building with the intent of killing as many innocents as possible. The perpetrator –  we’ll call him Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job, for lack of a better name – left a “rambling manifesto” on a website detailing his grievances, and – in his own mind – justifying this heinous act because he felt put upon by the government. I hate to tell you this, Mister Nut-Job, but if everyone who felt disenfranchised by society or had a beef with the government opted for the murder/suicide option, the human race would cease to exist.

But, as angry as I am at this whacko for treating human life with so little respect, I’m equally miffed at the news media. Yes, they should report the event. That’s their job – that’s their responsibility. What bothers me is that they not only gave the guy’s name (granting him, in some circles, folk hero status), but also detailed many of the grievances left in his “manifesto.” Everywhere I looked I saw excerpts and commentary on what Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job saw as the ills of society. In other words, the murder of innocents gave him a voice.

I.e., he was successful.

This is what he was after, a platform, an opportunity to get his message out. It’s Terrorism 101.

“Oh, I’m not getting my way. Waa, waa, waa!”

“Why don’t you start a petition, call your congressperson, maybe even run for office or start an organization dedicated to change?”

“Nah, too much work. I’d rather kill a bunch of complete strangers. It’s quicker and easier that way. Can I borrow your Cessna?”

And why do these fruit-loops think this approach will work? Because it does. The national media is buzzing with the details of this story. They’ve listed his complaints, legitimizing them, ensuring they’re the topic of conversation around every office water cooler in the land. I sat in a restaurant yesterday listening to a waitress rattle off this guy’s grievances to a customer. The networks have even interviewed his friends. “Oh, Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job was really a nice guy. He wasn’t anti-social in the least.”

Nice guy. Really?

I’m sure there are plenty of people in downtown Austin that disagree with that statement.

This type of news coverage scares me. By playing into this radical’s plan, by promoting his ideas, quoting his “manifesto,” could the media actually encourage other such atrocities? I believe so. As long as the crazies think their bell will toll on the six o’clock news, they’ll continue to consider terrorism a legitimate option. In this case I believe the media is, in essence, an accessory before the fact. Think of it as someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded building. This free speech, this “reporting” can cause further havoc, possibly even loss of life. I believe there’s a responsibility to use sound judgment when reporting these crimes, a responsibility to look at the long term implications of feeding the terrorist mindset by giving them a voice.

So, how can we prevent this and similar tragedies from occurring?

By making terrorism ineffective. By castrating the suckers, taking away their power. Report only the event. Don’t give the perpetrator’s name. Don’t even hint at his motives, much less promote, analyze, and dissect his propaganda in public. If the FBI needs to get in there and psychoanalyze his lunatic ramblings, so be it. Let them. But don’t give these murderers – and that’s exactly what they are. Not martyrs, not crusaders, but simple, cowardly, disgusting murderers – the means to use the slaughter of innocents to promote a cause. Even a cause that is otherwise worthy.

Should the media be held accountable for promoting domestic terrorism? Should there be fines, or, perhaps, loss of licenses for broadcasting the details of a murderous manifesto? That’s a tough one. Free speech is a cornerstone to our way of life. It’s a slippery slope to inhibit such a liberty. One I hesitate to tread. Perhaps the better solution is for you and me – the public – to complain to the news outlets that unwittingly promote terrorism. Give them a good old-fashioned, sixties-style protest. Tell them we won’t watch their networks or support their sponsors if they continue with such irresponsible journalism. Let them know that this is unacceptable, that no matter how valid the point, murder is never an acceptable form of free speech.

Perhaps it all comes down to you and me, and what we’re willing to tolerate.

 

Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.

Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.

“Through Thom Tinted Lenses” is posted weekly. If you enjoy these blogs, please subscribe using the button to the right and share the link with your friends. Comments are welcome.

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6 Comments »

  1. Wow, I never thought of that! But you are absolutely right. Some medias are …

    Comment by Romina Wilcox — February 21, 2010 @ 8:42 am | Reply

  2. Way to go Thom.
    That’s why I write romance instead of being a know it all journalist who seeks sensationalism. The new media is a huge downfall in America. And the reason is, it is nothing more than a gossip that is spread all over the world and analyzed and talked to death about.
    How many good things come out in the news? How many really good stories come out of it. Usually during a 30 minute segment, they end the show on a high note of something good. That’s it folks.
    We don’t need newsmen telling us how many women Tiger slept with. Why should I care one way or another. My opinion of that man should not make or break him. Nor of any other men or women for that matter.
    News these days is distorted for the thing they like most sensationalism, and we buy it. Hook line and sinker.
    You go Thom, tell it like it really is.
    Love and blessings
    Rita

    Comment by Rita Hestand — February 21, 2010 @ 10:14 am | Reply

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I’m so sick of people talking about this poor idiot. My sister has a friend that worked in that building and hasn’t been able to get hold of her yet. Think she’s feeling like he was a nice guy? Everybody has problems, but as you said why does the media focus on those problems instead of the completely CRAZY way he went about “solving” them. It’s just crazy.

    Comment by Robert W. Leonard — February 21, 2010 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  4. I think this column is completely off-base. You’re not putting it into proper perspective.

