Does the Media Cause Mass Shootings?

On Dec 3rd, Naeem Davis, a homeless Muslim man, shoved a middle-aged Korean man in front of an oncoming Q subway train in Times Square. A Muslim photographer snapped a shot of him waiting to die that appeared on the cover of the New York Post and then went around the world. And that was that… except it wasn’t.

On December 28, there was another shoving murder. After the latest round of murders, suicides and accidental deaths, seven people have died under trains in 2013; a number that does not include the deaths previously mentioned. Last week two people committed suicide by jumping in front of trains. Another was killed in a possible accident. One lost a leg. Two others were seriously injured. And this week there was another suicide.

For those who might be wondering, these numbers are not normal. But they are predictable. While the MTA discusses the cost of putting up platform barriers, the actual triggering mechanism was the New York Post photograph of a dying man waiting to be hit by a train. And that photograph has dark implications for school shootings as well.

We like to think that we have free will. That we enter the station, knowing our destination ahead of time so that whatever delays or mistakes crop up, we will get to where we intended to go. And that may be true for most people. But it’s not true for all people. It may not be true for the people who push others under trains or jump in front of them.

Around the same time that the American Revolution was getting underway, the German writer Goethe wrote “The Sorrows of Young Werther”; a book that would become the Catcher in the Rye and Twilight of its day.

Werther Fever spread around the world. Readers wrote parodies of the book, dressed up like Werther and some committed suicide like him. The Werther Effect was born and it had a sneaky way of resurfacing whenever and wherever the book became popular again.

Some 200 years later, German television debuted “Death of a Student”, a six-part series about Claus Wagner, a high school student who commits suicide by jumping under a train. Each episode began with Claus jumping under the train. The series was supposed to teach teenagers that suicide was wrong, but it had the opposite effect.

The real message of “Death of a Student” was the same message as that of Werther Fever, if you kill yourself, lots of people will pay attention to you, and the number of teenage boys killing themselves by jumping under a train increased 175%. Having failed to prevent enough suicides, the show aired a second time. This time fewer people were watching and the suicide rate for teenage boys only went up 115%.

A few years later in neighboring Vienna, suicides went up when they were featured on the front page rand fell 75% when they were pushed to the back page, run sans photos and without mention of the word, “Suicide.” Young Werther, in his blue-tailed coat and yellow vest, stopped chasing the trains of the Vienna underground.

The suicide cluster is a well-known phenomenon, especially among teenagers; it is why the media avoids coverage of teenage suicides… with one exception. A teenager who hangs himself in his garage, jumps under a train or turns on the gas will generally not make the front page or even the back page. But if he takes a gun into a school, opens fire and then commits suicide, Young Werther will be front page news for days, weeks or even months.

James Holmes of the Aurora Massacre did not kill himself, but like Werther he picked up his own groupies, the Holmies, some of whom dye their hair orange and dress like him. Misery loves company and so do the unhinged. As the media began covering the Holmies, the fan club increased with the amount of condemnatory coverage. The usual media cycle of promoting what it pretends to discourage for its own profit, so that it can cover it even more, had begun.

Suicides spike after front page coverage of a suicide. After Marilyn Monroe’s death, 197 more people killed themselves than the statistical norm. Suicides rise even after fictional suicides on soap operas. And murders are also influenced by the coverage of real and fictional murders. The rise in the number of shootings after a heavily publicized shooting isn’t a mysterious conspiracy, it’s Werthers being Werther or Lanza or Holmes; identifying with the method of dealing with their frustrations, if not the man.

Stick a photo of a man about to be hit by a train on the cover of a citywide newspaper, and more people will be pushed under trains and jump under trains. Spend weeks making a mass shooter famous and others will decide that resolving their problems with a shooting spree makes sense. Bad ideas are like bad signals, even if disapproved of, they are imitated if they are broadcast loudly enough. And the modern media is a deafeningly loud broadcast mechanism with few standards and many cynical and hypocritical agendas.

That does not mean that we ought to push the 1st Amendment under the train, the way that the media has been trying to do to the 2nd Amendment, but it does call for soul-searching and responsibility not by the people who make guns or defend the right to carry them, as the media insists, but by the people who make school shootings and subway suicides. The people who insist that everyone must search their souls, but them.

