The horrific carnage that fell upon the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, has made the news all around the world. The gruesome details have been repeated ad nauseum in news reports in print, over the air and on the internet. But one place that won't happen is in the main newspaper that serves that strict religious community.
The Los Angeles Times reports: "Although the Oct. 16 paper will reflect the loss of life in Nickel Mines, where a man burst into a one-room schoolhouse on Monday and shot 10 Amish girls, killing five, Lapp (the editor of the Amish paper) hopes not to devote too many column inches to the incident. Long-standing policy at Die Botschaft prohibits the publication of stories about murder, as well as stories about war, love or religion."
When I was trained as a journalist, on of the ways in which I was taught to evaluate the newsworthiness of an event was by the level of conflict or controversy it manifest. What happened in Lancaster county certainly qualifies. And what is interesting is that this same element was also an essential ingredient in my scriptwriting class. I was told that conflict was an important tool that help a story's entertainment value. There in lies the rub. Is news meant to be for our entertainment or information?
Can we really make this distinction? In many ways, since the newsmedia is a business, it will always seek to give the public what it wants. It has to if it hopes to attract the eyeballs which sponsors demand and pay for. It has to cater to the same instinct which manifests itself in our tendency to slow down as we pass a car wreck to see if we can catch a glance of a mangled body, or a pool of blood. It horrifies us, but we can't look away.
The only problem though is how much do the details of such incidents actually inspire others to imitate the example. Malcom Gladwell in his hugely popular tome, The Tipping Point, highlighted the influence the few can have. He cited the example of how reports of a suicide had often resulted in a sudden uptick of imitators. The "permission" was given and others who harbored similar inclinations somehow felt that the door had been opened for them to do likewise.
The Amish schoolhouse incident is the 3rd school shooting that has occurred in the space of a week here in the US. Everyone of them highly publicized events. Is there a connection? Schools around the country worry about it. Some may consider the Amish paper's decision to not report the tragedy quaint and out-moded. But do they have a point?
The sad truth of the matter is that people don't need "permission" to act in atrocious and despicable ways. As saddened and appalled as I was by the incident, I only saw it as another example of how the whole issue of original sin continues to plague the human condition. We are not "evolving." Civilization is not progressing. The more we know, the more we discover that the sin in our hearts continues to rule and reign. No amount of "civilization" can eradicate it!
I don't condone the way in which the news outlets have continued to feed the public hunger for all the gory details. Yet I know that even if they didn't, the innate depravity that every human being carries withinin will come out, and will provide yet another story to be covered.