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Tilting at Windmills

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April 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COPYCATS....Yesterday I was musing over the hoary old suggestion that widespread coverage of mass murders inspires copycat mass murders. In the case of the Cho killings at Virginia Tech, this has been trotted out as a reason for withholding Cho's videos from public view. After all, why "reward" Cho with exactly what he probably wanted? Doesn't that just send a message to other would-be mass murderers that shooting up a classroom is their path to media immortality too?

This is surely an appealing theory, and one that seems to make a lot of sense. But is it true? Do mass murderers typically take their inspiration from previous mass murderers? The Columbine kids famously wrote about how they intended to "outdo" Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing — though this was but one in an astonishing stew of motivations — but how about other mass murderers? Is copycat-ism a common motivation?

I'm not pretending that this is anything remotely like a conclusive piece of research, but I got curious and went through the list of American mass murders since 1990 as compiled on this Wikipedia page. Basically, there are plenty of similarities: deep-seated feelings of grievance, revenge fantasies, depression, and psychosis of various kinds. Some of the murderers appear to have been partly inspired by various books and TV shows. But aside from the Columbine killers, only one, Jeff Weise, who killed seven students at Red Lake High School a couple of years ago, appears to have been even partly motivated by a previous killing.

What's more, ever since mass murders became relatively common affairs starting in the mid-80s, their frequency hasn't really increased: they've averaged one or two a year ever since.

This data is obviously anecdotal and the Wikipedia list is incomplete. In other words, I'm not trying to make any indisputable claims here. What's more, the simple fact that mass murders are fairly common these days probably does make it a more obvious form of retaliation for individuals who are already either mentally unhinged or on the edge of psychosis. And God knows I'd prefer it if the media toned down the coverage of these events by a factor of a thousand or so.

Still, does publicizing specific mass murders inspire copycats? I'm not so sure about that. In fact, it might be just the opposite: the massive publicity these events generate makes everybody far more vigilant about the possibility of "disturbed loners" in their midst and might actually reduce the likelihood of copycat sprees. What's more, when all is said and done, most of these killers come across in media accounts as delusional, hopeless losers, not as heroes to emulate.

On the other hand, there have been five more post office killing sprees since Patrick Sherrill started the trend in 1986. It's a little hard to chalk that up totally to coincidence.

Anyway, just something to chew over. Further data is welcome in comments.

UPDATE: See Todd Gitlin here for an opposing viewpoint. And Megan McArdle here. Neither presents any evidence that media coverage actually prompts copycats, but they make sensible points nonetheless. More data is needed!

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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Comments

Not saying that Cho was a "copycat" -- but didn't his packet to NBC refer to "Dylan and Eric" as "heroes" who were fighting for largely the same (obscure) reasons as him?

Anyway, I agree with your larger skepticism about "copycat" killers -- and the dangers of a paternalistic media -- but thought it was worth mentioning...

Posted by: Matt on April 22, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I as said on a previous thread, the editor-in-chief of the CBC stated that there is plenty of evidence for the copycat effect, which is why they decided not to air Cho's porn. You've stated several times that there is little evidence. I had seriously hoped that you had something more to back up your claim than a wikipedia scraping. How sad.

Also, as I have noted several time, your paycheck is based on the premise that what people see motivates their behavior. Please reconcile that with your contention that the Cho vids have no effect.

Posted by: Disputo on April 22, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Matt: Yes, that's right, though it's hard to really figure out if Cho was serious about that or if it was just an offhand part of one of his dozens of rants.

There's another point here, though, that I didn't make in the main post. To the extent that Cho or Weise or anyone else was copying the Columbine killings, they were doing it years after the fact. Even if the media (and the public) took a more restrained approach to these things in the immediate aftermath, there's obviously no way to keep spectacular events like these from getting covered as major news stories, and certainly no way to stop coverage down the road. If "copycat-ism" refers to killings years later, then there's not much we can do about it. Toning down the coverage a bit might help, but probably not by much.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on April 22, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Copycat?

"Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the greater Washington, D.C., area, however, warned people not to point fingers and lay blame during this tragic time. Instead, he called for change and for people to dwell in the comfort and hope in Jesus Christ." -The Christian Post, April 19, 2007

"...I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people."
-Cho Seung-Hui, The Multimedia Manifesto

Posted by: EvilPoet on April 22, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

[Content Deleted. Banned Commenter]

--ARGH! We've been had by excellent satire!!!