Stephen King, who recently jumped into the fray with his own gun control screed, was credited with inspiring one of the first clusters of school shootings in the United States. To his credit, King has wrestled with the question, withdrawing “Rage” from sale and conceding that it had an incendiary effect on troubled minds. To his discredit, King has used that action to argue that gun owners, manufacturers and civil rights groups should agree to a ban on the mythical assault rifle.

Ideas are more powerful than weapons. Weapons can kill a man, but ideas can cause a man to kill. Nevertheless the United States is a country built on the premise that ideas and weapons should be available to all. We are a country with high capacity magazines of both kinds. That experiment in human liberty is a dangerous one, and even though some Americans get on the wrong track, whether it’s the left-wing terrorists who haunted America in the last century or the spree killers who trouble it now, it is a profoundly worthy experiment because it allows us to choose who we are and that makes our choices meaningful.

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  • AdinaK

    Let's put it this way – if the media was not joined at the hip with leftist policymakers and just reported the facts, the damnable facts, then it would be improper to suggest they cause copy cats.

    However, this is certainly not the case, and when a leftist media goes POSTAL, the results speak for themselves –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel –

    • Retired Officer

      It is one thing to report that "Joe Schmo fell to his death today under a train." or "Joe Schmo murdered two people today." When they give all the dirty details and run it 24/7 for a week or a month, WHAT DO THEY THINK WILL HAPPEN? It's pretty obvious to ANYONE who studies people at all that COPYCATS are COMMON and the MORE information they have the MORE COPYCATS that will be generated; either trying to replicate the earlier death or to "do it better and more over the top". God bless Israel as you negotiate through the morass of the murderers around you.

  • Zionist Libertarian

    Dear Mr. Greenfield, I have a great deal of respect for you and agree with most of your views. I must point out that the word "media" is plural. The title of this article should be "Do the Media Cause Mass Shootings?". The following excerpts should be as follows:
    "it is why the media avoid coverage"
    "The usual media cycle of promoting what they pretend to discourage"
    "And the modern media are a deafeningly loud"
    There are other examples as well.

    • Cassandra

      Who cares. The important point is made that the media create copy cats.

      • Zionist Libertarian

        I care. And thank you for treating "media" as plural.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Technically you are correct, in terms of the original usage, in practice though singular tends to be used when referring to the media as a single unit, rather than a plurality of channels and outlets.

      e.g. the mainstream media

      • Zionist Libertarian

        Media can also refer to different types of communications methods, not just different channels, newspapers, magazines, etc. Television is a medium. The internet is a medium, etc. So "mainstream media" is also plural.

    • guest

      Classical Greek and Latin words adopted by the English language do not obey (sometimes) the common -s or -es conversion to plurals. Proper singular for 'media' would be 'medium'. A real clincher however is 'data', where the difference between singular and plural can be detected by pronounciation only.

      • Zionist Libertarian

        The singular of "data" is "datum". Whether you pronounce it "DAY-tuh" or "DAH-tuh" the word "data" is still plural.

        • guest

          Agreed to disagree but I strongly support your initial point.

          • Zionist Libertarian

            Thank you.

  • figment

    >>>The suicide cluster is a well-known phenomenon, especially among teenagers; it is why the media avoids coverage of teenage suicides… with one exception.

    Actually, there's another exception. When the teenager is a homosexual or gender confused individual. Then the media has a field day accusing "society" of killing said child.

    Spot on, about the groupies and misery loves company thing. People really ARE sheep.

    • Zionist Libertarian

      "the media HAVE a field day".

  • scum

    No, blame those who do the killing.

    • Mary Sue

      funny, most libs such as yourself blame the guns.

    • FPF

      No, punish those who do the killing and those who publishing the killing ideas to those potential killers.

  • Cat K

    As someone who has worked with teens, some quite angry and troubled – I agree. Young teens are highly impressionable especially by the actions of peers. Older teens and young adults as well. The media coverage of shootings/school shootings recently has been over the top. Yes, reporting that an incident occurred is appropriate and perhaps necessary. But the minute by minute coverage, invasions of privacy and sensationalizing what's upsetting on its own merits is disgraceful. All this was then followed by the politicizing and 'speechifying' of it. There is something about visual imagery – photos and TV coverage that I think is most stimulating to those similarly troubled as the perpetrators. Copy cats do happen. Those in the media know this and do not at all care.

