Since the first highly publicized American mass violence event in the 1960s — the Texas Clock Tower shootings in 1966 — the media has played a critical and sometimes controversial role in how these events are viewed and filtered and the social and policy mandates proposed to prevent them. The fol- lowing section is based on information provided to the Expert Panel on Mass Violence by Stephen Fried, author, investigative journalist and adjunct faculty at the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Media coverage may be problematic for several reasons:
• Media portrayals of the role of mental illness as a cause of violence are exaggerated
• Media portrayals of the violence/mental illness intersection drive stigma.
• Overstating the role that mental illnesses play in mass shootings further increases harmful stigma
• It has been suggested that media coverage of mass shootings can be correlated with tactical mim- icry (imitating techniques) and temporal clustering (increased frequency after an index event)
As soon as expanded live coverage was added to traditional reported and edited stories in print, radio and television, conversations began about how mental illness was portrayed and discussed by report- ers and pundits, the experts who were consulted to comment on points (for which there is substantial debate in the unfolding mental health literature) and how media coverage could lead to contagion. These dynamics have become increasingly challenging with the proliferation of 24-hour cable news and the internet — much of which goes out immediately live — and the reduction of some traditional reporting staffs. While these changes affect all news coverage, they are especially challenging for the coverage of mental illness, in general, and the coverage of emergencies that may or may not involve mental illness, in particular. Before many facts can be gathered, real-time speculation of the role of men- tal illness — by reporters, pundits and mental health professionals with little concrete information — can create problems and lead to unjust characterizations of all people with mental illness, as well as unfair speculation about the links between violence and mental illness.