News directors, reporters and highly paid pundits across the country are wrong. The murders in Aurora, Colorado were not and are not worthy of their focus and our national attention. Our species’ interest in demons, in monsters, in the nameless, ghastly things lurking in the shadows is our lowest common denominator. Though that dark fascination exists in all of us, it is a beast that deserves to starve. Instead, we’re feeding it daily and increasing its appetite. As a result, we think less of our neighbors and ourselves. And worse — we expect less.
Millions of Americans got dumber on Monday listening to commentators on every network issue hushed, breathless descriptions of the unusual blinking patterns of a demented, heavily drugged psychopath with tie-dyed hair. To what end?
Is anyone outside Aurora, Colorado better off for knowing about these murders? Did Holmes’ outrage illuminate a pattern of repeated, predictable behavior that needs to be addressed before it becomes epidemic? Will the wounds of the victims and their families heal faster because their plights are broadcast nationally? Do the American people benefit by looking into the eyes of the broken-hearted or into the eyes of the maniac who broke their hearts?
Of course not.
The spellbindingly monotonous coverage of these murders and their aftermath has needlessly reduced public trust, dulled people’s senses and increased people’s anxiety. It’s bad for public health. It’s bad for public safety. It’s bad for culture, for patriotism. It’s bad for the economy. And it’s good for nothing.
So why do it?
The news world is following two ancient rules:
1) If it bleeds, it leads.
2) Give the people what they want.
The first has always been a rule for news, one that explicitly grasps for the nadir of civilization and elevates it to page one. The second is a rule for entertainment. It is less explicit in its directive, but becomes sinister when one understands the intended inflection of the word “people.” Mankind has always had an obsession with the macabre, but that isn’t the only thing that people want.
People want spiritual fulfillment. They want optimism. They want to believe that their daily striving and quiet desperation has a positive impact on some larger, higher purpose. People want to believe that their efforts, however small, make a contribution to the betterment of their children, their neighbors and their world.
Think of a single human’s impulses — toward generosity, greed, chastity, lust, honor, envy, patience, wrath, piety, reason, justice, compassion, etc. — as a series of mouths. Through our daily intake and processing of information, we feed one at the expense of another. No impulse is ever sated, but their relative hungers grow with each feeding. As we make our choices, we decide what kind of a person (and a people) we will become.
On another branch of the same limb, what kind of incentives are we creating for the next James Holmes? Holmes has received wall-to-wall coverage on every major network, reactions from two presidential candidates and from the Pope. For an anti-social nerd who hates civilization and regards himself as an arch-villain like the Joker, could we bestow a higher prize?
On Friday, July 20, 2012, someone discovered something. Someone broke a record. Someone caught a really big fish. Someone was named an Eagle Scout. Someone died for a worthy cause. Someone was reunited with a family member after years apart. And someone murdered 12 people in a movie theater. Why would we collectively choose to focus on this last someone?
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.