Following the horrific events that took place in Las Vegas, the headlines of the news caught my attention:
“Vegas attack is the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history”
“Police seek clues to Las Vegas mass shooting, bloodiest in modern US history” – CNBC
“The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history” – CNN
Do you notice a theme in the wording of these headlines? The first thing that I observed when seeing these news articles pop up was the amount of “est” adjectives being used to describe the shooting. While I know that these comparisons are typically made to draw in public attention, I found their use in this context incredibly disturbing.
Let me preface: I am by no means a psychologist, but I have always been intrigued by criminal psychology. The use of superlative adjectives, such as “worst”, “bloodiest”, and “deadliest” as mentioned in the headlines above perpetuates a hierarchy of crimes, fueling the gears already turning in criminal minds. The usage of these “est” adjectives sets a baseline for others to compete with, which can quickly add up to result in disastrous events.
From a public relations perspective, authorities in media must be more careful in word choice when discussing sensitive matters. Reporting and speaking on disasters is necessary to keep the public informed, but can be detrimental to the goal of the communication if it is not worded correctly.
Friends in media, there are so many more ways to communicate your message to the masses than to give a “You’re the Best!” ribbon to heinous criminals via headlines, regardless of the caliber of the crime. The statistics and content of the message should give the information necessary to enable readers to decide the scope of the crime for themselves, without a need for a journalist to lay it out for them in a headline.
In short, words are power. The recipients of this power will process and utilize it in whatever way they deem necessary. The media cannot let their words encourage those wishing to harm society. Rather than calling to action the competitive nature of criminals, reporters must condemn the act by reporting the facts and focusing on the hope in humanity that come from the event.