When tragic events happen we want to know why they happen. We seek explanation. We want to understand, so that we can hope to prevent something similar from happening again. At its best, the media can be that bridge to an audience seeking answers. Reporters and journalists can inform us, protect us. In a world of tweets and knee jerk reactions, news media has the power to bring much needed context and nuance to difficult discussions.
Unfortunately they can sometimes fall short of the mark.
Violence in media is a difficult topic to discuss, and it impacts many areas of our culture. From our First Amendment protections, to our responsibilities to our neighbors and communities, many passionate people are currently waging an intense debate about what might motivate a person to commit violent acts. This is a topic which deserves calm maturity when informing the public. Weighing the pain of those affected against the desires of those who responsibly consume this media while introducing studies and scientific data. It's a difficult job for a news room at the top of their game. All too often those of us looking for reason will be disappointed in the quality of their reporting.
Take for instance this story posted on CNN yesterday by Lauren Russell, reporting on the tragic shooting of a Grandmother at the hands of an eight year old boy. This is exactly the kind of story which few will be able to read dispassionately. The emotions we face trying to make sense of an act like this run hot. Lives forever altered in one brief moment. We want to be able to wrap our brains around this, and make sure no other family has to face anything like this ever again.
While Ms. Russell does an admirable job of reporting basic facts, names, dates times, her attempts at providing perspective fall short. She spends half of her article repeating loose connections to other violent acts where the perpetrators were known to play video games featuring realistic violence. The child was found to have been playing 'Grand Theft Auto', a rated M game, minutes before picking up a gun and shooting his Grandmother. Correlation does not equal causation, though far smarter people than I will be needed to examine any potential relationships between violent media and violent acts. What's striking however is the complete lack of commentary regarding two crucial points of this tragic story.
Why was an eight year old playing a rated M game featuring realistic depictions of violence?
How was an eight year old able to get his hands on a loaded firearm?
For those who might not be familiar with the video game rating system, an M rating for a game is roughly similar to an R rating for a film. Whatever your personal views are regarding the influence of violent media, I'm sure we can all agree that young children should not be exposed to graphic material produced for adult audiences. These are important points to discuss if we're to really understand how this happened. This is the kind of nuance readers and families and victims need to make sense of something this awful.
This is where our media is letting us down.