Media oversimplify coverage of Aurora shooting

printer friendlyprinter friendly

In the wake of last week's shooting in Aurora, Colo., the news media have been filled with journalists, elected officials, and others bemoaning the rampage as "senseless" and "evil." On its face, this most recent rampage killing does seem senseless -- until you bring mental illness into the picture.

When people with severe, untreated mental illness are in the grip of paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and psychosis, they can be capable of doing any number of irrational and unreasonable things that are harmful to themselves or others. The likelihood that James Holmes may very well be suffering from severe mental illness, and have lost control of his rational mind, makes the shooting look less like an "evil," "diabolical" act, and a lot more like an incredibly sad tragedy born of an inadequate mental health safety net and easy access to deadly weapons.

When media coverage of these types of rampage killings focuses on the evil and depraved nature of the perpetrator, it precludes meaningful discussion about what can be done to prevent them from happening. Media coverage of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's comments is a case in point. Hickenlooper called James Holmes "warped," "twisted," a "creature," and portrayed the shooting as essentially inevitable: Such a "diabolical" person would have found a way to kill people even if weapons were harder to access. As BMSG discovered in past research on coverage of gun violence, this focus on the perpetrator is a common way that opponents of gun control argue against new gun policies.

In addition to minimizing the importance of gun control policies in preventing gun violence, this simplistic framing of the issue also ignores the essential role of mental health services. When people with severe mental illness are adequately treated, there is no evidence that they are any more violent than the general population. However, the mental health safety net in the United States is increasingly frayed and dysfunctional, incapable of preventing the types of tragedies that happened in Colorado.

It may make a good story to create a super-villain out of a deeply sick and disturbed young man, but villains and superheroes belong in movies, and the preventable causes of this rampage killing are all too real. We have a dismantled and crumbling mental health service system that consistently fails the mentally ill, their families, and the communities they live in. We have easy access to deadly assault weapons, vigorously defended by the companies that sell them. Add together an inadequate mental health safety net and assault rifles at every sporting goods store, and the tragedy of one family -- a son's descent into severe mental illness -- becomes the tragedy of many families.

It happened at Virginia Tech; it happened in Tuscon; it happened in Aurora; and calling it evil, saying that it is outside the bounds of human understanding, does nothing to open up a discussion of how to keep it from happening again.


indoor smoking ban (1) Proposition 29 (1) Big Food (2) naacp (1) Sandy Hook (2) ssb (1) junk food marketing to kids (1) world water day (1) industry appeals to choice (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) sexual health (1) cancer research (1) online marketing (1) seat belt laws (1) gatorade bolt game (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) social change (1) Nickelodeon (1) health equity (9) inequities (1) child sexual abuse (5) snap (1) Texas (1) FCC (1) HPV vaccine (1) suicide barrier (2) soda (12) Merck (1) water security (1) white house (1) media (3) Richmond (4) california (1) Citizens United (1) george lakoff (1) SB 402 (1) Marion Nestle (1) communication (1) Sam Kass (1) framing (7) PepsiCo (1) structural racism (1) cap the tap (1) Tea Party (1) violence prevention (6) weight of the nation (1) cosmetics (1) food marketing (3) cancer prevention (1) obesity prevention (1) McDonald's (1) tobacco tax (1) Happy Meals (1) obesity (9) breastfeeding (3) community health (1) sugar-sweetened beverages (1) suicide prevention (2) tobacco (4) measure N (2) media advocacy (11) Dora the Explorer (1) new year's resolutions (1) Wendy Davis (1) public health policy (1) government intrusion (1) advocacy (3) cigarette advertising (1) water (1) genital warts (1) sugary drinks (5) prison phone calls (1) auto safety (1) prevention (1) collaboration (1) nanny state (2) Golden Gate Bridge (2) Berkeley (1) elephant triggers (1) values (1) sexism (1) Joe Paterno (1) soda tax (8) environmental health (1) Chile (1) stigma (1) chronic disease (2) public health (50) marketing (1) Connecticut shooting (1) Aurora (1) food access (1) El Monte (2) Penn State (3) gun violence (1) Measure O (1) product safety (1) SB-5 (1) Gardasil (1) campaign finance (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) filibuster (1) gender (1) choice (1) abortion (1) women's health (2) suicide nets (1) prison system (1) tobacco control (2) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) healthy eating (1) beverage industry (1) target marketing (5) Big Tobacco (3) Coca-Cola (3) San Francisco (2) social media (1) Catholic church (1) summer camps (1) digital marketing (2) physical activity (1) food environment (1) vaccines (1) built environment (2) food (1) tobacco industry (2) language (5) messaging (1) institutional accountability (1) junk food marketing (3) Colorado (1) food justice (1) childhood lead poisoning (1) Rachel Grana (1) Whiteclay (4) front groups (1) apha (1) beauty products (1) Newtown (1) SSBs (1) alcohol (4) sanitation (1) news strategy (1) mental health (2) Jerry Sandusky (3) food industry (2) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) Bloomberg (3) paula deen (1) sports drinks (1) Oakland Unified School District (1) Michelle Obama (1) soda warning labels (1) equity (3) health care (1) SB 1000 (1) children's health (3) junk food (1) gun control (2) social justice (1) soda industry (3) food deserts (1) childhood obesity (1) privilege (1) autism (1) food and beverage marketing (3) media bites (1) sandusky (2) diabetes (1) media analysis (1) Let's Move (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) reproductive justice (1) cervical cancer (1) food swamps (1) Amanda Fallin (1) Oglala Sioux (3) liana winett (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) Big Soda (1) personal responsibility (2) corporate social responsibility (1) American Beverage Association (1) regulation (2)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: