Is the media focus on gunmen becoming more responsible? Why I’m not holding my breath

What video games did Benjamin Barnes play? What music did he listen to? So far, the press is silent. And that’s just fine.

It was almost one year ago that Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd of citizens outside a Safeway in Tucson, injuring more than a dozen people and killing six. One year later, a January gunman may have been found dead in the snow near Mt. Rainier, where a park ranger was shot and killed on New Year’s Day.

So far, the press coverage of Benjamin C. Barnes’ life could not be more different. Articles have focused on his shooting spree during a New Year’s Eve party just south of Seattle, his escape to Mt. Ranier park, and the shooting of Margaret Anderson, a 34-year-old park ranger. Speculation about Barnes’ motives have focused on his service in Iraq, his trouble re-adjusting to civilian life, and threatening suicide a year ago.

With Loughner, reporters pounced on his “obsession with the occult” and his love of at least one heavy metal song. Did Barnes live a life devoid of these interests? Or is the press looking elsewhere for explanations and meaning?

Likewise, when Virginia Tech shooter Ross Truett Ashley killed police officer Deriek Crouse at the college last month — a crime that sent echoes of one of the worst college massacres in history through the school — little was made of his hobbies.

Are reporters finally focusing on violent acts in a more responsible manner, leaving violent-media speculation out of their coverage? Is it because these criminals are adults that we focus on their mental condition rather than their personal interests when looking for murderous inspiration? Given the coverage of such recent events as a Milwaukee meetup gone awry or a child rapist convicted of murder, my hopes are not high. But coverage of these gunmen is certainly a step in the right direction.


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