Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An Open Letter to the Media

Dear News Media,

I have a request to make of you.  You have the power to help save many, many lives if you will just honor my request.  I realize that what I am going to ask will be difficult, and may actually be impossible; but I'm going to ask anyway, because humanity and justice demand it.

Please stop making cult heroes out of mass murderers.  I can say with confidence that I speak for untold millions of people--  including past and future victims and their families.  You are a very large part of the problem.

I fully understand that you are in the business of "selling papers," as it were, and nothing sells papers more than interesting and absorbing issues like "active shooters" and "cop killers."  We are all horrified by and, curiously, drawn to stories of these atrocities... and you keep feeding them to us; outdoing one another as best you can in bringing us "new angles" and deeper coverage.

This is a very complicated issue, and there are multiple things that go into the making of a mass killer; some of them arguable as to causation and some of them not arguable.  One thing that is beyond dispute is that excessive and sensationalistic media coverage of the murderers that is seen by certain people as "favorable" IS making things worse.

Stop.  Please.

I have been deeply and actively involved with the subject of public violence for about six years now.  I've taught thousands of people in government and private sector on the subjects of workplace and public violence (including "active shooter") prevention and survival.  The subject is very personal to me for many reasons, and I can tell you that my research and study has shown me that much of this senseless violence CAN be prevented, if we start taking some very important steps.  One of those steps involves you, Mr. and Ms. Journalist/Editor.

I will now offer you a short, but vital, lesson in why and how you are making this phenomenon much worse.  You see, the sick monsters who perpetrate these massacres have many things in common with one another.  First, they are clearly mentally ill.  Second, virtually all of them have decided to die in this "glorious" fashion (mass killings are, at their root, almost always suicides).  All of the killers go through the same five stages on their way to monster-hood; each stage's length and intensity being relative to the individual:
  1. Fantasy stage: Initially, the killer only dreams of the killings and fantasizes about the headlines and  news coverage he’ll receive.  In this stage, he is trying to overcome what's left of his humanity by depersonalizing his intended victims, and by basking in the comforting thoughts of all the media adulation he will get when he takes down those bastards.  It's not hard to see how this would be attractive to someone who has reached the end of their rope and sees no other way to cope with the crushing illness plaguing their mind.  Finally, they will have some power and get immortality thrown in (courtesy of you)!
  2. Planning stage: Now they have decided to actually work on doing it.  In this stage, prevention is possible. The killer might start hinting to his plans and even posting about them on social media (this is known as "leakage" and offers a real chance at prevention).  In their planning, they use information gained from the saturation coverage that you so helpfully provided to them from previous massacres; choosing what they like and making plans to avoid mistakes their predecessors made.
  3. Preparation stage: Now that the plan has been made, it is time to gather all of the logistical items needed to make it happen.  This stage includes not just acquiring weapons and supplies, but sometimes also rehearsals, etc.  Again, your detailed coverage really helps them here.  Fortunately, there are also good chances for prevention in this stage.
  4. Approach stage: This is a very dangerous phase in which the killer is traveling to the destination with his weapons to carry out his plan.  He has decided, planned, and prepared, and woe be to any who get in his way.
  5. Implementation stage: The killer has opened fire and will not stop until he is stopped or until he runs out of ammunition.
I hope you see where you fit in here, Mr. and Ms. Journalist/Editor (hint: it's in bold and red and italics above).  You see, they gain vicarious strength and courage from the news coverage of previous mass murderers.  This is not speculation-- it is demonstrably true, and purely intuitive.  Misery loves company.  These monsters have convinced themselves that the world has wronged them and they have no power in their own lives.  They are at the lowest point of their lives and suicide seems to be the only option.

But wait, thinks the future monster.  Look at that news coverage of the Columbine killings (or Aurora killings, or Virginia Tech killings, or Sandy Hook killings, etc. ad nauseam)!  Wow- they look so cool in their outfits!  They really showed those bastards, didn't they?  Everyone knows their names now!  They took the power and now they are somebody!  Maybe... maybe I can do that... no...  not maybe!  I CAN DO THAT!  Those bastards will pay!  In fact, I'll outdo the Columbine (Aurora/Virginia Tech/Sandy Hook/etc.) heroes!

