Entry from November 7, 2017

Here are the first five headlines in this morning’s Washington Post e-mail, itself headed “Tuesday’s Headlines”:

Unlike the first reports of the massacre the previous day, one of the articles mentions the name of Stephen Willeford, a neighbor who grabbed his own gun and shot the assailant, forcing him to flee, and another that of Johnnie Langendorff who, with Mr Willeford, pursued the killer in his (Mr Langendorff’s) pick-up. Another Post story about Mr Langendorff by Kyle Swenson and Marwa Eltagouri (“An unlikely hero describes gun battle and 95-mph pursuit of Texas shooting suspect”) didn’t make the cut for the “Tuesday’s Headlines” e-mail.

It will be apparent that the emphasis in the paper’s coverage is on (a) scandal or potential scandal involving either somebody’s negligence in failing to spot the killer in advance of his crime or words of Mr Trump’s which the paper’s editors regard as self-evidently false; (b) the killer himself and any possible motive he might have had for his crime, and (c) the pathos of victimhood. That cannot be surprising. Nor can the relative neglect of those who, fifty or sixty years ago would naturally have been the focus of any popular newspaper’s coverage, the heroes (especially if they were “unlikely”) who put a stop to the killer’s evil-doing.

As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague, Ari Schulman has pointed out, there is evidence that the people who commit mass murders are influenced by extensive press coverage of others who have committed similar crimes, and yet somehow the media sleuths never seem to find their own coverage of such events as having anything to do with the killers’ motives. I wonder if things would be different if more in the media followed the lead of the London Daily Telegraph, which was the only paper I saw either in the U.S. or the U.K. to lead with what the British call the “have-a-go-heroes” of Sutherland Springs.

That paper has traditionally given more play to such people than any other as part of a more general journalistic conservatism, and if theirs were more typical of the media in covering and, frankly, celebrating such men (for they nearly always are men), it is at least possible that there would be fewer such incidents. My belief is that the anti-heroic mood of most of the media and, with it, the official culture they represent creates a cultural gap into which obvious sociopaths like the Texas shooter feel they can slip to become what passes in the shameless celebrity culture of the media for heroes themselves. The journalistic concentration on their stories and their motives and their grievances, in all of which their name is repeated and their fame grows, and the neglect of those who stop or apprehend them can only encourage them in this belief.

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