--Moderator

Posted by: Amerlcan Hawk on April 22, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

I don't buy the 'it-will-inspire-copycats' argument. To accept that hypothesis you must operate from the premise that the subsequent acts are necessarily caused by the preceeding ones. If you assert that Cho's massacre was a 'copycat' of the columbine incident, you must then contend that if Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris hadn't murdered their peers, then Cho would not have murdered his. I think one would be hard-pressed to make that claim, much less prove it.

I'm no psychologist, but when people like Cho or Klebold and Harris cite past acts (Columbine, Oklahoma City), it doesn't seem like they're drawing inspiration from acts as much as they are trying to link what they are about to do to something larger; it seems like they're more intested in placing their own situation in context. "Like Klebold and Harris, I too am a victim of ridicule" or "Like the destruction in Oklahoma City, I too am railing against a corrupt system that is against me." These people aren't 'copycatting' per se, but are assigning some significance to their act.

If the Columbine killings had never happened, you can bet Cho would have grounded his logic in some other event (if he did, infact, cite 'Dylan and Eric' as inspiration). The actions of people like him aren't contingent upon something similar from the past necessarily; the nature of these school shootings is much more selfish.

Posted by: Everblue Stater on April 22, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

This could become a regular feature here -- Sunday copycatblogging!

Posted by: Glenn on April 22, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

If it wasn't Eric and Dylan, then he might have referenced Mickey and Mallory from the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers. Or if you're a student of Literature, you might reference Jean Genet's serial killer Georges Querelle from Querelle de Brest.

This world's a tough place. If you're unhappy and willing to lash out, then you will find inspiration to do so in many different places. Normal people don't watch a movie, play a game, or read a book about murder and say, "Hey, that sounds like a neat idea! I think I will try that before I kill myself."

I just want to know how this kid was able to stay in college for four years while alienating himself from every student and teacher. It seems like this guy should have been expelled for any number of reasons. I know people who were kicked out of school for having a bag of pot in their dorm room. I guess they should've been spending their time stalking women and writing death-porn poetry for their class. At least they would've stayed in school...

I guess I'm just a little tired of the 'copy-cat' tautology for every person who goes nutty. This kid shouldn't have been running around a college campus, and he shouldn't have been able to go buy a gun from any store in Virginia and buy ammo from EBay. He was a crappy student that wasn't going to make a living from his education and knew that his life was ending and he had nothing to show for it. No knowledge, no skills, no job prospects, no friends, no life-partner, nothing except the bizarre dialogue in his head. And there are copies of him all over this world.

Posted by: Tuna on April 22, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think "motivated" is the correct word. The concern is there is some small percentage of the population that sees what happened at VT and thinks "cool". Even if only 1% thinks that way, that is still 3,000 people; and it only takes the slightest fraction of those 3,000 to keep the one or two mass murders a year you pointed out. There is that small percentage that thinks if you want to die anyway, why not go out in a blaze of gory glory?

And is it a coincidence that murdering sprees became more common at the same time cable news got its start?

Posted by: Mark on April 22, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

True story: My girlfriend is an elemnetary school in a inner city/primarily minority district. She reported that she heard whispering between the kids about how "cool" Cho looked in those videos.

I'm not saying that he's going to inspire these kids to do anything crazy. But if they think he looks cool, maybe they think he did something really cool too.

Posted by: Michael C. on April 22, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Communication began between two people and expanded from there to the satcom mass media we have today. Human nature is complex, but one thing certain about it is that people want to know what other people heard and saw and what they thought and felt about it. All events are going to be a reference for someone else, whether that event is communicated verbally or through the mass media. Certainly more people are involved in modern communications, and that expanded discourse probably does reach far more people than before electricity became a part of our lives, influencing them in some way.

If the Columbine event had never been broadcast as news to the masses out of fear it might become a reference for another malcontent or disturbed person, it still would have found its way into popular lore through person to person verbal communication. Most jokes are not written down but passed from person to person verbally. Horrific events would be communicated in the same way and still become a reference. It is true it would take longer and less people might be informed in this way, but the power of ideas and imagination might very well exceed what mass communication informs us of real events that are parsed and subject to fact finding. We know Cho was mentally ill and that his act was not a response to a specific incident, as far as I can tell, but if the news was blacked out, his motivations could very well be expanded to fit every malcontent's rationalization for acting out violence. From the news released so far, that claim cannot be made.

