To What Extent Is the Media Responsible for Provoking Violence?

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The media has always gravitated to sensationally violent stories — or, perhaps better said, gravitated to stories that it could make sensationally violent.  That’s no secret.  It’s why the phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads” was coined.

But I wonder if today’s media is a bit more inclined to play up violence than it has in years past.  Moreover, I wonder what effect  this is having on society, especially at a time when there is great tension in America.  Between the recent terrorist attacks, the racial strife, the contentious presidential election, it seems now more than ever the media is doing its best to foment animus for its own benefit, rather than report honestly about what’s going on in America.

CNN-Cover

I took this screen shot of the CNN homepage earlier this week. I think it’s pretty telling.

Consider this screen shot of CNN this week (see above).  Look at the blood-red backdrop.  Maybe we can give em a pass on that because of the RNC convention (red is the official color of the GOP).  But what about the picture?  Angry white men and women in Cowboy hats apparently shouting and giving a thumbs down.  What message does that convey?  What about the headlines?  My lord, consider all those negative verbs, nouns and modifiers in there, here are some: “fires,” “ballistic missiles,” “chaos,” “un-American,” “rebellion,” “quashed,” “crash,” “blow apart,” “missing,” “Nixon,” “bad,” “drowned out,” “destroy.”

Of the 14 or so headlines I counted, only two don’t have a negative or violent thought associated with it.  “Tonight: Melania’s Moment” and “Trump: A Family Production.”

I took this screen shot of the CNN homepage earlier this week. I think it's pretty telling.

I took this screen shot of the CNN homepage earlier this week. I think it’s pretty telling.

Below the fold it doesn’t get much better: “ax,” “attack,” “attacker,” “attacks,” “scare,” “screws it up,” “immoral,” “call out,” “rush,” “probed,” “cutting off,” “afraid,” “slain,” “clash,” “death.”

Of the 15 headlines, only one doesn’t contain a violent or negative thought associated with it, “I Was Black Before I Was a Cop.”  But even that headline is playing up the current tension between law enforcement and movements like Black Lives Matter.

Yes, this is just one day of CNN’s coverage and it’s clearly not enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion about the media’s role in perpetuating violence in society but I think we should all be aware of it.  I think we should all think critically about the messages the mainstream media is sending to us.  I think it’s important to ask the question, why is almost every headline negative and/or violent?

You know, too often the media points to the existence of firearms in society as being a root cause of violence, as if the mere presence of a gun incites an urge to make one want to randomly take an innocent life, but instead of looking at an inanimate object incapable of killing anyone on its own (Yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people), perhaps the media should look in the mirror and ask, What are we doing to stoke the flames?  What are we doing to exacerbate tensions?  What are we doing to spread fear and cynicism throughout the nation?  And finally, to what extent are we responsible for perpetuating violence?

Maybe the answer to those question is “not much” or “nothing at all,” but it would be nice for them to at least consider, from time to time, the important role they play in crafting narratives that influence hearts and minds.  If they did some serious reflection, chances are things would change — and not just on their hompages, but in the streets as well.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • HARVEY LaFever July 23, 2016, 10:13 am

    The media is nothing but a weapon used by cowards who depend on the very ones they criticize and condemn for protection. They “hide” behind the 1st amendment in an effort to destroy the 2nd amendment. They use their weapon to attack and destroy lives when it suits their agenda. They come out of schools with their journalist’s rag, their heads filled with liberal ideology that borders on communism. They spin the facts and bend the truth, or in many cases leave out what they don’t want the public hearing.
    To what extent is the media guilty? They are the Charles Manson’s of the airwaves.

  • JJ357 July 23, 2016, 1:50 am

    The mass media is totally responsible for the violence to police officers. They put forth biased, reporting and stoke the fire of White Cops killing poor Unarmed Black men. Never mind the statistics which prove 91% of those Blacks killed by Police were armed at the time. They want a race war so they can jump in declare martial law and remove guns. There is no doubt in my mind this is there goal. Especially with OPERATION CHOKEPOINT and HR 431O, Which allows PROPAGANDA to LEGALLY be distributed to the American public by the media. Google both of those, Don’t turn in ANYTHING and prepare for the worst. I have a strong feeling that massive civil unrest, or an outright Civil War is coming.