    • Ar'nun

      The media does care. When something like the Sandy Hook shooting happens, News ratings rise. So influencing a copycat is good for business.

      • Zionist Libertarian

        "The media DO care."

        • guest

          you will be eaten alive over this

    • joe

      The Columbine shooting coverage was horrifying if you look at it from a perspective of the effect it could have on troubled teens. It opened the door to a "hero" solution for those bullied,disturbed or angry.

      The killers were bullied to the point of public humiliation and torture for 5 years by some of the "good kids" they killed and the teachers did nothing.

      The MSM turned the victims into church going saints and the killers into satanic Hitler worshiping mad men. Completely ignoring any cause and effect lesson we could have learned to help our children .

      • Leigh

        That's not accurate. The Columbine killers were not bullied. They were themselves bullies.

  • pierce

    In one word YES. The media is responsible for a number of things. To list them all would be impossible.

    • Zionist Libertarian

      "The media ARE responsible".

  • Alex Kovnat

    I believe the Sandy Hook shooter began to ideate killing large numbers of children and then killing himself, the day the Virginia Tech shootings took place. It is my theory that the S.H. shooter's mother had all those guns because he himself, pursuaded her to buy them.

    What should the news media do to reduce mass shootings? Inform the public when they occur, but try as much as possible to avoid glamorizing the culprits.

  • Ar'nun

    I still think the spike in mass shootings has ties to the administration. People follow Obama as if they were in a cult. And he seems to have the same control over them as a Cult Leader like Jim Jones, Applegate, and Manson did over their disciples.

    • 11bravo

      Troll Alert!!
      Go Away!!

    • Questions

      Utterly preposterous. What's next? Are you going to blame bad weather on "ties" to the Obama administration? Didn't you read the article? Youth have a certain highly emotional way of reacting to news.

  • tanstaafl

    What do troubled people want? Attention. What does the media give them?

    • Zionist Libertarian

      Hey tanstaafl, I know you from pjmedia. Let's not tell Jim Harrishmuck about this site. By the way, it's "What DO the media give them?".

  • sd42jnq

    The media is not terribly honest today. Most of their publications strongly remind me of pre-1991 Pravda and Vremya. We know that the media historically has created certain types of events, such as the elephant incidents of a century ago. When the media quit carrying them, the incidents stopped.

    The same with the "car chase of the week" in LA. Crooks wanted their place in the news.

    When I was a kid, the newspaper and television editors would occasionally joke in a sick way "if it bleeds, it leads" because of their predilection toward reporting nasty stuff.

    The media has all but ignored the problem of violence in Europe, where there have been more mass-shootings than the U.S.

    These are terror events. It doesn't matter what the motivations for them are. As we have found with the 9000 to 14000 terror events per year, it's almost impossible to stop a truly determined terrorist who cares nothing for their own life without having an armed society.

    Case in point: the weekend of Sandy Hook, a shooter tried to shoot up the Clackamas Town Center. A concealed carry person stopped that shooter. If he hadn't, then the Socialists in our society would have had two mass-murders of the innocent to use to try to get more victims.

    Have you even heard of it?

    Yes, I said to get more victims. That is the entire point of the media frenzy and the actions of the Socialists in our nation. If they were concerned with crime, they would do three things: 1. They would stop their own drug use, whose money fuels most murders, 2. They would increase the number of guns— the stats on that are clear, and 3. They would cease fighting their war on Judeo-Christian morality, make an about face and try to bring it back.

    Having lost two relatives to felons, I can't say I appreciate the Left's moral evil much.

    Almost all homicides could be eliminated by the Left getting rid of their "recreational" drugs. Almost all homicides are gang-related. No drug money, no gangs.

    The highway a short distance from my house is a stream of mexican drug shipments for Vancouver, B.C. The traffic exploded with legalization. It's now happening with Washington state and California, thanks to their legalizations.

    Without that money, from our "recreational users" the money for gangs would disappear.

