I have no patience for TV news, and feel my blood pressure rise when I see the fear-mongering (“What was the chemical spilled on Route 66 that 10,000 motorists drove over on their way home from work? Will it cause you and your family to die a horrible death? Janice will have that story after this commercial for life insurance!”) I have watched no TV coverage of the Newtown killings, though as the story develops I may wind up watching online reports that bloggers identify as useful.
Here’s how Roger Ebert responded when a TV reporter asked him whether violent movies were responsible for Columbine killings.
“Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.