No doubt everyone has seen the two-part Piers Morgan interview of conspiracy-weaver, gun “enthusiast” and upcoming thespian, Alex Jones. The interview is truly bizarre: firstly, for making so many people cautiously confess to congratulating Morgan like they’re admitting a murder; and, secondly, for Jones’ revved-up irrational fears, pushed by his waves of incomprehensible anger.
However, instead of adding to the endless posts indicating what Jones got wrong, why Jones is “insane”, etc., I thought I’d focus on something important and right that he says; something I wish more people would not only say but highlight: that is, much of the news media’s coverage does no favours and possible harm to mass shootings.
During his tirade about Hitler, sharks and Redcoats, Jones correctly says that the reason why people, for example, purchase assault rifles is due to advertisement: the best coming from demonstrations of the rifles’ kill-rate success outlined in needlessly meticulous detail by media coverage of said shootings.
The Media Blame Game
These mass shootings are of course terrible events, deserving the best, most carefully thought-out steps and responses. Immediate reactions of outrage, hatred, anger, prayer and so on will do little, but they, none-the-less, are powerful emotions that must be shared and propagated for the TV news to get eyes to screen: learning the names of victims, shooters, learning the reasons and so on. To simply accept a shooting occurred without further investigation is not good enough: we must know that this person was a mad-man, was a zealot, a fanatic of some kind. He can’t be like us: we’re normal. If we learn that there simply is no plotted reason leading toward his mass shooting of children or theatre-goers, this is more troubling: we need a reason so we can distance such people from our normal, good selves.
But reality is not so simple: people’s motivations less so.
And thus, without providing this uneasy but often real answer, the news stays silent and shoves pictures and info and data at us: here, look, a name; here, look, the number of deaths; here, look, the weapon; here, look, here’s how he got it. And on and on it goes. See, learn, watch. Keep watching.
I’ve already indicated my cynicism of much news coverage (or, more specifically, so-called “rolling” 24-hour news). But here’s what Charlie Brooker and forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz highlight about news coverage, after a German mass shooting incident, indicating what damage endless, pointless coverage can have.
I’m not blaming the news media as being the reason for mass shootings. There is no one person or entity to blame except primarily the shooters, themselves. Whatever aids in causing such events needs to be minimised, examined and either discarded or improved. I’ve not read enough about gun laws, policy and morality - one reason it's difficult, especially US gun control, as Michael de Dora highlights, is that such debates are often clogged by thick skins of arrogance, reactionary attitudes and confirmation biases.
However and whatever happens, we should remember that needlessly poking the event with our sticks of voyeurism will do little to solve such problems. Indeed, it could possibly aid in causing another, similar event.
Vigilant about Ad Hominem
Jones’ point is important: whether he or a qualified forensic psychiatrist says it indicates that you ought to be careful of dismissing his points because Jones screams them and believes 9/11 was an “inside job”. To dismiss his points entirely because he acted so bizarrely, is a conspiracy theorist, and so on, is to make an ad hominem attack.
The other thing to take from this then is: Don’t dismiss all his points; don’t dismiss Jones as being representative of everyone who wants to keep their guns; don’t immediately think every conservative is like him. Furthermore, his facts don’t become more or less true because he shouts them at a remarkably calm presenter.
A tragedy has occurred. But that is exactly why we require our best, critical and scientific types of thinking to be in best possible form. If we let only our emotional reactions, whether to shootings or conspiracy theorists, reign, we do nothing to make sure such tragedies don’t happen again.
Image Credit: Piers Morgan Tonight / CNN: Tuesday 8 January 2013