Harmful media coverage of the Idaho killings

Despite so many consequential events unfolding in the United States right now, one story continues to dominate headlines on a daily basis. For two months, the nation has been transfixed by a quadruple stabbing in Idaho. Especially since a suspect’s arrest at the end of December, it is almost impossible to access any media without hearing new details of sometimes dubious relevance regarding the murders.

News stories linked on the default Microsoft homepage news feed have hinted at clues to the suspect’s character, conversations the suspect had with multiple people over the past few years, the suspect’s traffic stops across the country, possible motives for the murders, theories from various experts, reconstructions of the crime scene, possible scenarios for the sequence of events on the night in question, analysis of every known clue, theories regarding survivors of the killing spree, information about the suspect’s family, statements from the victims’ families, statements from friends of the suspect and victims, statements from students at both universities linked to the crime, film of unrelated police visits to the premises, etc.

The New York Times has published an analysis of online postings and e-mails from the suspect going back ten years.  The media has not yet interviewed everyone that ever knew the suspect and victims, but such failure is not for lack of trying.  They may yet accomplish this goal.

We have learned more about DNA evidence, cell tower pinging and criminology than we learned even from the O.J. trial almost 30 years ago. We have learned what “visual snow” means.  We have learned of the suspect’s mistakes – thus providing a useful study guide for future murderers.

We have seen photos of the house where the murders took place, photos of the house where the suspect was arrested, endless photos of the suspect and victims, photos of those that met and knew the suspect and victims. We have seen photos of the arresting officers, some of whom have become social media celebrities in the wake of the arrests.

Theories of the “experts” would fill volumes by themselves. They theorize about the real target, the motive, the killer’s mistakes, the meaning of his prior communications, the implications of his dating history, the implications of his prior education, the implications of statements he has made about the crime to police, neighbors, fellow students.

This crime, prosecution and possible trial have dominated the media and created new celebrities. The frenzy has distracted the public from issues affecting national policy in a way that has not been seen since the O.J. case in the 1990’s.  This has been accomplished somehow without the involvement of a celebrity, politician or other traditional publicity magnet. This media frenzy is more surprising given a comparison with other recent crimes and crime waves. 

When placed in context, the Idaho crime spree would be less deadly than an average weekend in Chicago.  Despite a decline in 2022, Chicago’s homicide rate in 2022 was the fourth highest in over twenty years. December 2022 alone was the “deadliest such month since 2016.” 

I do not remember the name of any of the Chicago victims, even though many of those names were initially reported once.  Once.  I cannot recall the motives of any recent Chicago shooters, despite cursory treatment by the national media. I have never heard of an interview with friends or neighbors of the Chicago killers. Statements from victims’ families in Chicago do not make the Microsoft news feed on my computer – at least not with the regularity we have seen from Idaho.

I do not know what mistakes the Chicago killers made that led to their arrests. I do not know what the Chicago killers studied in school. I know nothing of their social media posts. I do not recall seeing articles depicting Chicago crime scenes and the sequence of events during those crimes. I am not aware of any experts that theorize to the media about any Chicago killer’s history, background, motives or psychology.  I cannot avoid seeing all of these things (and more) about the Idaho crime.  To learn these items about any of the many Chicago killings would take effort, research and time.  In most cases, such research would be fruitless.

The Chicago killers of the past twenty years might indeed possess friends, social media posts, motives, psychological issues, family or other history worth noting.  The victims certainly have stories worth telling. But those stories have never crossed my Microsoft feed. Their stories might even be more interesting than those of the Idaho victims. But the Chicago victims are destined to disappear down the memory hole as if they never existed.

The Chicago killing sprees are forgotten around the country by the following weekend’s spree. The Idaho killings will never be forgotten – especially by the next serial killer.

One theory about mass killers is that they thrive on attention. They bask in the glow of the discussion of their crimes. Like the Idaho suspect, notorious killers have attempted to contact or research prior killers. Those killers that remain free even increase their crime sprees when attention is diverted to new criminals.

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab

If the prior research is any indication, it is quite likely that a future mass killer is paying closer attention to the Idaho case than the rest of us.  With each new revelation or speculation, the future killer feels not sympathy or curiosity but envy.  He envies the attention – however negative – that the Idaho suspect commands. With every new story we read about the Idaho murders, we make the next mass murder slightly more likely.

The MSM’s preference for stories involving attractive blonde victims is well known. The photographs of the victims will be the enduring image of this episode. That the female victims  generate far more publicity than the male victim is historically consistent. This trend would imply that the media is motivated by numbers and profit. But their motivation is not so pure.  Proper focus on Chicago murders would highlight the failures of blue state and blue city governance.  The MSM will never investigate or acknowledge such issues. It will also forsake its usual race-baiting when such focus would expose and jeopardize the government policies and politicians that MSM enables. Stressing a blonde murder case appeals to the “reality television” audience and allows such audience to ignore more voluminous crime trends, governmental failures and the existential crises that threaten the republic.

There is a place for media coverage of the Idaho killings. The study of this crime will benefit law enforcement in years to come. But the fixation we now see goes far beyond those benefits. Whether the media is motivated by something as innocent as profit or something worse, the ultimate choice is up to each of us. We can frustrate this agenda by simply scrolling past the noise each time it appears on our computer or phone.

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