Accuracy in Media

In a recent article written by NBC News’ Dennis Romero, headlined, “Mass shootings: Experts say violence is contagious, and 24/7 news cycle doesn’t help,” the network avoided making conclusions on what contributes to mass shootings. Instead, the article quoted experts, which made the case that the 24/7 cable news cycle is detrimental in deterring mass shootings.

Research has found that mass shootings “can be contagious” because of the intense media coverage of these tragedies, the NBC report found.

“[S]some experts are calling for an end to blanket media coverage of mass shootings, saying it can provide potential shooters with a chance of fame, scorecards with which to compare one another and even blueprints for carrying out attacks.”

Psychologist and criminology professor Jillian Peterson told NBC News, “We see some forms of violence peak when society becomes fascinated… We know that mass shootings are socially contagious and tend to occur in clusters.”

Peterson, who at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., has studied every mass shooting in the U.S. since 1966. He added that the media should “not [be] making manifestos public, not running images 24/7, focusing on the victims rather than the perpetrator, telling deeper stories about the impact and aftermath of these tragedies.”

Peterson works with co-researcher James Densley for the Violence Project, which NBC News described as “a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to reducing violence.” Their research found that mass shooters have multiple things in common with each other, but one of the major things in common is that “they had studied past killers.”

NBC cited a study conducted by the German research organization known as IZA, or the Institute of Labor Economics, which said, “Our findings consistently suggest that media coverage systematically causes future mass shootings.”

University of Alabama criminology professor Adam Lankford agreed with Peterson, Densley, and the IZA’s conclusions in the article. He told NBC that “the news media contributes to mass shootings by offering suspects fame, perversely rewarding higher casualty counts with splashier coverage and inadvertently inspiring copycats.”

Lankford suggested that journalists should not publish names of suspects or their photos.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever looked at a photo of a mass shooter and said, ‘Because I see their face, I can prevent the next mass shooting with higher likelihood.”

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