Every time you click your television on to the news it is not uncommon to see the same story interpreted multiple different ways by the different news station. Yet, they all follow the same pattern when it comes to shocking stories of violence such as, school shootings or foreign violence like what happened in Ayotzinapa in Mexico. After acts of violence occur news stations tend to slowly release information promising their viewers for more details later on. Then by the end of the week, we have news stations foaming at the mouth to report the motives for the crime, statements from family members of the victims as well as the perpetrator, and having debated over things like gun control and prevention. This is exactly what happened in the case of the murdered college students of Ayotzinapa, an event that I hold dear and feel that sparked a revolution in Mexico. This reaction by the media is not only caused by foreign violence but also by violence that happens right in our backyard such as school shootings. In an article titled “Tales of Tragedy” by Cynthia Willis- Chun the strategic rhetoric used by the news is discussed in the context of three of the most infamous school shooters: Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Cho-Seung Hui. The were involved in the shooting at Columbine High School and the shooting in Virginia Tech College.
The article “Tales of Tragedy” reports Cynthia Willis-Chun’s findings after she studied one week's worth of news coverage of both the shooting at Columbine High School and the shooting in Virginia Tech College. Her findings talk about the different ways news coverage attempts to use strategic rhetoric in order to distance the public away from the perpetrator. This causes the perpetrator to seem like a deviant monster meanwhile the public is free of any guilt and in a way feels as if they could never be in the perpetrators shoes. Willis- Chun divides the media’s attack on the perpetrators into five different categories: the media’s use of strategic rhetoric and intersectionality, the focus on the setting and class of the crime, the masculinity and sexuality of the perpetrators, the molds the media had created for each perpetrator, and how the advancement of technology influenced each perpetrator. Out of these five categories Willis- Chun focused a lot of her attention on the strategic rhetoric, the media’s attention on the perpetrators masculinity and sexuality and how even through the technological remains of the perpetrators the media was still able to use it to their advantage.
Strategic rhetoric, according to Willis- Chun, is defined as the news’s way of making sure the public understand why the violent event occurred through the use of common values the rest of the public shares. Intersectionality is the concept that allows strategic rhetoric to be performed by news coverage. Intersectionality is the idea that any characteristic that can be used to identify a person can overlap. So if the characteristics used to identify a person, in this case, the perpetrators, are all characteristics deemed less of by society then that person as a whole will be deemed as the odd one out in society. Through the use of strategic rhetoric and intersectionality, as Willis - Cho states, “This rhetorical maneuvering assured readers that they are not like the killers; relieving the public of the responsibility of interrogating intersections of power that may have contributed to their violence”
One major thing that news coverage's of the school shooting attacked was the perpetrators’ masculinity and sexuality. The news reporters often went into detail on how Klebold and Harris were often called gay by their peers in school and they were also seen as not masculine enough. When it came to Cho news coverage's would say the same thing and mention how he would pretend to have a girlfriend. The news coverage tried to fit all three of these men into what the rest of society would consider to be masculine and sexual. This kind of rhetoric caused the public to believe that the only reason they became violent was because they had deviant sexual behavior and were not masculine.
The shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech College occurred in 1999 and 2007, respectively. This was a time when new technology came out and was present in both events. The perpetrators of the Columbine High School shooting had voiced their ideas on social media websites while the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech College shootings had sent videos of himself discussing his ideas to NBC. In both these cases the perpetrators tried to use their own rhetoric to the public, but due to it being in the hands of the media that is not exactly what happened. The media would have voice over's to play while the tape was playing or the social media site was being presented, giving their own take on things. Throughout much of the coverage of these events, the media had the last say.
|A Perfect Example|
The video below is a perfect example on how the media exploits a terrible tragedy.