    It got attention because it’s highly unusual. The media merely reported the facts, and gave the facts behind his reason, which were contained in his manifesto. It wasn’t a “promotion of domestic terrorism.” Because of the spectacular or unusual nature of crimes like this (for example, school shootings), they tend to get more attention and create more panic and more calls for how we need to do something about this. More people die every year from food poisoning than have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the last 20 years – and that includes the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. There are tens of thousands of preventable deaths caused by other things, but these rarely get the level of outrage and attacks foisted on the media after reporting on a controversial subject. You’d better serve the human population by going after irresponsible food manufacturers than after the media for reporting on this guy.

    You assume the media is encouraging this type of behavior because all these people want is publicity. Not so. Crazy has been around for thousands of years, long before there media even existed. It will always be around. I also believe that most of these incidents have little to do with publicity and more to do with a desire for power – the thing that has been responsible for billions of deaths throughout history.

    A free society has its benefits and its risks. The benefits of a free press and free speech far outweigh any negatives that MAY result in reporting this guy’s manifesto. If you set up punishments, you’ll create a chilling effect and possibly prevent information from getting out there that needs to be out there. You then open the door for abuses to take place that will cause more harm to more people.

    As for how irresponsible the press is – you need to do a little exploration of the history of journalism. It’s gotten better than it was in the past. There’s a lot more ridiculous stories out there, but that’s not the media’s fault. They’re a business and they pay attention to what gets people to watch, what gets views online and what sells newspapers to those who still buy them. They go with this stuff because it gets people’s attention and sells ads. People want to blame the media for the condition of the media, but the ones who are complaining are the most responsible.

    Comment by Kevin — February 21, 2010 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

    • Kevin,

      Thank you for your well thought out response to my blog. I appreciate a diversity of opinion, and encourage the free flow of ideas. I do, though, have a few counterpoints of my own. (Again, a free flow of ideas.)

      1) I’m going to start in your second to last paragraph and then go back and cover some other thoughts because I see this as key. You seem to think that I’m for setting up “punishments” for the media when they succumb to this type of reporting. Not so. If you read my blog, you’ll see that I toss out the idea in the form of a question, and then answer that question by indicating that this is a slippery slope that is better left alone. I then suggest that it be the public, not the government, that regulates the media by either affirming or withdrawing viewership/readership. Basic free market principles. I am for a free press. I’d just prefer a more responsible free press.

      2) Back up to the top of your statement: Just because something is spectacular doesn’t mean common sense should not apply. Yes, it was a spectacular event. That does not mean this person’s views or “reasons” are any more valuable than any other person’s. Being spectacular is what terrorists do. It’s how they are heard. But being a spectacular murderer shouldn’t buy someone a ticket to free national promotion to air grievances. In fact, I believe it should be the opposite. If you’re going to kill people simply to make a point, then I don’t want to hear your point. Because like it or not, the media detailing the grievances of this man’s manifesto can encourage similar acts from others. Report the crime, yes. Even report that a manifesto was left, that he had issues with the IRS. But leave it at that. Don’t give this guy and others like him a disproportionate voice simply because he was willing to shed the blood of innocents.

      3) The fact that more people die by other means such as food poisoning is irrelevant. It doesn’t take away from my point. The media can report on this – and probably should – as well. It has nothing to do with this issue.

      4) “Crazy has been around four thousands of years.” Don’t I know it! Once again, irrelevant. Genocide, murder, rape, these are all a part of the human tapestry. Should we do nothing to curtail these? Of course not. As we progress as a people, we should attempt to minimize our failings.

      5) “Journalism has gotten better than it was in the past.” Perhaps. In some ways, yes. In other ways I think it’s slipped some. Either way, shouldn’t the goal be to make the profession, the institution, better yet? If it’s better, yet still flawed, keep working on it, take it to the next level. Cancer treatment is better than it was a decade ago too. I’m not calling for them to say, “Good enough.”

      6) Finally, yes, sensationalism sells. But in the end, I still believe the media has the responsibility – the burden – to use good judgment. I encourage self-restraint on the part of the news media. This type of reporting can encourage further acts of violence, and thus is not in the public’s best interest. No, I do not want to put handcuffs on the media. I don’t want a government-controlled press. Anything but. Though, I’d love to see a few beefed-up doses of common sense from time to time.

      Kevin, once again, thanks for your comments. Agree or disagree, feel free to comment on my blog anytime. I may not agree with all of your points, but I respect them, and support your right to express them.

      Thom

      Comment by Thom Reese — February 22, 2010 @ 5:03 am | Reply

  5. I agree. It used to be that the news was reported not it’s more like the National Enquire. Actually the Enquire is more like news sometimes. Instead of saying a Texas man crashed his plane into a building, reporting on it and maybe whitholding his name till next of kin was notified or something you are right they give him a platform. Instead of making the news they are making him a hero to nuts who think like he does. It also gives the Jihad crowd a reason to crow and whoop it up, the news media does not seem to think we are at war and anything the enemy can use for propoganda they will.

    Comment by Barbi Rose — February 23, 2010 @ 11:27 am | Reply


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