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.


Citizens United (1) target marketing (8) Catholic church (1) food access (1) ssb (1) physical activity (1) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) nanny state (2) election 2016 (1) HPV vaccine (1) choice (1) public health policy (2) elephant triggers (1) paula deen (1) Joe Paterno (1) Berkeley (2) front groups (1) social justice (2) food environment (1) public health data (1) Aurora (1) food justice (1) Connecticut shooting (1) Jerry Sandusky (3) strategic communication (1) childhood adversity (1) community safety (1) Whiteclay (4) racism (1) media analysis (5) health equity (10) Oakland Unified School District (1) framing (14) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) childhood lead poisoning (1) cervical cancer (1) social math (1) prison system (1) communication (2) nonprofit communications (1) violence prevention (8) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) gun violence (1) social change (1) auto safety (1) children's health (3) El Monte (3) food industry (4) Telluride (1) environmental health (1) women's health (2) liana winett (1) indoor smoking ban (1) sanitation (1) suicide barrier (2) cap the tap (1) safety (1) Colorado (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) filibuster (1) SSBs (1) food (1) Black Lives Matter (1) adverse childhood experiences (3) junk food marketing (4) breastfeeding (3) food marketing (4) abortion (1) Sandy Hook (2) Penn State (3) cancer prevention (1) food swamps (1) media advocacy (23) summer camps (1) paper tigers (1) Oglala Sioux (3) apha (2) education (1) community organizing (1) values (1) Big Food (2) Proposition 47 (1) Texas (1) Chile (1) Let's Move (1) language (6) default frame (1) news (2) food and beverage marketing (3) San Francisco (3) food deserts (1) stigma (1) violence (2) Measure O (1) Happy Meals (1) autism (1) Sam Kass (1) sexism (2) PepsiCo (1) journalism (1) childhood trauma (3) American Beverage Association (1) online marketing (1) sexual health (1) Richmond (5) media (7) Marion Nestle (1) genital warts (1) diabetes prevention (1) snap (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) communication strategy (1) authentic voices (1) Nickelodeon (1) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) personal responsibility (3) cancer research (1) Golden Gate Bridge (2) tobacco industry (2) equity (3) beauty products (1) SB 1000 (1) tobacco (5) regulation (2) suicide prevention (2) McDonald's (1) prevention (1) community health (1) digital marketing (2) reproductive justice (1) new year's resolutions (1) Amanda Fallin (1) Big Soda (2) suicide nets (1) naacp (1) FCC (1) soda tax (11) Twitter for advocacy (1) Donald Trump (2) marketing (1) obesity (10) news analysis (3) cosmetics (1) Coca-Cola (3) Twitter (1) advocacy (3) tobacco control (2) public health (69) childhood obestiy conference (1) sexual assault (1) soda (12) Newtown (1) obesity prevention (1) prison phone calls (1) water security (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) sandusky (2) Wendy Davis (1) george lakoff (1) cannes lions festival (1) Dora the Explorer (1) Bill Cosby (1) seat belt laws (1) healthy eating (1) government intrusion (1) news coverage (1) media bites (1) community (1) health care (1) built environment (2) cigarette advertising (1) messaging (3) news strategy (1) campaign finance (1) structural racism (1) privilege (1) beverage industry (2) mental health (2) ACEs (2) race (1) tobacco tax (1) soda taxes (2) world water day (1) SB 402 (1) sexual violence (2) child sexual abuse (5) alcohol (5) corporate social responsibility (1) collaboration (1) diabetes (1) childhood obesity (1) Michelle Obama (1) soda industry (4) news monitoring (1) gatorade bolt game (1) measure N (2) political correctness (1) gender (1) chronic disease (2) california (1) Merck (1) sugary drinks (10) white house (1) democracy (1) youth (1) gun control (2) Bloomberg (3) water (1) vaccines (1) social media (2) industry appeals to choice (1) institutional accountability (1) soda warning labels (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) weight of the nation (1) product safety (1) emergency contraception (1) Big Tobacco (3) Tea Party (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) sports drinks (1) SB-5 (1) inequities (1) junk food (2) Gardasil (1) community violence (1) Proposition 29 (1) Rachel Grana (1)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: