Sunday, July 22, 2012

Park Dietz on how NOT to cover a mass murder

I ran into this 2009 piece on New Statesman by Helen Lewis that links to footage of forensic psychiatrist, Park Dietz, describing best practices for how news media should NOT cover a mass murder.
  • If you don't want to propagate more mass murders...
  • Don't start the story with sirens blaring.
  • Don't have photographs of the killer.
  • Don't make this 24/7 coverage.
  • Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story.
  • Not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.
  • Do localise this story to the affected community and as boring as possible in every other market. 


Jane said...


I feel like I hear this same report every time there is a mass murder...and then the media disregards it.

Everyone wants a motive. Dude. He thought he was the Joker. It's a lot scarier when there is no motive. And that was the whole point of the Joker in The Dark Knight. He has no motive. He just likes killing and the attention he gets from killing. The people he killed did not sleep with his wife, kill his brother, etc. He's a narcissist.

So of course we give this guy who thinks he is the Joker all the attention in the world for killing people.

ClinkShrink said...

Nice find Roy, thanks

Anonymous said...

Not fair, Roy. Everyone wants to sell a story.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA said...

I think that the subtext here is that mass shooting in the USA has become an institution. The response by the media and politicians is stereotypical as well as the lack of solutions. It is an institution for expression.

It will not stop until there is an adequate solution and there is nothing more reinforcing than hearing from all of the talking heads that there is no solution.

Sideways Shrink said...

The motive of the perpetrator is unimportant to the common good. An illustration of this I sometimes use is with patients who have suffered abuse is to ask them (after extensive psychotherapeutic exploration of identifications) whether it mattered, for example, if the man pulling the switch on the gas in the gas chambers did it matter whether he pulled the lever because he was afraid of being shot by a fellow guard if he did not pull the switch or if he pulled the switch because he hated Jews or Pollacks or Communists: the outcome to the victims was the same.
So while we don't have gas chambers for good reason, our culture refuses to have gun control so that I had to explain to my 10 year old daughter this weekend that if she ever heard shots fired she should just hit the ground even in an open area. Legislators are unswayed by anything other than the NRA. Ask Barack Obama our erstwhile household demi-god....

Roy said...

I think people like to understand motive so that they can put this in the proper prediction bin. The more we understand, the more we can avoid (in our minds, at least) getting into situations where we may be killed.

"He was shot by another motorist after flipping him the bird." Lesson: keep your fingers to yourself while driving.

"The couple was shot on a dark street at 2 o'clock in the morning." Lesson: stay off dark streets late at night.

For the Aurora shootings, it is hard to divine the lesson at this point. Don't go to midnight movies? Don't watch Batman? If we know what drove him to do it, maybe it will help us assign risk levels to our behaviors. Not knowing makes us nervous.