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Fueling the Fire: America’s Corporate Media and an Era of Mass Violence

On Friday, November 27th, terror struck the city of Colorado Springs, CO. Naturally, it had been all over the news. An armed lunatic stormed a Planned Parenthood facility, hell-bent on making a violent political statement. He had been encouraged to do so, and he likely understood how much attention his actions would draw. And for a brief and terrible moment, this reclusive loner became America’s latest homicidal celebrity.

It was a vicious attack that left two civilians and one police officer dead. It was the 351st rampage killing of its kind in the U.S. this year alone (and even as this is being written, reports are flooding in of another 17 dead in San Bernardino, CA., and one more casualty in Savannah, GA.) This phenomenon has become increasingly frequent since the late twentieth century. A cyclical pattern has emerged. And anything cyclical needs momentum – an energy input to perpetuate it. Which is both frightening and confusing. Why is this happening in America? What’s the source of this heinous evil?

corporate mediaThese questions can’t be answered by blaming just a single factor. But there are certainly some contributors that have a heavier hand than others – namely, America’s corporate media institutions. The zeitgeist (defined as the spirit of an age) that these mainstream sources of information (FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, etc.) have cultivated since the late 90’s is one of fear, anger and discontent. The principles of impartiality and truth in journalism are antiquated; nowadays, facts are malleable and contorted to further an agenda or boost viewership.

The roots of this problem go back to the Clinton Administration, which authorized the 1996 Telecommunication Act in an attempt “to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced information technologies and services to all Americans by opening … markets to competition.” But it failed horribly. Instead of encouraging competition and freedom of information, the act enabled corporate mergers, thus restricting information, limiting sources of information and ushering in the corporate era of American misinformation. And beside this bill emerged a highly unsettling social pattern. One, which the corporate media has fueled on two fronts:

To begin, this attack appears to have been backlash in the wake of a Planned Parenthood video scandal, which claimed that the organization was illegally trafficking aborted fetuses. This, of course, was an outright hoax – the videos were forged. But the story was all over television, the web and newspapers for weeks. Fox News, in particular, was virulent in their criticisms. The rhetoric of their coverage for this purported “scandal” was so overwhelmingly loathsome that one maniac became angry enough to storm a building armed with a rifle and slaughter innocents. Which, he managed.

Still, the plot thickens: with a definite level of certainty after these tragic massacres, one can expect media sources (both liberal and conservative) to run and rerun the story in a flurry of murder statistics, high budget graphics and loads of detailed information about the murderer, their life, and what pushed the psychopath to the brink. TV screens all over America are illuminated with the perpetrator’s mug shot while interviews with those close to him drone in the background.  By all accounts, this is their fifteen minutes of fame and glory – they get to make a statement and have their voices heard. We remember the names of jackals like James Holmes, Adam Lanza and Dylan Klebold because of the evil they wrought and the screen time they got on every major brand of news. This has created an opportunity for the socially malicious and mentally unstable to write their names in American history with American blood.

Luckily, Planned Parenthood was somewhat prepared for an attack of this nature. The organization received a spike of threats, arson, and protests against their medical clinics in the weeks after the fake videos were released. Employees acted quickly, locking the building down, alerting the authorities and quietly hiding in the building’s “safe areas.” Their response was effective, but the awful situation was precipitated by hateful lies spread by our sensationalist media. Those who deliberately and carelessly misinform America should be held accountable for the atrocities they helped fuel – though, in the past they’ve always managed to avoid prosecution.

corporate mediaIn 2009, for instance, Dr. George Tiller was singled out repeatedly for being the only doctor in Kansas who would administer abortions. Fox News anchor Bill O’Rielly savagely ridiculed the doctor, repeating the phrase, “Tiller the baby killer,” and reporting that he had “blood on his hands,” and would “execute babies.” Until one day Dr. Tiller was murdered in cold blood. The name of the man who pulled the trigger is irrelevant – Bill O’Rielly and Fox News can take the credit for that one.

Today, three American families have been left broken and devastated by another man’s mercilessness. Gun control and mental health are rising to the forefront of political debates once again, fear pervades, and of course, the murderer’s face and name are all over the news. The cycle continues.

However, it is a cycle that can be broken. And it starts here – by commemorating those innocents who died instead of their senseless murderer: Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, left behind a wife and two children and was a campus officer for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; Jennifer Markovsky, 36, was originally from Hawaii and a mother of two; and Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, was an Iraq Veteran who had two children of his own. These people weren’t deserving of their ugly fate, and should be celebrated for their contributions instead of being remembered as victims of just one more mass shooting.

America is sick right now – this violence is an epidemic. We lead the world in mass murders, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. It isn’t an issue between democrats and republicans – rather, the issue is within our system of information. Corporate media polarizes the masses. It distributes news that borders on propaganda and pushes people to kill each other over fabricated scandals, and then sensationalizes those murderers with stardom and notoriety. Which is terrifying – but hopeful, because we can do something about it.

Increasing gun control has proven to be near impossible in the U.S. (and only serves to take guns away from law-abiding citizens), and a heightened focus on mental health might not do much to stop every American psychopath from lashing out. But if we the people want better news and information badly enough, then we can get it. And we should. Our news media should serve to inform and educate us on the state of reality as it is.

Laws exist in other countries (like Canada’s Broadcasting Act of 1986) that prohibit the distribution of “false or misleading news.” Regulations such as this one protect the citizens from being misguided and misinformed, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they protect people’s lives as well. By enacting similar legislation in the U.S., we could starve this murderous cycle of its media-fuel, and sow a better-informed future for America.   

Sources: Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.Conference Report, Telecommunications Act of 1996, House of Representatives, 104th Congress, 2d Session, H.Rept. 104-458, at p. 1.

Will Brendza
Will Brendza is a freelance journalist and aimless adventurer based out of the Rocky Mountains, a fearless student of science and a keen outdoorsman. After having witnessed firsthand the environmental abominations taking place both abroad and at home in the US, he resolved to spread the knowledge and drive for global sustainability. When he isn't writing or reading a good book, he can usually be found exploring foreign countries, savoring craft breweries or somewhere deep within the wilderness of Colorado."

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