    And so it's squarely in the hands the drug-using democrats to eliminate the murders in the U.S.

    And to eliminate the 100,000+ murders in mexico each year that get them their party drugs.

  • sd42jnq

    Have you wondered what the media is not telling you about shootings in Europe and terror events in the U.S.? Here are two lists of events through 2011. From National Wave of Foolishness, pages 445-446, used by permission (I wrote it, so I'm giving myself permission):

    "27.1.5 Terror Events

    Here is a list of terror events. It's unlikely that this is complete list. One wonders how many incidents have happened but have been ignored by the national media, or not reported as terrorism.

    A couple of incidents, like the Nov. 17 and 18, 2003 events, I first read about when one of my relatives showed me one of his railroad enthusiast magazine articles about them. To have a railroad tunnel and two trestles burn within 4 days and not have it be terror of some kind strains credibility. (I found out about the Chowchilla event while looking up the Nov. 18 event.)

    These are terror events confirmed by government and various media sources to be by persons of the Islamic religion in the United States since 2001*:

    —November 5, 2009. Fort Hood shootings. 12 dead. 31 wounded.

    —October 29, 2009. Two Jewish men were shot and killed outside of a synagogue.

    —February 12, 2007. A Bosnian Muslim shoots 9 people, killing four, in Salt Lake.

    —July 28, 2006. A Palestinian shoots 6 Jewish women at Seattle Jewish Federation.

    —July 5, 2002. An Egyptian shoots 6 people and kills 2 at the El Al (Israeli Airlines) counter at LAX.

    —October 2002. D.C. Sniper attacks. 10 killed and 3 critically injured by a sniper and his accomplice.

    These are terror events whose suspects are not known— or at least the suspect or suspects were not indicated to be known as of this writing*:

    —2011. Two incidents in which boulders were placed on railroad tracks near Madras, Oregon.

    —2009. A flu virus that incorporates Avian, Swine and Human genes enters the human population. Many die. As this combination of genes has never been seen before in nature, it is possibly the result of genetic engineering or otherwise has been manufactured.

    —March 16, 2007. Mainline trestle in Sacramento burns.

    —August 14, 2004. Willamette railroad tunnel on UP mainline is set on fire and burned. It will be months before the tunnel is repaired.

    —November 20, 2003. Railroad trestle near Chowchilla, CA set on fire and burned.

    —November 18, 2003. Railroad trestle on San Joaquin mainline set on fire and burned.

    —November 17, 2003. Central Oregon and Pacific’s Siskiyou tailroad tunnel set on fire and burned.

    —2002, exact date unknown as it was broadcasted on the news in California once that I heard and then I could find nothing more about it. 3,000+ cases of MRSA staphlococcus A in San Diego in 3 days.

    —July 2, 2001 Trestle near Kelso, Washington burns.

    —1999. A new and heretofore unknown strain of West Nile was first seen in the U.S. and Israel. Unlike prior strains, it kills birds, but, thankfully, is rarely lethal to people. It is also somehow able to survive in cold climates.

    —October 9, 1995. Sunset Limited. Amtrak passenger train sabotaged. 1 dead. 100+ injured. Group never heard from before or since claims responsibility.

    Terror events with suspects of unknown religious affiliation*:

    —Jan. 26, 2005. Metrolink train crash when SUV deliberately left parked on tracks. 11 dead and 180+ injured.

  • sd42jnq

    National Wave of Foolishness, pages 136-137, used by permission:

    "I didn’t count the perpetrator in the numbers below. Familicides are not counted, of which there are a number in Europe and elsewhere. Also not counted are the rampage shootings and bombings in eastern Europe, the Balkans or Turkey, which have had a number of events. The spree killings/mass-murders in western and central Europe are horrific enough:

    —Cumbria shootings. June 2010 with 12 killed, 11 injured by a UK taxi driver.

    —Sello Mall shootings. December 2009. Espoo, Finland. 5 dead.

    —Sikh Temple shootings. 2009. One dead, 16 wounded. Vienna, Austria.

    —Winnenden School Shootings. 2009. 15 dead, 11 wounded. Winnenden, Germany.

    —Kauhajoki school shooting. 2008. 10 dead, 1 wounded. Kauhajoki, Finland.