This is not exaggerated.  This is how it goes.  You are feeding potential monsters by celebrating previous monsters.  You provide for them exactly what they wanted: star quality and fame.  By doing this, you are a key player in the cycle of violence that is sweeping the world.  You are encouraging sick people to listen to the voices in their heads because they will get a great reward if they do.

The latest example is the media blitz of the killings of two Las Vegas Police officers (Officers Alyn Beckand and Igor Soldo) and one brave citizen (Joseph Robert Wilcox) who tried to help.  Just as with all other "big" massacres, you can't escape pictures of the killers in their "crazy" costumes all over the internet.  These pictures are sad and disturbing to you and me... they are irresistible and intoxicating to potential killers who now imagine a kinship with the "revolutionaries."

Stop.  Please.

The list of examples that prove this is virtually endless.  The Santa Barbara/Isla Vista massacre aftermath shows us Facebook pages and other "support" groups springing up to celebrate that monster.  A few samples are “[Monster's name redacted], Alone & Rejected RIP,” and “RIP [Monster's name redacted]—A Beautiful and Misunderstood Soul.”  A group calls itself "[Monster's name redacted]'s Advocates."  Here are some actual comments posted about this new media darling:

--"He was too beautiful for this world."

--"He didn't let them suffer long enough.  The victims all either died nearly instantly, or will survive.  Not good enough, if you ask me.  They need to be tortured, for hours on end, knowing with certainty that their death will be coming, but not permitted to get it until their bodies absolutely cannot take anymore physical pain."

You say that these are isolated sick people.  I say you are right; and I follow by asking why the hell you would throw shiny jewels out for them to focus on?  Do you not think that the second comment above reflects the ruminations of a person deeply into his own Fantasy stage?  I do.

Want another example?  We all remember the monster who perpetrated the July 20, 2012 midnight mass-murder during "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado. (Of course we do- you won't let us ever forget about him.)  There were at least 16 "copycat" incidents either perpetrated or foiled within a month of the original-- most happening within days.  There is also no shortage of "fans" of this particular monster.  Why?  Mainly because you splashed his "coolness" all over the world and thus offered tantalizing bait that some sick people just could not refuse.

Another "smoking gun" (pun intended) is the fact that the Sandy Hook monster was "obsessed" with the Columbine massacre and he was also a "big fan" of the maniac in Norway who slaughtered 77 people in 2011.  He wanted to emulate and outdo them because they were so damn cool.  This is the rule, not the exception, by the way.

Have you noticed how easy it would be for you to correct this?  Nowhere in this letter did I use the name of one of these monsters (and I never will-- they won't get their immortality from me).  I did, however, mention the names of some victims-- and that is what you should be doing.

Imagine if you devoted the energy you spend glorifying the killers to eulogizing the victims and supporting their families.  Imagine if you just refused to put their names up in lights.  Imagine if you just decided to do the right thing.

Every time you print or say the name of one of these monsters, you are giving them what they craved.  Every time you put their pictures up, you are helping the next generation of monsters take another step up in their five stages.  You are very much giving aid and comfort to the enemy here... an enemy who does not discriminate or show mercy or moderation in his ruthless actions.

Stop.  Please. 

This is not a plea for "censorship" or in any way saying you should abdicate your journalistic responsibilities.  It is, instead, a plea for responsible journalism.  There is a gigantic difference between reporting the facts of a case responsibly and what we see happening today in the news.  There is no journalistic reason whatsoever to give these murderers so much air time.

Two of the best things we can and should do as a society are 1) publicize the plight of the victims and their families and glorify those who try to help in the dire situations; 2) ensure the monsters are buried, forgotten, and left to rot in hell.  

Please, please stop.


Kurt M. Grinstead
Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (retired)


Blogger Sean Moran said...


11/6/14 08:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on! Its disgusting how they give them so much publicity. I'm passing this on! Thanks!
Jonah R.

11/6/14 14:03  
Blogger marshal said...

God bless you for doing this, Kurt. I've sent this to Fox News - I also have an acquaintance that used to work with Tucker Carlson and have sent him a request to ensure Tucker receives it directly.

12/6/14 15:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hadn't thought about some of the points you made, Kurt. I am sure that most media outlets will focus on the fact that the sensationalism 'sells papers' as you mentioned, but if there are some brave souls out there willing to do the right thing, lives may be saved. S/F
Jeff Anema

17/6/14 06:26  

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