Posted by: Brojo on April 22, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think looking for copycats is a red herring.

My central objection, which I didn't get around to yesterday, to the way that material was presented was that it degrades the viewer. I am not improved by having seen it. I feel worse. It adds more paranoia to society and inspires distrust of your neighbors, not 'vigilance'.

And the kind of people most inclined to find trouble with their neighbors are exactly the kind most impressed by material like this, people who are more, rather than less, like Cho himself.

Posted by: cld on April 22, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

There's plenty of evidence that media coverage (and even descriptions in literature) of suicides does inspire copycat suicides, and that certain ways of reporting suicides are less likely to do so than others. (Check out the wikipedia article on "copycat suicides" and included links.) Why would one expect one particular variety of suicide, suicide preceded by mass murder, to somehow be immune from this?

I don't think that the press can or should avoid reporting stories like this, but to pretend that the coverage can't influence people, is naive.

Posted by: motherbear on April 22, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"What's more, when all is said and done, most of these killers come across in media accounts as delusional, hopeless losers, not as heroes to emulate."

Except, perhaps, to a delusional, hopeless loser.

Posted by: Ian on April 22, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin You have posted several times on this subject. Your mixed feelings are apparent. You certainly have to agree that parents and teachers are strongly influential in molding young minds. Why should other exposures be totally without affect? I certainly understand your trepidation with regards to the first amendment, but given the modern ubiquitous, polymorphous media, barring extremely oppressive censorship, anyone who really wants to see this crap will have little difficulty in finding it. IMHO, as psychology progresses, much of this sort, real or fictional, that we are exposed to will be considered detrimental and ludicrous.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on April 22, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

"More data is needed!"

What the hell are you encouraging here?

Posted by: B on April 22, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

While it has not been reported in the mass media, I have certainly heard a rumor that Brojo writes nonsense in an extremely affected way. And that rumor, by the way, through the power of ideas and imagination, exceeds what mass communication informs us of real events that are parsed and subject to fact finding. Anyway, that's what people lost in the spirals of time, feel.

Posted by: Pat on April 22, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

"They can gas me, but I am famous. I have achieved in one day what it took Robert Kennedy all his life to do."

--Sirhan Sirhan

Posted by: cld on April 22, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

As canards go, the ludicrous idea that such publicity of mass murder inspires copycat behavior by other mentally or emotionally disturbed persons, is surpassed only by the even more preposterous suggestion that such behavior would be esily deterred if only the rest of us in the general population were armed to the teeth with concealed weapons.

Curiously, both arguments are often advanced simultaneously by the same far-right wingnuts whose own lack of decency, compassion and plain old common sense renders themselves a few cards short of a full deck.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 22, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't there some middle ground here? I don't want "news" people as gate keepers but their only operational modes seem to be nothing (It's O.K. if we know, and all of the news room, and all of the interns, and the weather guy but not "the public") or full media blitz with theme songs, custom graphics and insane amounts of repetition.

How about just post the video on a web site?

Then they can be informative and respectful instead of sensational.

Posted by: Clint on April 22, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Great thread so far!

Personally, I'm not all that scared by his videos and his statements as I am by the sense that there is nothing that can be done to make our society a better place. At least the dialog here so far seems to bring out a few points that we should all consider:

1. He was nearing the end of his college and would have to face the world likely without the only frameworks he'd ever had any meager success in (family and school).

2. While you can argue about whether or not he was a copy cat, the fact remains that since a reasonable argument could be made either way, it certainly means that mass media has something to do with his manifesto...or any manifesto for that matter.

3. Blame is one thing but doing something about it is another. In otherwords, while we have plenty of time to figure out whose fault it is, we have more important issues to deal with in the short term...namely that the argument about copy cats, if it is true, are something we have to deal with now. By saying it isn't true, that is an argument to not deal with the possibility that it is immediately. Not that I'm arguing either way, just wanted to point that out.

My conclusion (and thanks for the jostles) is that our fear of the images and statements of Seung-Hui are likely proportional to our fears about how appropriately our society can handle his mental confusions and its horrible results, and under-going resolutions.

Posted by: parrot on April 22, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Copycat killer" misses the point.

It is not that images of murder inspire a desire to murder. It is that instant worldwide fame offers glory to the desperately psychotic and obscure.

