The tragedy of Friday’s senseless murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School will dominate the news for days and possibly weeks to come. But, is this endless analysis and debate helping or hurting?

Robert Ebert says news nets also to blame for shootings like Newtown

Image: Suntimes.com

Some say that the wall-to-wall coverage of the event on the various 24-hour news outlets is not helping. Famed film critic Roger Ebert wrote about the killings on his blog this past weekend. The vital piece from Ebert’s post was actually something he wrote almost a decade back.

Here is the relevant excerpt from Roger Ebert’s 2003 review of “Elephant.”

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Ebert closed this Saturday’s post with:

“I gather my point is what goes around, comes around.”

Is the news media culpable? Or does the blame belong on the violence in video games? Or, as Jamie Foxx declared:

“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence, it does.”

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