Boston, and indeed the world, have been rocked by the surreal events that have taken place over the last week. What should have been an admirable display of raw human determination and spirit turned into a national tragedy, with the Boston marathon bombings leaving three people dead, over one hundred people injured and the world in shock.
The events that followed the vicious attack spiraled throughout the week, as CCTV footage presented the accused Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, to the public eye. The Chechen brothers come from the, as the BBC described, “troubled and predominantly muslim Caucasus region of southern Russia”, before moving to the Massachusetts town of Cambridge. During the widely televised and internationally broadcast pursuit, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was fatally wounded, before Dzhokhar was eventually captured in Watertown, near Boston.
Despite our current lack of knowledge over the motive for these bombings, whether this was a premeditated plan with a hidden political agenda, or even a senseless act of violence, questions must be asked to how widely broadcast last weeks proceedings were. As America has seen time and time again, infamous local figures make the news, and, in turn, function as dangerous models of new media communications.
According to the UPI database, CNN recorded a 194 percent increase in viewers whilst broadcasting the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers, totaling around 986,000 viewers, with Fox coming in a close second with 954,000 viewers, and MSNBC coming in third with a viewers tally of 392,000. Although the public has the right to be informed, and rightly so, perhaps it is time to mediate the level of information relayed to the public, in order to clamp down and deter the relevant ‘inspiration’ for potential future incidents of violence? My fear is that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will become another infamous figure ahead among the warped and criminally minded minority individuals of America, and even the world, due the mass and detailed media coverage that has been following him.
Following the capture of Timothy McVeigh in 1995, who was wanted for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma which left 168 people dead and over 800 injured, Times Magazine ran an extensive interview with McVeigh on May the 1st 1995, even featuring him on the cover page. Likewise, During October 2002, mass media coverage followed the random and vindictive shootings from the dubbed ‘Washington Snipers’, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. What the mass media, in my opinion, fails to recognise with the voyeuristic nature of certain individuals who follow these stories.
The media, in the past, have treated these individuals with almost celebrity status and with celebrity coverage. Their pursuits and captures were broadcast all over the world, in as much detail as is available to the news stations as possible. Buzzfeed, and other informative websites, also provided screenshots and links to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s actual twitter account, portraying him to be as a normal and communicatively sound as most twitter users. In one sense, the media is breaking down the barrier between him and public by giving us information that does not require our attention or insight, much like the detailed nature of his pursuit and apprehension by the police.
In stark contrast to the Tsarnaev brother, police officer Sean Collier, 26, who was killed in the first shootout between armed police and the Tsarnaev brothers has received very little media coverage, as has Martin Richard, 8, Krystle Campebll, 29, and Lu Lingzi, 23, who all died during the bombings at the Boston marathon. With the detail the news portray these stories, the news are advertising ideas and dangerous content to certain viewers and followers of these stories.
Much like Timothy McVeigh, who was executed by lethal injection in 2001, some individuals will treat Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as martyrs of their actions, and become inspired to act on their own destructive agendas, whatever the motive or reasoning. Earlier this year, America followed the drawn out pursuit of former police officer Chris Dorner, who was wanted for the murder of four people. Who is to say that the mass media coverage of this story, and detail it went into, inspired the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers to some extent? The same argument could be made for the reporting that covered the tragedy’s and sadistic events from the Columbine massacre in 1999 and the Sandy Hook shootings last year.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure the power that the media hold over these specific paradigms. Joseph Klapper presented the selective exposure theory of mass communication effects in 1960. He asserted the idea that mass communication, as an agent, does not directly influence people, but does play a role in reinforcing peoples predispositions and existing opinions; occupying a role as a mediator in persuasive communication.
Conclusively, we can determine that the media does play a role in attacks like the Boston bombings. Although the media do not directly construct these terrorists, they do pose themselves as inadvertent idea makers and inspirers.
I implore you, America. Look to the future. Don’t make Dzhokhar Tsaraev your new national poster boy.