And our sick voyeurism passes itself off as a need to "understand" the killer.

Posted by: intelligent design on April 22, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, it might be just the opposite: the massive publicity these events generate makes everybody far more vigilant about the possibility of "disturbed loners" in their midst and might actually reduce the likelihood of copycat sprees.

Here is what happens when "everyone" gets more vigilant: Poetry Manuscripts Panic Pennsylvania College

Posted by: Alan Bostick on April 22, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, your narrow insistence on "copycat or not" reasoning isn't helping to get at the presence of the idea of mass murderers and the ambiguous place that idea holds in our culture. On the one hand, it's a terrifying and taboo construct, so many people are going to be properly horriffied. On the other hand, it's a terrifying and taboo construct and some people are going to be fascinated. for most, almost all folks in that latter group, that's as far as it goes, a fascination with the macabre, a way of distinguishing themselves from the rest of us.

But, someone who was bitter enough, angry enough, desperate enough and lacking in the basic empathies with other human beings wouldn't have to be consciously copying any particular other mass killing in order to want to get in on the action, with the action here being a chance to be a media star, to show everyone how touch/scary/extreme you are, to get that little bit of notice, that infamy that somke people are apparantly quite willing to kill and then die for.

I get your point about new organizations not withholding material like this. You're right about that & that's what makes this not an easy case. There's also the fact that forbidding the broadcast of stuff like this makes it more, not less, alluring. But in a society that's saturated with TV, where people park themselves (and their kids) in front of their sets for hours and hours at a time, playing this video is a little more proactive than is implied in the phrase "not withholding." It's hard for the lesson here to not be "if you do something like this, and if you have your media package together, we'll make you a star after your dead." And maybe that's a question to ask: would NBC be just as likely to broadcast the images if Cho had been captured alive? As it stands, he's dead, but lots of us have pictures of him with his steely expression and weird uniform burned into our memory, guns drawn. I'm certain that that's just the way he wanted it when he set out that morning.

This isn't a simple matter, but it seems to me that something that fit the criteria of "not withholding" but which also didn't help turn Cho into such a grisly celebrity could be constructed. Posting it on the web with some kind of limited access? making copies (digital) available to public libraries?

Posted by: URK on April 22, 2007 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we can wait and watch the results of the new Russian media. Putin has told them to have 50% positive news. Now we already see the results that Faux's 100% positive news has on the trolls here, but 50-50 may be a new way.

Posted by: R.L. on April 22, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 22, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I would be very surprised if you are to the left of me. Of course, you are just exactly right, if I am to your left. You are probably one of these moderates who might as well be a Republican, sans GWB.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on April 22, 2007 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're being deliberately obtuse by focusing on "copycats" specifically. There's no reason to think that Cho was copycating anyone except maybe the Columbine guys, but he most certainly did understand that killing people would get his video on TV. Had he not killed people, his video would never have been aired. His video may not inspire any copycats, per se, but it does help solidify the idea that crazy killers can get free airtime that would be denied to crazy non-killers.

Posted by: Aaron S. Veenstra on April 22, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Until some significant new info is added, next story please.

Posted by: Keith G on April 22, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

There are many unstable and mentally ill persons, delusional, hallucinated--who could be swayed by the Rambo-esque nature of the gunman's pictorials.
And that's just the staff.

Posted by: consider wisely always on April 22, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Thre's a difference between 'inspire' and 'cause'. A lot of these types of killings have some 'inspiration' in art or relgious stories or other murders - these effect the specific details and world is completely full of inspiration. Lose one inspiration, there's no shortage of others. Some book they read or film they saw or news story they read helped them pick the weapon or dress a certain way or say a certain thing in a note or mention somebody. Cho has refernences to Colubine and the Korean revenge film Oldboy and Jesus and Ishmael Ax - all of these influenced him but if Oldboy had never been made, it might have been Taxi Driver or Dirty Harry or a picture of Lee Harvery Oswald or Greel Mythology or anything else Cho had read, seen, heard or thought.

That doesn't mean these reference points caused it. They didn't make him a killer and more specifically they didn't cause him to make the hundreds of small choices he made such as buying a gun, buying clips, making a video and so on. When it comes to human choices like that, you can't really talk about 'causes' as though they are something that compels a certain course of action. Free will doesn't work that.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan on April 22, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know about mass murderers, but assassins are certainly copycats. Read "The Gift of Fear" for details. They read up on previous killers obsessively, they copy activities, style, and MOs. It is really creepy.

