This post is part of a series exploring the idea that storytelling, gameplay or entertainment of any kind may precipitate acts of violence in the real world. First post here.
Still reeling from the realization that the motive for murder (or any other act) can never be reduced to a predictive certainty, you decide that getting the word out about your discovery is critical to finding solutions that will prevent violence. Because you are well connected you place calls to several prominent reporters and news outlets, all of which express universal disinterest in what you have to say. The reaction is so consistent that at first you think you must not have explained yourself clearly, but after several more not-for-attribution conversations and a good deal of cogitation it becomes abundantly clear that you’re not the problem.
When it comes to exploiting the blood of innocent victims you have learned there are two ways to profit from the question of motive. You can plausibly ascribe motives to others because those motives can never be proven false, and, you can plausibly deny motives ascribed to you because those motives can never be proven true. While most parties opt for one strategy or the other given the rhetorical nature of charges and counter-charges, there is one stakeholder perfectly positioned to turn the usual back-and-forth about motive into a salable product itself. In fact, in the United States the right to do so is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Not only does the First Amendment preclude the government from telling you what you can and cannot say as a citizen, if you are a member of the press it gives you the right to tell the citizenry anything, even when the government would prefer you kept quiet. Whether a noble journalist concerned with truth or tabloid trash trying to make all the money you can by broadcasting insane ideas or outright lies, the First Amendment allows you to claim that you are being responsible and fair and objective and balanced without any fear of contradiction. Even if you are intentionally fomenting righteous indignation, fear and anger in your audience with the intent of converting those emotions into cash through advertising agencies, you have the right to do so. (Such arms-length transactions also allow you to claim that your mercenary editorial practices are entirely separate from your mercenary business practices, as if such a distinction was meaningful.)
Imagining yourself in the role of a money-hungry reporter eager to pervert the protections of the First Amendment, you realize your first objective would be identifying a real-world event that would draw interest — like, say, a mass killing. Assuming you were fortunate enough that such a crime took place, you could then attempt to fuel the story by providing what is euphemistically called coverage. From an entrepreneurial point of view this aggressive reporting would be aimed not at informing the public but at trying to give the story legs so it did not become just another moment in history. While ostensibly the result of consumer demand, such lucrative continuing interest would in fact be largely dependent on your reportorial ability to turn the tragedy into a marketing opportunity for you, your employer, and for the story itself.
If the story did develop legs you could then freely engage in what’s euphemistically called analysis, which is in fact little more than water-cooler-grade speculation if not outright editorial propaganda. If you were fortunate, cunning or both, you could use analysis to tie the real-world tragedy you’re milking for money to a long-running real-world debate that will never be resolved, thereby opening the door to profits in perpetuity. For example, if someone goes berserk and murders a dozen people, while you’re ceaselessly reporting what few facts you know during wall-to-wall, twenty-four-hour, live, multimedia coverage, you can also use the killings as a springboard to raise questions about, say, the easy availability of weapons, the inadequate state of mental health screening and treatment, or any other causal factor you believe to be good for your bottom line. Because you are under no legal obligation to be informative or accurate, you are constitutionally free to shape your analysis in whatever way proves most entertaining, engaging, infuriating or traumatizing to your audience, and most profitable to you. [ Read more ]