    —Camorra Shooting. 2008. 6 dead. Mafia apparently used national Italian police uniforms in the operation. Naples, Italy.

    —Jokela School Massacre. 2007. 8 dead, 12 injured. Jokela High School in Jokela, Finland.

    —Emsdetten School Shootings. 2006. 8 injured. Emsdetten, Germany.

    —Erfurt Massacre. 2002. 16 dead, 7 wounded. Gutenberg High School in Erfurt, Germany

    —Nanterre massacre. 2002 8 dead, 19 wounded. Nanterre, France.

    —Tours shooting. 2001. 4 dead, 10 wounded. Tours, France,

    —Zug Massacre. 2001. 14 dead, 18 wounded. Zug, Switzerland.

    —Dunblane Massacre. 1996. 16 children and 1 adult killed, 15 injured by a shooter in Dunblane Elementary School in Dunblane, Scotland.

    (Sources: AP, Fox News, AFP, BBC, Daily Telegraph, etc.)

    Somehow the criminal element in Europe gets guns anyway, despite the often morally iniquitous laws. Or the criminal element makes them.

    The technology of making firearms is undemanding. When the Soviets were attacking Afghanistan, Afghan village foundries were busily making their own copies of AK-47s, pistols, RPGs, mortars and other weapons to shoot back at them.

    How hard is it for a would-be criminal to make them with a modern machine shop? It’s a lot easier for criminals to smuggle them in from the drug cartels in Mexico, who import most of their guns from South America.

    The sad fact of life in the western world is that when gun ownership is made easier for the law-abiding, crime drops. New York City and Florida are examples of that.

    Take the Florida example. When the locals began carrying guns to fend off the criminals, not only did crime drop ~20%, there was an unfortunate corollary effect: the criminals redirected their efforts at tourists to the point where the car rental companies quit putting their logo on their cars for a time. Why did the criminals change targets? Because it was suddenly too dangerous to go after the Florida citizen, who might be armed and not just an easy victim.

    Similarly, burglars operate during the day in Europe. There’s nothing to stop them. The burglars are often armed and they don’t have to worry about the homeowner being armed, so they just rob the place and if the homeowner sees them, they shoot the unarmed homeowner.

    That is the situation that the typical gun control groups' legislation would produce here. Armed criminals, and unarmed victims. It is heartless of the anti-gun groups to try to create such a situation."

    The fact that there is four times as much violent crime in Europe as a whole and five times in the UK says something, does it not?

  • tagalog

    I don't know if the media CAUSES shooting sprees. What I find hateful is that they lie about the numbers of shootings and they lie about the significance of those numbers. In fact, since the assault weapons ban died a natural death about ten years ago, gun violence in the USA is down by about 75%. See this month's Commentary Magazine.

    Commentary Magazine makes the interesting point that Charles Whitman, the shooter from the Texas Tower back in the 1960s, used firearms that would NOT be subject to regulation under either old gun control laws, or the proposed new ones. Not one single firearm.

    Mass shootings haven't changed in either the amount of devastation or frequency, either, not in about 75 years.

    The media would have you believe that gun violence and mass shootings are on the rise. They're not. Gun violence is declining and mass shootings haven't changed.

    The one salutary thing about media coverage of the gun control issue is that since the media joined in the anti-gun hysteria, the demand for firearms that would be prohibited under currently-conceived gun control laws has gone through the roof.

  • drivesguy

    The mind is a lot like a computer. Program it with Garbage and you get Garbage out. The 500lb Gorilla in the room that no one seems to want to address is mental health. I knew a fellow who was schizophrenic. As long as he did not watch the news, he was on a pretty even keel, but as soon as he go spun up on the news, he was uncontrollable.

    • tagalog

      Sounds like my wife and me, and we're not schizophrenic.

      I've noticed that when I advocate the involuntary commitment of mentally ill people for observation of their potential for danger, observation that would involve a 2-3 day placement on a mental ward for perhaps a few thousand of the mentally ill, a lot of people get all nervous and jerky about denying the mentally their precious constitutional freedom. I guess that's legitimate; what I find humorous is that the same people don't seem to notice that gun control laws motivated by hysteria over the Newtown massacre won't do a thing to prevent what folks are getting all in a tizzy over while they'll restrict the Constitutional liberties of hundreds of millions of innocent people. That incongruity never seems to hit home. I guess they're not nervous about that deprivation of freedom, just jerky.


