Thursday, December 6, 2007

Media Gave Omaha Mall Shooter Incentive to Commit Senseless Rampage

Yesterday’s Omaha mall rampage, ending in the senseless deaths of eight random holiday shoppers, proves once again that secluded suicide cannot compete with the lure of mass murder notoriety for some crazy depressed people.

In case you don’t own a television or radio and never scan newspaper headlines, a troubled 19-year old man who had recently lost both his job and his girlfriend opened fire with what appeared to be an SKS assault rifle at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska. Eight innocent victims and the gunmen, who later committed suicide, are now dead.

The gunman, who was living with friends after his family kicked him out, left a fateful note predicting he would become famous for his heinous crime. He made certain a parent of his host family, Debora Maruca-Kovac, knew about the note and its location, but told her nothing more. Maruca-Kovac called the man’s family, reported the situation to local authorities, then left for her job at a local hospital.

So there we have it, another insanely depressed person in need of psychiatric care who literally decided to check out with a bang. Ironically, the national news media cavalierly publicizes the name of the perpetrator, yet withholds the names of his victims out of respect for their families. What is wrong with this picture?

Truth be told, I am more interested in the identity and background of the eight innocent victims than information about the loony tune who gunned them down in cold blood. No purpose whatsoever is served by reporting the gunman’s name or anything about him. What does this information matter to a person outside of Omaha? The gunman’s suicide is sad, yes, especially this time of year, but let’s face it, the guy was a psychopathic serial killer who wanted to die. Other than some sick fascination with the senseless nature of his crime, why do we care?

I don’t buy the rationale about the information being news. The media, and even bloggers, need to wake up and realize their role in perpetuating this type of crime. As I have said before, giving psychologically deranged people the notoriety they crave for committing mass murder serves to ensure crimes of this nature are committed in the future. That’s right, I’m pointing a fat finger at the media for inspiring this hideous insanity. Where does it end? Another Columbine? Virginia Tech? Enough!

If the public thinks they need to know about the gunman, make the public take an extra step to learn this information themselves. The media should be sensitive to the incentive created by broadcasting the gunman's name and background. Find an alternative manner to report information about the gunman. Whatever happened to the media's commitment to responsible journalism?

Hey, here’s an idea. Set up an 800-number. Put everything anyone would need to know about the gunman in a recording. Let people call the number for the information. Refer to the gunman as a "mass murderer" in all news reports. Include a tagline with flashcard information for the 800-number as follows:

“Anyone wanting to know the identity or background of the mass murderer should call 1-800 blah blah blah for more information. That’s 1, 800, blah blah blah if you want to know anything about the murderer who killed blah blah blah number of people.”

I’ll bet hardly anyone would be interested after a few days. Actually, the proof will be in the pudding. Just measure the amount of calls over time. No need to change the recording until the next senseless rampage occurs. Sadly, that is the reality of this type of situation. Mark my words, the next senseless rampage is just around the corner. Because everyone, even psychologically deranged loony tunes, wants their 15 minutes of fame.

The media can continue to foster the insanity, or it can try to move the country in a different direction. By removing the notoriety component from the equation, the media can help move America one step closer to an end of these crimes. I’m not saying the madness will stop completely, but in just a few years, if the media implements and sticks with a policy banning mass broadcast of perpetrator information, this type of senseless crime could decrease significantly.

Why not, for the sake of argument, give it a try?