Posted by: Emma Anne on April 22, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

I've got some physical problems that make it necessary to focus my mind on my body most of the time in order to keep my pain under control, and which makes me disinclined to talk much.

This "disturbed loner" crap is really getting to be a pain in the ass.

Posted by: godoggo on April 22, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't oppose NBC's airing of the Cho videos because I'm confident such media attention inspires copycats (though it does seem intuitive to me that it does, and Kevin's wikipedia hunt isn't compelling enough to persuade me otherwise). Nor did I oppose NBC's airing of the Cho videos because I believed we as a people were unable to handle them. I opposed NBC's airing of the Cho videos because airing them was precisely what this mass murderer wanted NBC to do, and may even have been the prime motivation for his act of murder. Sorry if this is unsophisticated, but that, in an of itself, should disqualify these videos for airing.

I'd've been a big fan of NBC news if Brian Williams (or whoever) had begun the broadcast that night holding the DVD and declared, "This is the DVD that Cho sent us. We gave a copy to the police. As for us, Cho clearly expected we would air his rantings and give him posthumous fame. Fuck him. This is going straight into the trash." And then, right then and there, Brian Williams should've dropped it into a nearby trashcan.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on April 22, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighan,

That is absolutely right.

Posted by: cld on April 22, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighan,

I second cld. You are absolutely right.

Posted by: intelligent design on April 22, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'll pile on and third that motion.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 22, 2007 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Heard an interesting comment from Cho's grandfather. He said Cho had been a well behaved child, but that there was lots of concern about his speech problem.

That is exactly part of the premise in Philip Roth's novel, American Pastoral. The story concerns a man whose life since childhood is just about idyllic enough for sheer boredom. Then his life is shattered in middle age, during the 1960s, when his heretofore smart and well behaved teenage daughter blows up a US Post Office and has to disappear, sending him on a soul searching journey of "were did we go wrong." One of the more nagging aspects is the second guessing on how he and his wife handled the daughter's debilitating stuttering problem.

A great book, if you've never read it (also a great one even if you have already read two or three times). Roth's masterpiece IMHO.

Posted by: bryrock on April 22, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

I also agree with Patrick Meighan. Although I don't believe that copycatting is caused or even inspired much by these things... I *do* think that when somebody decides to pull off something like this.. they might be conscious of the previous episodes and would be likely to want to *top* the carnage that occurred previously.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 22, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Read Cialdini's Influence - chapter 4 on social proof. Or go straight to the source - David Phillips from UC San Diego. They will show you quite distinctly there is a 'copy cat'effect, though not called that.

Posted by: SS on April 22, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Michael7843853 G-O in 08: "You are probably one of these moderates who might as well be a Republican, sans GWB."

Where on God's green earth would you get the idea that I'm akin to a moderate Republican? I would respectfully suggest that you re-read my post, specifically the last paragraph, and then come back here and tell us that's GOP talk.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, since you are not a regular on this site, and therefore have probably not had the occasion to read my postings here on a regular basis.

And FYI, I worked for Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), and still serve on his campaign committee. I'll leave it to you to look him up and determine what side he tilts on the left-right political scale.

It's perfectly OK to be a leftist. Hell, I've met and marched in the past with Bob Avakian and members of the RCP, so if the truth be told, I'm probably well to your left, not vice versa.

That being said, please try next time to put a little more thought into what you say, and not be so knee-jerk judgmental -- otherwise, you really come across no different than an indignant right-winger.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 22, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Of course this will be on the minds of disturbed individuals contemplating suicide. That's a no-brainer. If you were, in your reasoning, where Cho was when he prepared for this, why would you not look to Cho for your inspiration? But Cho wouldn't be your only support structure. There would be the millions of images from violent video games, violent movies, violent TV shows, violence on the Internet, in books. Our culture is full of images that such minds use to support actions of violence.
But if you think that's a central issue with mass killings, you miss the point entirely. What mass murderers like this rely on is a helpless population. That helplessness turns the violent killer into a powerful individual, the fact that an entire population of people will not fight back, the fact that you, the killer, can fire round after round at terrified, cowering, fleeing people, none of whom will defend themselves.
You can't convince me that Cho didn't expect what he found. He took advantage of a growing weakness in American culture, our conditioning to rely on authority for our protection. I don't mean to fault the victims at VT, but if we are to solve this growing problem, we need to come to the point where we are again willing to stand up against an attacker and defend ourselves. Anything less than that just makes the problem worse.