  • John Taylor July 22, 2016, 7:50 pm

    “”perhaps the media should look in the mirror and ask, What are we doing to stoke the flames? What are we doing to exacerbate tensions? What are we doing to spread fear and cynicism throughout the nation? And finally, to what extent are we responsible for perpetuating violence?””

    I suspect they are asking that, concluding with: “How’s the bottom line?”

    • The Duke of Phartingwell July 23, 2016, 10:20 am

      I believe the few owners of all of the many media outlets want this to happen. There is an agenda. Only biased views are aired and/or reported. There is never any reality of a particular situation discussed. A classic example is the gun crime in Chicago that gets every legal gun owner in the whole country a bad reputation. The media uses events such as these to vilify guns and gun ownership while never mentioning that 100 million legal gun owners didn’t make it into the media that day!
      The fact that groups of African American kids roam around looking for single Caucasian people to beat up is never addressed as it really occurs. Racial difference is not mentioned. All of our news isn’t news, it’s directed sensationalism.

  • Michael J. July 22, 2016, 7:48 pm

    Get both sides of the story, such as Travon, Ferguson etc. Where the persons are poor victims until they find out they were the perps.

  • Patriot July 22, 2016, 2:41 pm

    The media absolutely loves to bias their reporting to make the liberal idiot network bosses happy. Their goal is to do whatever is necessary to get the majority of viewers to watch their biased network and to vote for damn fool liberal politicians to make the United States a country that is NO LONGER A FREE COUNTRY. I am sure the media would prefer the idiot bitch HILLARY to be elected because she has the same mentality as they do. The media will use the freedom of the First Amendment to exploit violence to try to destroy the Second Amendment so that the honest, old and disabled American people will be defenseless. In the media’s opinion, this makes the U.S. a better place to live. It is beyond comprehension as to why the media has this opinion.

  • John E July 22, 2016, 12:10 pm

    The Media has long forgotten what it means to report the news (if they ever did know). Now it is all about ratings and manipulating the public to push their agenda. How often in the news did we see the phrase “Michael Brown and unarmed black man was killed by a white police officer” instead of the more truthful phrase “Michael Brown after robbing a convenience store and physically assaulting the clerk was killed by police while resisting arrest”. Both are technically true yet one lead to riots and better ratings while the other more descriptive narrative would have defused the situation and lead to weeks of poor ratings. How often do we see “Evil Guns” Instead of the correct “Evil People”. Evil People does not push the agenda of stripping the people of their ability to protect themselves. Evil Guns takes away the evil people and pushes the opinion that somehow an inanimate object is somehow bad and must be gotten rid of. It really does not matter which side you listen to they are just pushing their own agenda to gain support from their leadership and increase ratings.

    • Irish-7 July 22, 2016, 1:46 pm

      Excellent points! I concur, John. The media is deliberately manipulating the people to promote an agenda.

  • perlcat July 22, 2016, 11:37 am

    Everybody has it all backwards. It used to be, you could buy an openly Democrat or Republican newspaper. Then we got TV, three networks, and the preposterous notion that a news service could evenhandedly serve news in an unbiased manner. Absurd! All’s that left us with was a bunch of spineless news organizations toadying to the FCC, and simply failing to report on the failings of the political party of their preference, which was overwhelmingly Democrat. In an aside, if you study the history of organized crime and the Democrat party, you’ll discover there is no difference. There’s a reason for that. They tell people what they want to hear, and are very good at delivering what they think they want — after being deliberately dumbed down to want what is worst for them.

    The rage you see over the news is simply the natural balance reasserting itself — and with 60-odd years of unreported Democrat malfeasance to report on, the pickings are mighty good. Are they promoting violence? Sure, that’s how clickbait works. Even worse was what they did for the past 60 years, and I don’t hear anybody complaining about that.

