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'Sensationalistic' Mass Shooter Coverage Cited By GOP Lawmakers

Two Republicans have proposed a resolution in Congress that calls on the news media to change its reporting practices around mass shootings, raising free press concerns from First Amendment advocates and mass violence experts. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed the resolution that cites “irresponsible and sensationalistic” reporting practices as a major factor in the recent rise in mass gun violence, saying that “the media” “give(s) criminals the notoriety and infamy they desire.” Ogles represents the district where a shooter killed six people, including three children, at the Nashville Covenant School in March, reports the Nashville Tennessean. “Media coverage of a mass public murderer routinely outweighs the coverage of the victims,” the resolution states, adding that “many mass public murderers have researched, studied and idolized past acts of violence using the sensationalistic coverage provided by many media outlets.”

A push by Congress to tell journalists how to cover incidents of mass violence has broughconcerns from experts for its impact on the First Amendment right of the free press—and the potential harm of limiting coverage on an issue that poses a rare but ever-increasing danger to citizens. “It's disappointing to see that the resolution doesn't distinguish between professional mainstream news media and the rest of the online pack,” said Ken Paulson of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, a former editor in chief of USA Today. “The truth is that professional broadcasters and daily newspapers have dramatically cut back coverage of a suspects in favor of focusing on the victims and the gun violence epidemic society is facing.” Resolution presents First Amendment concerns, Paulson says. said the perception that news organizations cover mass murders with salivating levels of voracity is incorrect, and can be proved with one simple, sad truth: there’s now too many incidents to cover. At the Tennessean, guidelines say that coverage of mass shooters needs to focus on being "meaningful and explanatory," rather than lurid. Reporting focuses on motive, contributing factors, red flags and how it could have been avoided, among other issues.


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