Posted by: Bill on April 22, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Gingrich blames it all on liberalism.

Posted by: cld on April 22, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick meighan-right on. Wish I'd been albe to put it so succintly in my post.

Posted by: URK on April 22, 2007 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

UPDATE: See ... Megan McArdle here. Neither presents any evidence that media coverage actually prompts copycats, but they make sensible points nonetheless.

Why on Earth are you linking to that dishonest twit "Jane Galt," especially when you admit she presents no evidence (and big surprise there!)?

Posted by: Gregory on April 22, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we're asking the wrong question here.

Maybe the question should be why did NBC show the footage? Was it to perform a valuable public service or was it simply to get viewer percentages up and get some buzz about the channel?

Or even more disconcerting, was it simply because the MSM know that we like this sort of shit?

Before we blather on about the media's coverage of this sort of thing any further, we need to ask ourselves if we're inncocent bystanders in this, unwilling recipients or happy conspirators. I think if we're honest, we know the answer and don't want to admit the truth.

Posted by: Bad Rabbit on April 22, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of more data being needed:

ever since mass murders became relatively common affairs starting in the mid-80s

Is this true that mass killings are really a recent phenomenon? I'm just wondering if this fits neatly into the false master narrative that "things used to be better."

Posted by: KevStar on April 22, 2007 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me it's all about the 15 minutes of fame. Some feel entitled to it and more. If they don't get it by being nobody, they will get it by shooting people. It seems to always work.

Posted by: Mazurka on April 22, 2007 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Maybe the question should be why did NBC show the footage?... was it simply because the MSM know that we like this sort of shit? Before we blather on about the media's coverage of this sort of thing any further, we need to ask ourselves if we're inncocent bystanders in this, unwilling recipients or happy conspirators. I think if we're honest, we know the answer and don't want to admit the truth."

I can't speak for "we," but I can speak for myself when I say that I made the very conscious and specific choice to NOT watch NBC news on the night the Cho videos were to be aired, nor have I sought them out online, or anyplace else for that matter. I am going out of my way to avoid seeing or hearing what Cho had to say, because I don't want to reward that POS, even posthumously, with my attention. And that's the truth.

Again, just speaking for myself.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on April 22, 2007 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good argument for "a la carte" cable TV pricing. Every channel on cable should have a price tag for it-not bundled up into "packages". That way if you don't like *any* cable TV news channels - you don't have to pay for it. It's more democratic that way.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 22, 2007 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

"...if we are to solve this growing problem, we need to come to the point where we are again willing to stand up against an attacker and defend ourselves.-etc."

Bill, given the stories i've heard, people barricading & holding doors that he was trying to shoot through, etc., this is preposterous nonsense. If you're trying to advance the "this means everybody should be armed" line of semi-reasoning, then just say so. That's still faintly ridiculous (how many folks would be packing heat IN CLASS?) but it's at least a point of view. I don't think that "unwillingness" to defend oneself against a methodical killer with a semi-automatic pistol is an issue outside of some ridiculous macho fantasies you seem to have about what a tough-man wolrd it (supposedly) used to be.

Posted by: URK on April 23, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

"...if we are to solve this growing problem, we need to come to the point where we are again willing to stand up against an attacker and defend ourselves.-etc."

Bill, given the stories i've heard, people barricading & holding doors that he was trying to shoot through, etc., this is preposterous nonsense. If you're trying to advance the "this means everybody should be armed" line of semi-reasoning, then just say so. That's still faintly ridiculous (how many folks would be packing heat IN CLASS?) but it's at least a point of view. I don't think that "unwillingness" to defend oneself against a methodical killer with a semi-automatic pistol is an issue outside of some ridiculous macho fantasies you seem to have about what a tough-man wolrd it (supposedly) used to be.

Posted by: URK on April 23, 2007 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

oops-sorry for the misspellings and double post!

Posted by: URK on April 23, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

I was going to make an observation that Kevin himself made in his own comment on this thread.

