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.
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.”
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.