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Violence and war through the eyes of the media

by on November 15, 2015

In regards to recent news stories surrounding terrorism, shootings, and the murdering of innocent lives, it bears the question, is the media desensitizing us to violence? Of course, all of these types of violent stories need to be reported and that is important but is all the violent media being reported actually bad for people psychologically? Is the constant creation of crime shows, video games, and graphic images overly used in the media and in turn making us more violent? Recent studies show that although these things don’t contribute to violence, there is a not direct correlation between violence and the media to date. However, there is a correlation between violence in the media and fear known as the “Mean World Syndrome”. There is also correlation between violence and desensitization. 

When we think about the terrorist attacks on 9/11, we must think about the way the media handled these attacks and how information was reported across the networks. At a very vulnerable time for American’s, the government played on this fear with the decision to go to war. It gave the government the perfect opportunity to get the public interest high for war. The Bush administrations catch phrase at the time was “the only thing to fear is not enough fear.” Footage played over networks of the terrorist attacks for months after it happened reminding America why the war was necessary. It was not the war on Iraq, it was the war on terror.

Manipulation of Fear and the media

In the coverage of the war, it was clear that the media had a hidden agenda as to their views of the whole situation. In a Democracy now video with Amy Goodman, she talks about how FAIR did a study prior to the invasion in Iraq in the context of people being more opposed to the invasion with news stations including, CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS. There were 393 interviews on war; 3 were anti-war voices. The media uses it’s power to manipulate and try to form the views of the American people. Is this ethical? I believe it is wrong to try to persuade viewers for the governments own interest. The public should be informed of the truth and then make opinions based off of that. No matter what way you spin the war, people will always react strongly to the concept of terrorism. When news networks did show footage of the war and innocent civilians of middle eastern countries dying at the hands of American, media outlets are quick to remind viewers of the actions on 9/11 and the “war on terror” According to the text Media in Society, Sinclair Broadcast Group banned their 62 TV Stations in 39 markets at the time from airing a special tribute to more then 700 U.S. soldiers that died in Iraq. They thought it would give an “anti-war” vibe across their platforms and didn’t want to come out against the war.

Media is an extremely powerful outlet. Used in the right way can do huge good for people across the world. However when the government uses it for the advantage of war and propaganda, that’s when it becomes a problem.


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  1. Your post brings me back to about a month ago when we watched the “News Wars” documentary in which the power of the media and manipulation by the government was thoroughly discussed. We looked in depth at the way in which the Bush administration employed the media for its own agenda; the Iraq war. Some believe that if the media had not covered the “existence” of WMDs in Iraq that the country would not have been so willing to let its soldiers go to war. In actuality, after months of U.S. troops in Iraq, the only surprise was the absence of uranium.

    This is a perfect example of the U.S. government, particularly the Bush administration inflicting fear on its people in hopes to strengthen its political agenda. If the people were not afraid of the possibility of violence synonymous with WMDs then it is arguable whether or not we ever would have entered a war with Iraq. As Julia suggests above, manipulating viewers is simply unethical, especially when the result is immense casualties among U.S. soldiers.

  2. mollygates permalink

    Thank you for this post Julia. Your opening question “Is the media desensitizing us to violence?” really got me thinking. While I can’t possibly have the answer to such a complex question, I do think that some people manipulate the detailed violence shown on the news to their own gain.

    The first thing for me that immediately came to mind when I read your question was the recent shooting of TV reporter, Alison Parker, and camera man, Adam Ward. Vestor Flanagan, the gunman, purposely attacked them when on camera. It was a shocking moment for the world.

    When various news stations began tweeting out the information on the shooting, they included the video. Because Twitter automatically plays video content, without the user having to press play, many people were exposed to the video without warning.

    Ethically, when is showing violence too much? I believe repeatedly showing the shooting of these two people was appealing more to the shock value of the moment than to actually giving the audience important information.

    While we can’t know if showing this type of violence “desensitizes” us, I believe it does cause harm to viewers who don’t wish to see such graphic violence and it also causes harm for the victims families. The death of their loved ones should not be continually broadcast to the world for them to re-live. Ultimately, it goes against the SPJ’s ethical rule to minimize harm.

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