Namely, even if there's good evidence that there's a copycat effect, it's certainly not obvious that the excessive nature of the coverage of massacres adds anything to the number of copycats. Short of true censorship, it's simply inconceivable that the Cho murders would not have been publicized so that everyone in the nation would know of them. How much more "inspiration" than that does a potential mass murderer need? Will someone filled with murderous rage and with a sick need for attention going to refuse to embark upon a killing spree because they think they'll only get three days of news coverage instead of two weeks?

In a free society, how could one possibly stop copycats?

Posted by: frankly0 on April 23, 2007 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin

Reread Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

http://www.malcolmgladwell.com/tippingpoint/index.html

(note this was written after Columbine)

Quote:

One of the things I explore in the book is that ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970's and 1980's, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you'll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can. In fact, I don't think you have to go to Micronesia to see this pattern in action. Isn't this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? And what about the rash of mass shootings we're facing at the moment--from Columbine through the Atlanta stockbroker through the neo-Nazi in Los Angeles?

Unquote

Someone studied airplane crashes. When there is a large airplane crash, well publicised, there is a subsequent rash of light plane crashes.

When a celebrity commits suicide, there is a detectable wave of car crashes that could be labelled as suicides.

As frankly0 points out it's hard to know if mass media coverage makes the problem worse.

Posted by: Valuethinker on April 23, 2007 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

The dude actually cited Columbine...to deny any element of copycatism here is silly.

Posted by: Jimm on April 23, 2007 at 6:52 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure Wikipedia is the most reliable or indepth source on the psychology of school killers?

Posted by: cf on April 23, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

The LAST thing you want is more data about this sort of event.

Posted by: Matt on April 23, 2007 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Some years ago, a loser shot up a school playground in Scotland. I heard a radio interview years later in which a survivor declined to say the killer's name, out of what he described as a conscious decision by the community never to refer to the man by name, simply to deny him whatever sway he wanted to hold on the future.
Patrick M. is right. No one should let these people use us. Identify the losers the first day or two, so that people with potentially relevant information may come forward. Then stop saying their names, let it be as if they never lived. Last Friday NPR did a story on the anniversary of Columbine, naming only the killers and none of the victims. Whose interest is served?

Posted by: Genevieve on April 23, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

to deny any element of copycatism

There were no propane tank bombs set by Cho, nor did Cho have a co-conspirator. I do not think his crime was a copy of the Columbine attack, which tried to blow up the school as well as kill targeted individuals. Even though Cho referenced the Columbine attack in his press kit, he did not copy the attack.

Posted by: Brojo on April 23, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Patrick Meighan: "This is the DVD that Cho sent us. We gave a copy to the police. As for us, Cho clearly expected we would air his rantings and give him posthumous fame. Fuck him. This is going straight into the trash." And then, right then and there, Brian Williams should've dropped it into a nearby trashcan.


i'm feeling....
..
..
f..a..i..n..t...

Posted by: mainstream media on April 23, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

News my ass.

They featured Cho for the exactly same reason every episode of CSI-Anywhere opens with a close-up of the mutilated decomposing corpse of a preteen rape victim being pulled out of a dumpster.

America craves the unspeakably vile, fictional or real, and Virginia Tech is another grotesque bloody portion to feed the couchlings.

Posted by: o'really on April 23, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

If Cho had worn a trenchcoat and set propane tank bombs, he would have been a copycat.

If the next school shooter sends a press kit to a television network, they will be a copycat.

No one except Counterpunch has raised the possiblity the crime was Prozac induced.

Posted by: Brojo on April 23, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but didn't Cho cite the Columbine Kids in his ranting? Doesn't that count?

Posted by: Scorpio on April 24, 2007 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Referencing Columbine is not the same as copying Columbine. In order for Cho to have copied the Columbine Kids, he would have had to wear a trench coat, set propane tank bombs, detailed the abuse he had sufferred from VT bullies and target those bullies. But Cho did not copy these aspects of the Columbine attack, he just referenced the attack itself.

Referencing Columbine counts, but not as a copycat crime. Referencing Columbine means the attack there did resonate with Cho, just as it resonated with many students across the country. Many students since Columbine have been arrested for conspiracy to make similar attacks for similar reasons. Being motivated by the event is not being a copycat, but being influenced by the possibility. It is sad that so many young people want to lash out violently at our educational institutions, but I do not think imitation of another such event is the reason why they want to act out violence in this way. The motivation for violence must come from somewhere else than just wanting to copy another's behavior.

Posted by: Brojo on April 25, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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