    There is nothing novel about this phenomenon. Glorifying the rogue results in more rogues. It's as simple as that.

    "The suicide cluster is a well-known phenomenon, especially among teenagers; it is why the media avoids coverage of teenage suicides… with one exception."

    There is more than one exception: consider the suicide is by a gay teenager. How many years will his story be in the pages of the media?

  • Ghostwriter

    The media should be very careful with stuff like this in case that copycats do come out.

  • RonL

    As i have been saying for years, the way to stop school massacres is to punish the perpetrators by making them un-people. Erase them from history. Ostracize them completely. They do no exist. Their grievances are not aired.
    Quietly mourn the dead and stop the pathos onnanization and cannonization of the killers.

  • marnie

    I've also thought the coverage of school shootings has had the unfortunate effect of increasing their probability of happening. In a very neutral way, news stories give people ideas they might not have stumbled upon otherwise. Certainly we can't all be expected to live in ignorance of anything that might upset us but we don't want to create more tragedies in the process. Where I believe the media can exercise better judgment is in the amount of time spent on a story as well as the emotional intensity of the discussion. The need to exhibit such restraint, however, might only be true for certain topics. The big question is: why does learning about some acts of violence result in copycat behavior while knowledge of other, seemingly just as horrific acts, doesn't?

  • Alan

    In th interest of balance, my research has shown that guys who are into guns have very inadequate equipment, and they are constantly trying to overcompensate.

    • "gunner"

      my wife is laughing at you, calling you a silly man. she's found my "equipment" quite satisfactory for many years.

  • trickyblain

    The sword cuts both ways. The "media" (yes, FPM and likeminded paranoid sites are part of the media) tells us that Obama isn't an American citizen. That he's out to destroy the USA. The author of this very piece lies wildly and constantly in his "The Point" blog, and never corrects himself when called out. And, lo! Thousands — if not millions — of comments flood the message boards in zombiesque concurrence of blatant, debunked untruths. At least the reports on mass shootings and other horrific events are, to a large extent, based on events that actually happened. But shutting down FPM in order to reduce human stupidity serves the same purpose as making one type of rifle illegal to lawful owners — essentially trying to address drunk driving by making it hard for sober folks to buy a car.

  • close, but no tesla

    Mr. Greenfield, i choose to look throught the filter of "causing great damage with little expense." Surely you know that strategy of the enemy. How little effort is required to to push someone (hopefully an infidel) onto the tracks and subsequently inflict fear into scores or hundreds of riders for an extended length of time?
    You should also look into the (fairly rare) occurences of 'un-subs' flashing laser pointers into the cockpits of airliners. See also: setting fires in southern California, Colorado, etc., and other unexplained acts that may well be subterfuge.

  • @orgogroup

    The media contributes to it, but it goes way beyond that. Economic and social decay, rampant legal and illegal drug use that leaves people emotionally and morally bankrupt, glorification of violence in movies and video games, poverty, gang culture, the list goes on and on.

    Everyone, including those in the media, should be condeming violence, not using it as a selling tool.

  • Ziggy Zoggy

    "The usual media cycle of promoting what it pretends to discourage for its own profit, so that it can cover it even more." The establishment media have been trading lives for ratings for a loooong time now. The ghouls would include moment of death close ups and autopsy footage if they could.

  • irateiconoclast

    Either something is LEGAL or it's NOT.

    Either the FIRST AMENDMENT is in force–or it's NOT.

    ONLY the actors are responsible for their acts…

    *video games
    *news stories

    If you are offended by or not interested in a news story or other communication…

    DON'T WATCH/LISTEN…whatever…!

  • micmattzz08

    Media in the 21st century become a powerful tool, media is like a mirror who shows one's characteristics and actions, it also magnify even the evil doings of human. We need to practice responsible broadcasting, media should educate the mass and not to flame them with misinformation.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    I think that the media causes masses of people to want to shoot it………………William

  • ChangeMedia

    This is how the media should cover mass shootings: