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Media coverage of crimes and criminals: Harmful or helpful?

My friend shared on Twitter a very insightful article from The Atlantic on the portrayal of perpetrators of mass murders in the media. The gist of the article is that media coverage of these murderers is far more harmful than helpful and media outlets should not report news stories that focus on the people responsible for these crimes. Media coverage only serves to give these people the fame that may have led them to commit the crime in the first place and it can inspire copycat crimes.

Author Clayton Cramer delved further into the issue nearly 20 years ago. The article is old but the issues discussed are the same ones we are dealing with today. In fact, these ideas are amplified by advancing technology and the way it is changing media and the way we are accessing information (mainly more and faster access through the Internet).

I largely agree with both articles and think we should be careful with our coverage of these criminals. It’s an issue that has always been debated by the public in various ways. The classic complaint is one can’t turn on the news without seeing something awful or that there is never any good news on TV. A related issue is media in the courtroom. Should images of these criminals be circulated publicly? Maryland doesn’t allow cameras in the courtroom, but as you are probably aware by now, Colorado does.

All that being said, it’s not as though the media or the people reading these stories are rife with bad intentions. I don’t think anyone wants to give this man the satisfaction of achieving whatever sick goal he had in (allegedly) committing this horrendous crime. People are understandably interested in what happened and what might have caused him to do what he did. What happened does need to be examined by professionals in order to understand and help prevent a tragedy like this in future and get individuals who need mental health care the treatment they desperately need. There is information to be learned and information we need. Maybe the scope of media coverage can stay the same but we should rethink the way that it is presented.

What we should remember is the beautiful lives the victims led. In his speech following the tragedy, President Obama said that the people remembered from this incident will be the people who acted as heroes, such as the three men who gave their lives to save their girlfriends. The actions of these brave men are something no one will ever forget.