Is Elon Musk right to criticize media for giving attention to shooter in TX shooting?


Fact Box

  • The second-deadliest school shooting in the US occurred on May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas with the death of 19 children and two adults. The suspect was an 18-year-old gunman who legally bought a gun after his birthday; he was shot and killed by a currently unnamed off-duty Customs and Border Patrol agent amidst the massacre. 
  • In response to the shooting, Elon Musk asserted, “The shooters are obviously doing this to generate the most amount of attention possible. Why is the media doing exactly what the mass murders want?” Although Musk supports the Second Amendment, he called for “tight” background checks for gun purchases and a limit of assault weapon sales. 
  • Divided by party, 32% of Republicans, 59% of Independents, and 91% of Democrats are in favor of stricter gun laws in America.
  • Forty-two percent of American adults owned at least one gun in 2021, and data from 1982-2022 shows mass shootings have seen an uptick in the last decade while household gun ownership has remained steady since 1972.

Luke (Yes)

A recent study done by professor Lankford, a criminology expert from the University of Alabama, reveals evidence that many mass shootings, especially since 2010, were copycats inspired by the coverage of previous attacks, in particular, by published details of the attacker's personal life. According to the professor, to limit such mass shootings from occurring in the future, the media should refrain from broadcasting the intimate personal details of mass murderers.

Another critical issue concerning the coverage of these events is the infamy sought after by such mass murderers. Consider the statement made by the alleged perpetrator of the recent Buffalo shooting, 'I think that livestreaming this attack gives me some motivation in the way I know that some people will be cheering for me.' Statements such as these make it clear that a part of the motivation for such types of mass violence is the attention that comes from widespread knowledge of the event. The words of Elon Musk ring clear, 'Why is the media doing exactly what the mass murderers want?' 

Given academic studies, direct statements from perpetrators, and the seeming lack of public benefit from covering such events relentlessly, one must ask why the media continues in the manner they do. Perhaps a statement made by Charlie Chester, a CNN technical director caught on a secret camera while discussing company policy concerning the COVID pandemic, may shed some light on this: 'Fear really drives numbers.' Elon Musk was certainly right to criticize the media, who are concerned with ratings and ad revenue, while giving mass murderers an international platform to inspire and incite others to commit similar acts of horror.

Tyler (No)

Although the Uvalde shooter does not deserve positive attention of any form, he must be part of the media coverage. If not, the specifics of the situation will not be available to people to help everyone better understand what could have led to or precluded such a heinous act. Sheltering the shooter's information and past from the public disallows people from being equipped to properly discuss and debate the problems and potential solutions to any newly uncovered and relevant details. Likewise, highlighting similar behaviors in other possible attackers can help authorities pinpoint and perhaps prevent potential attackers. 

While some may want to ease the pressure on the shooter by simply chalking it up to mental health issues, the general media is not displaying any form of sympathy for the person that committed these atrocities. Bringing these acts to light emphasizes the need for change. The shooter's specific actions that led up to the shooting (like him immediately purchasing firearms on his 18th birthday) is noteworthy and should be considered. 

Making this information more readily available, other students or parents will be wary of specific actions or behavioral patterns that a potentially violent child can bestow. They can report it to the school, bolstering safety in the school setting. Shootings in the past, such as the 1999 Columbine attack, occurred before widespread social media coverage. The potential publicity was not the goal or source of that problem then and isn’t now, especially when the media is necessarily reevaluating the facts after the attack. Although it may not feel right to give the shooter this publicity, it is not coming in the form of praise.

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