Mass Killers Study Previous Events; Is Media Coverage A Factor?


As mass shootings have become more common, experts have come to understand them less as isolated expressions of rage and more as acts that build on the blueprints of previous rampages, says the New York Times. Experts in violence prevention say many perpetrators of such shootings have intensively researched earlier mass attacks, often expressing admiration for those who carried them out. The publicity that surrounds these killings can have an accelerating effect on other troubled and angry would-be killers who are already heading toward violence, they say. The potential for cultural contagion demands a public health response, one focused as much on early detection and preventive measures as on politically charged campaigns for firearm restrictions. In some cases, efforts to identify and monitor potentially violent people can raise concerns about civil liberties.

“You're balancing public welfare and personal privacy,” said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist in San Diego who consults on threat assessment. Some people suggest changes in the way the news media covers mass attacks. “If you blast the names and faces of shooters on news stations and constantly repeat their names, there may be an inadvertent process of creating a blueprint,” said Dr. Deborah Weisbrot, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University, who has interviewed hundreds of mostly teenage boys who have made threats. The Times ran a photograph of Oregon college shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer on its front page and featured it prominently online. Matthew Purdy, a deputy executive editor, said such images were not meant to glorify the perpetrators. “Our job is to explain and explore, and these images help to do that,” he said.

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