  • Kevin Calongne July 22, 2016, 8:43 am

    I’ll say this. Before the media went all batshit crazy over black rifles, criminals almost never used them. While it is still rare for a rifle of any kind to be used in a crime, it is certainly becoming more common in these terrorist attacks. Yes, I blame the media for putting it out there that black rifles equal mass casualties. The fact of the matter remains that, as seen in France and other countries with strict gun control, terrorists and other criminals have no problem getting any weapon they want (including grenades and explosives) and weaponizing other objects such as vehicles. Gun control has no impact on this scum whatsoever.

    • DRAINO July 22, 2016, 10:37 am

      Well said. Laws are only for the law abiding. A detail that seems missed most often.

  • ardvark July 22, 2016, 8:07 am

    The education system works tirelessly to produce individuals whose decision are based strictly on emotion without any objective thinking! The media then acts as an emotional propaganda machine for the administration and you have what you have today!

  • Happy Camper July 22, 2016, 7:53 am

    I have friends that work for Fox. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t watch prime time any more. They do nothing but bicker and talk over one another. It’s the same thing over and over 24/7 for a week. We watched the Convention on C-span, no moderator, no commercials and you got to hear what people had to say without interruption. It seems all news channels are getting Bia’s.

  • Jay July 22, 2016, 7:28 am

    The media and obama are completely complicit and responsible for what is going on! Let me remind all of a few words, government psyops, it works, especially since Dec 2012, obama signed HR 4310, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1078 of the bill authorizes the use of propaganda inside the US, which had previously been banned since 1948 when the Smith-Mundt Act was passed. In its most basic of descriptions it gives the government the right to lie, Period! It legalizes the dissemination of propaganda in America, and also legalizes covert infiltration of media organizations by government agents and even the creation of media outlets that legally operate entirely as government fronts.
    Read it America! This is just one of many of the obanations dirty deeds!

    • Bill Gore July 22, 2016, 8:28 am

      I did read the legislation which was sponsored by a Republican, and was not a creation by Obama. And Section 1078 reads: Dissemination abroad of information about the United States. It has nothing at all to do with propaganda deployed within the U.S. I am sure it must be comforting to blame the current environment of divisiveness on the President but at least in this case you got it totally wrong. The act to which you refer was created and sponsored by members of the GOP, and do not authorize the use of propaganda within the U.S. in contravention of the Smith-Mundt Act. In fact in 1967 the prohibition against U.S. agencies broadcasting USIA material into the United States was removed.

      • Jay July 23, 2016, 8:33 am

        Read it Bill, if you did your living in koolaid land! No matter who sponsored, it’s still government, it still reads as I said to anyone with any discernment!
        “The Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are authorized to use funds appropriated or otherwise made available for public diplomacy information programs to provide for the preparation, dissemination, and use of information intended for foreign audiences abroad about the United States, its people, and its policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, and other information media, including social media, and through information centers, instructors, and other direct or indirect means of communication.
        [using a broad interpretation, ‘intended for foreign audiences abroad’ could apply to any material that could at any point after release be potentially made available to any person who lives outside of the US]”
        In other legalese, if anyone outside of the USA can be construed as being able or possible to view it, they can make up and control media to portray what ever they want to promote a different view than what is true!

  • Bob Christensen July 22, 2016, 7:08 am

    “Media” is the plural of “medium,” as in, “Are the media responsible…” not “Is the media responsible…”
    And, yes, of course they are. They plaster our pages and screens with every tidbit they can find about mass shooters, etc. thereby encouraging other feeble-minded psychos to realize that all they have to do to get their fifteen minutes of fame is to blow away a bunch of folks. Better the media should minimize the coverage of the perpetrators, such as, “Some 30-year old loser from New Jersey shot up his former employer’s office this morning. This station has decided not to give the late murderer the recognition he wanted.” Bottom line: The media ARE the problem.

