This past weekend, social media sites were flooded with a message from Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman that lambasted the media for sensationalistic coverage of Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The 274-word critique was admittedly well-written and called out media outlets for placing a celebrity-like spotlight on the killer who carried out the unthinkable act. "Turn off the news," was the main takeaway from the post, which quickly went viral and gained millions of likes on Facebook. There was just one problem: Morgan Freeman didn't write it. Freeman's publicist Stan Rosenfield told TheWrap that the actor had nothing to do with the message on the Sandy Hook shooting, deeming the entire phenomenon a bizarre hoax.
As of now, Freeman's representatives are still trying to uncover who was behind the falsely-attributed message. Ultimately it's yet another example of how a single post can spread like wildfire across social media, granting little time for fact checking. Still, when you imagine Freeman's calming voice reading the below text, it's almost believable.
You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why.
It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.