Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rules emerge from chaos

A couple items to add to the list of rules for covering mass murders or other heinous public crimes (just go ahead and pencil 'em into your stylebooks for now):

I. No dark hints about media effects. As in: There has been some speculation, especially among online forums, that Cho may have been inspired by the South Korean movie "Oldboy." Anybody who wants to run that sort of stuff needs to have a 20-page literature review approved by the committee in advance.

Ia. "Online" is not an excuse for printing crap. "Speculation" is a technical journalistic term for "baseless gossip," and it's still gossip even if it's in "online forums"! Here in the mass media, one of the things we do is "mediate" information, and one of the things that's shorthand for is "make at least some rudimentary effort to determine whether it has some remote chance of being true." Not, it should go without saying, taking as gospel whatever you read on somebody's blog (except this one and its friends).

II. Do not report the doings of the supernatural unless you have tried to contact the supernatural for comment. Step forward, Fox News: Was Cho Seung-Hui schizophrenic … psychotic … manic-depressive? Or were the shooting deaths of 32 people, including Cho himself, at Virginia Tech University part of the ongoing struggle between God and Satan … good against evil … lightness and darkness?
Could Cho have been possessed by the Devil? Could that explain the massacre at Virginia Tech?

Anyone wishing to write about the Evil One will submit phone records (in advance) to the committee documenting at least three attempts to reach him or his designated spokesman for comment. E-mail will not do.

IIa. For the speculations of people whose links to the supernatural are genetically transmitted, see Rule II.
Evangelist Franklin Graham, who dispatched 20 "rapid-response" chaplains to Virginia Tech this week, says he believes gunman Cho Seung-Hui was "demon-possessed."
Nope. Don't care what junior thinks about the matter (or see what distinguishes it from online speculation, supra). Don't particularly care what daddy thinks about the matter either. But this unfortunate bit of localization gets even worse in a hurry:

He told the Observer that evil and the devil were behind the Holocaust, as well as recent cases of genocide -- in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Let's save "told the Daily Bugle" for the empirical world, shall we?

Not all Christian leaders are willing to rule out mental illness in the Virginia shootings.
Is it just me, or are the implications of this transition remarkably -- almost deliberately -- offensive?

The Rev. Stephen Shoemaker, senior minister of Charlotte's Myers Park Baptist Church, agreed murder is "a great moral wrong."
Big of him, huh? Is there somebody we're not going to insult in this tale?

But, he added, "This young man was severely troubled. And mental health professionals have told me in the past that major mental illness in some forms often erupts suddenly in late adolescence or early adulthood."
This guy was done a disservice by being dragged in as a foil on a story that should have been neither written nor run. I bet he had better things to do with his time.

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