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Fox: Media Wrongly Depicted FL Shooter As 'Hero (for) Hatemongers'

Before being replaced on newspaper front pages by Hurricane Idalia, the fatal shooting of three Black residents of Jacksonville, Fla., by a 21-year-old white supremacist dominated the news cycle for days. Although the death toll was not so high as some other large-scale shootings this year, the apparent hate motivation made it particularly newsworthy given the political climate. The blanket coverage included surveillance video of the gunman aiming his "AR-style" rifle at defenseless victims outside and inside a Dollar General store. Viewers were warned of the imagers' disturbing nature. The video did not show any of the victims, much less how they were killed. Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University writes in USA Today that, "What I found disturbing was the representation of the assailant as a powerful individual armed with a deadly weapon, a hero for like-minded hatemongers."

This is not an endorsement of the “no notoriety” agenda that encourages law enforcement officials and the news media to avoid showing images of the shooter or revealing his name. The identity and headshot, as well as certain facts about the motivation and weaponry, are basic elements of the event that are absolutely appropriate for reporting. Images of the shooter in action (as in Jacksonville) or menacing poses created by the assailant (such a photo of the Virginia Tech gunman brandishing weapons that was printed on the front page of The New York Times) are gratuitous, Fox argues, concluding that the media sometimes cross the line "from reporting to celebrity watch." Coverage of the man who killed 60 and injured hundreds more at a Las Vegas outdoor concert in 2017 included his favorite casino games, his passion for karaoke and even what he ate on the night of the shooting. Such superfluous details did not help us understand the gunman’s motivation but only humanized an undeserving individual, says Fox. Many aspects of covering active shooter events constitute too much information, media-style, he adds, saying, 'It would be wise for print and broadcast journalists to practice the words of police Sgt. Joe Friday from "Dragnet' 'All we want are the facts, ma'am.' "


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