American Elephants

Would There Still Be Terrorism and Mass Murder If There Was No TV? by The Elephant's Child

In Israel, serious people respond to serious threats.

When there is an act of senseless evil, like the murder of small children at Sandy Hook Elementary, or of blowing up a commuter train, or flying planes into the twin towers, how much of the planning and organizing the act is dependent on the renown that will come from international attention on television? Such acts seem to have been much more rare before there was television’s “in depth” coverage.

In the wake of a mass murder, it is natural to search for answers: ban guns, encourage more concealed-carry permits, open more psychiatric hospitals, end laws that make it difficult to commit people, send disturbed people for treatment, more police, more guards, more security, do something about the media, and so it goes.

We are now in the obligatory “ban the guns” phase. For some, a demand for drastic action seems a more noble response to the tragedy of others — than mere compassion. It is the do-something, I’m in charge, impulse. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a remarkable example of this kind of response. Unfortunately his position guarantees him access to a microphone.

The senseless shooting of small children seems somehow worse than anything else, but each tragedy calls up all previous mass shootings. Consulting Wikipedia is depressing, for they list the many kinds of mass murder, and there are many. Even school shootings have occurred all over the world, in many countries.

This article from Reason deserves your attention, an excerpt quotes journalist Lenore Skenazy who recalls that the deadliest school massacre in U.S.history took place in Michigan in 1927, when a disgruntled school-board official blew up 38 people including himself. She writes that the real difference between now and then is the immediacy of the media, which shrinks the distance between victims and the rest of us. It creates the conditions for an overreaction that will ultimately be little more than symbolic.

I expect we will now demand precautions on top of precautions. More guards. More security cameras. More supervision. We will fear more for our kids and let go of them even more reluctantly. Every time we wonder if they can be safe beyond our arms, these shootings will swim into focus.

Will this new layer of fear and security make our children any safer? Probably not, but for a reassuring reason: A tragedy like this is so rare, our kids are already safe. Not perfectly safe. No one ever is. But safe.

That’s a truth the folks in 1928 America understood. We just don’t feel that way now.

Matt Lewis rounds up some of the more execrable media reactions and irresponsible reporting. This wouldn’t be a bad set of guidelines for journalists in what not to do. As we have all noticed, basic manners have been victim of the cultural decline.

At the Volokh Conspiracy, the author responds to the question if civilians armed with guns ever capture, kill or otherwise stop mass shooters? Well, yes they do. And Doug Ross, from whom I borrowed the picture at the top, also contributed this simple, fairly clear, comment. He has a number of excellent posts on the murders and reactions.


Mass murders have taken place all over the world, in many times and many circumstances. We have such compassion for the families, for we know it could have been us. President Obama has announced that “We have to change.” We? The picture of the president hugging the woman who lost everything in the Sandy storm surge is still up on the White House website. It was an especially good photo-op. The help from FEMA that the president promised would come immediately, has of course, never happened.

There will still be mass murder and terrorism, with TV coverage or not. Mayor Bloomberg has already drummed up a bunch of liberal gun-banners to march on the National Rifle Association. Does he have no trusted confidant who can tell him that he’s making a fool of himself again?

Whatever our instant impulses are, they are probably the wrong thing to do. Instant impulses, the “do-something” syndrome, is not the path to averting tragedy.


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

“We will now join our reporters who will attempt to make a tragedy victim cry on the air.”

Richard Jeni had it right.


Comment by Lon Mead

When does the arms race end?


Comment by Mark Baird

“We will now join our reporters who will attempt to make a tragedy victim cry on the air.”

And I should take this serious, why? Let’s see: “Real dad was Malcolm X or Frank M. Davis”, “Wears the ring of Koranic versus.”, “Born in Kenya”, “Attended a madrassa”, “Wrote anti-Semitic poetry”, “The fake birth certificate”, “Sworn in on the Koran”, “Secretly a Muslim”. Should I go on and on.

In this day and age of media, television, radio, and blogs, if it bleeds it leads. Just remember you have to light the Amygdala. Every ideologue understands this. In case someone is not familiar with this part of the brain it helps to store and classify emotionally charged memories. It plays a key role in emotions, especially fear.

I do not think problem is guns. I think the problem is how adults talk to each other and how humans let fear drive them. And, fear is what seems to be driving the right more then anything these days.


Comment by Mark Baird

Some people do make some nutty comments so? Not common on the right. Fear of this president’s uncontrolled spending is driving the right, and fear of the unconstrained national debt. I didn’t notice Republicans knowingly making absolutely false ads during the recent election and refusing to remove or correct them when called on it. The “War on Women” (nonexistent) though hooey, focus-tested as effective on low-information voters, as did the accusation that Mitt Romney was responsible for a steelworker’s wife’s death and the worker’s loss of his job because h
the business closed. Many more examples of that. The media managed to get almost every fact wrong in their Connecticut coverage, the wrong name for the shooter, the mother was not a teacher, the father was not killed etc, but interviewing little kids about how they felt about their friends getting killed was a little over-the-top.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

When we stop being human.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

“I didn’t notice Republicans knowingly making absolutely false ads during the recent election and refusing to remove or correct them when called on it.”

If you want we can post both Obama’s and Romney’s “exaggerations”. We could start with Romney’s ad about Jeep but I would guess we would be parsing words. This election was not about President Obama it was about the Republican party. The Republican party seems to be full of old white men that are angry that they are losing their majority and power.

That is the problem these days. There is no passion for the truth, only ones “experienced” truth. I have no use for either conservatives or liberals, Republican or Democrats, Libertarians or Socialist. I have no use for ideological purity or ideology in general.

As Einstein once said – ““The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We have created a society that chooses to self-indoctrinate with people of like minds. And, in that case, elephants are no different then donkeys.

We have become a society of lawyers peddling fear and anger.


Comment by Mark Baird

I did not see the Romney ad about Jeep. Chrysler was planning to manufacture Jeeps in China. Obama’s ads did not exaggerate, they lied straight out. The election was about Obama. The Obama campaign learned early that their base was not apt to turn out, and used big data to go after individual low-information voters. Republicans were out-maneuvered.The election became one full-time attack on Romney, most of it false. There was not one word about Obama’s plans for a second term.

The problem is that we are all human, very flawed people. We have to recognize the world for the messy place it is and ourselves as more advanced than primitive man only because someone else invented matches and cars. Politicians have the extra problem of wanting to get elected again because it’s a prestigious, cushy job. Doesn’t do any good to say a pox on all their houses, or make noble statements about truth. We’re stuck with the real world, and the best we can do it try to be well informed and demand better behavior, or select better candidates. Republicans(that old white men is just the latest Democrat slander) want smaller government because it is more manageable, because smaller government closer to the people served is more controllable. Your city council could never get away with some of the stuff Congress does. Obama believes in big government, more control, more regulation, and social justice (there is no such thing. We have justice, it is enumerated in the Constitution and our body of laws –this social thing is not justice) and a more socialist state. Socialism has never worked anywhere it has been tried. Never. And it won’t be different this time.

That “old white men” is particularly annoying. The Republican party is full of young Republican governors whose states are in far better fiscal shape than the states run by Democrats. I could name a dozen or more just offhand. Who are the young vibrant accomplished Democrats? Cricket sounds.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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