Can media coverage keep you alive in a mass attack?
What some may see as sensationalized, wall-to-wall coverage of the deadliest shooting in American history is the very kind of coverage that could save your life in the future. That’s according to security experts.
With cable and network TV dropping or preempting regularly scheduled Sunday morning programming to bring in their heavy hitting anchors and send correspondents scrambling to get on scene in Orlando, the live broadcasts can be as chaotic as the crime scene itself. Factor in social media that’s rife with reactionary responses yet includes pleas from a mother looking for her son and a trail of eerie texts from a trapped victim to an outpouring of condolences from as far as Israel. Add a heavy dose of speculation that creeps its way into just about every newscast and it can be a recipe for misinformation adding to the mass confusion.
In the early stages of coverage, CNN highlighted the shooting as the “deadliest terror attack since 9-11,” FOX declared it will only mention the suspect’s name “this one time” and MSNBC turned to a reactionary, premature gun debate. Meanwhile, practically every outlet worked feverishly to figure out how to be first to put a name on another mass casualty event. The reason there’s always a push to classify “hate crimes” and “terrorism” in these instances is because it determines how the investigation is handled from an intelligence and law enforcement standpoint as well as how it’s seen by potential domestic perpetrators and international adversaries. Of course, there is a time and place to talk about keeping America and Americans safe but what’s strikingly bubbling to the surface is how victims of tragedy can save themselves – with new and traditional media acting as facilitator.
Author and former police officer John Matthews, who penned “Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival,” makes the case for media as an essential tool. As he responded to the shooting on CNN, Matthews talked about how important it is for Pulse nightclub hostages to retell their escape stories to news outlets. He called it “historically beneficial” to show others “how to survive this event.” As a CNN reporter described one woman “covering herself with dead bodies to stay alive” and recounted many “chilling stories from inside the club,” including club goers fleeing through ventilation ducts, experts like Matthews pointed to this and other tactics like texting to help first responders locate victims or direct people to safety as modern day tools for survival.
Swift statements from every walk of life across all media platforms are generally meant to express compassion and can serve as powerful statements to potentially deter or thwart would-be copycats. From President Obama, admitting no one knows the “precise motivation of the killer” but that he “was a person filled with hatred,” to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio arriving on scene to tell CNN “this is the new face of terrorism,” and Florida Governor Rick Scott purposefully sending a message to those who might think of a repeat by declaring “our justice is swift here.”
It’s clear even the powerful rely on the power of media to address the masses. In doing so they too inevitably become part of history, a matter of record and presumably provide insight into some best practices that might help future victims, get out alive.