  • Eric Y. July 22, 2016, 6:51 am

    Sadly, “headlines” have become a vast number of peoples’ news. And when those headlines grossly exaggerate something, that’s a problem. In reading many of the responses to stories and talking to people it becomes clear that they often don’t or haven’t read the story behind the headline. People are living off headlines and memes. They are formulating long and complex opinions on incidents based on headlines and memes. The media knows it, so they are playing to today’s need for everything ‘instantaneous’. Why spend all that time reading when you can get all you need from the headline? Also sadly, many headlines are little more than click bait and barely, if at all, reflect the content of a story. Let’s call it like it is, they are often flat out bullshit. When that bullshit fans the flames of a fire they should be held accountable. Yes, yes 1st Amendment, blah blah blah. It has been held up by the courts that the 1st Amendment does NOT protect speech that incites violence or causes harm. I believe it can clearly be shown that ‘media’ has incited violence and harm. They have stoked the flames to create even greater stories or should I say, headlines. They have done this to great affect. The media, in many cases, has essentially yelled ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre so they can report on the trampling of people. It’s wrong and they shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind the 1st Amentment any more than I could hide behind the 2nd Amendment for shooting someone who is simply walking down the street.

    • Robert July 22, 2016, 11:44 am

      I read many of the comments herein contained and find most interesting and being on the money. However this phenomenon of pushing emotional stories is not new. I was in the newspaper business for nearly 40 years and have seen the gradual transition from factual reporting to hyping up a story that would play well in the National Enquirer. There is very little difference between a general circulation newspaper and one that appears on the racks at the checkout stand in stores. For real news media it is a shameful illustration of the lack of good journalist education. However back to my point. If you will look up the term “Yellow Journalism” you will see that it was some of the first inaccurate reporting. That covered everything from purposeful false accusations to out right lying. They used text and cartoons to make their point. It was used mostly in politics and very much in the pulp publications printers put out like the writers who wrote about the old west but puffed the stories up to get readership. One of the largest abusers were newspaper publishers who set out to destroy anyone they did not like or disagreed with them. Like now the victim had no recourse. I would love to refute the Washington Post or New York Times or any of the major publications I could name but have no resources to do so. I write letters to the editor but are rarely get them published because of editorial censorship. That is the truth of our world today.

  • Clark Wilkins July 22, 2016, 5:26 am

    Since 1897 American journalism has found it more profitable to report sensationalism than facts. It does not matter whether it is CNN or FOX. Even the author of this piece seems more motivated by how the GOP was covered versus how the news affects shootings.

    We can look at history. The Henry rifle in the 1860’s was about as close to a modern assault rifle as you could get back then. We’re people back then walking into schools with them and opening up? Because a one room schoolhouse would have been emptied pretty fast as Junior only had to get daddy’s Henry to do it. And it would have been huge news. Yet it never happened then.

    Something has happened since. Maybe it’s video games, violent movies, or the news. But it’s not the weapon. I’m guessing it’s the news. Every psycho who can create a big enough body count is guaranteed his 15 minutes of fame. The weapon is not even necessary. Some nut did just fine with a truck in France. Pretty soon somebody will drive through a school ground armed with an Oldsmobile during recess. I would say we are helpless and it is a fact of life. No law ever proposed or passed would have stopped the previous shooting. John Wilks Booth, Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, and Lee Harvey Oswald would still be legal today. They all sought fame by shooting political figures. That’s now getting harder to do. So now it’s not who you shoot but how many.

  • DRAINO July 21, 2016, 4:25 pm

    Yep! No question…..they love to do it…..and then deny doing it. Cause it’s all for ratings or views or clicks….what have you. That’s all they care about. Whatever the cost….doesn’t matter. If it costs more innocent peoples lives….all the better because then more people will read or view. So I guess it all boils down to simple greed. The more clicks, views or better ratings they get, the more money they make. And people are stupid enough to feed this by clicking, viewing, reading/watching. I’m all about freedom of speech ……but just because you can say it or report on it….doesn’t mean you should. How about RESPONSIBLE journalism?

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