December 21 2012

Newtown and Culture

Charlotte Hays

We haven’t written much on Inkwell about “the issues” raised by Newtown massacre of innocents.

I think my colleagues share my disgust at the wall-to-wall coverage and the use to which people with pet causes have put Newtown.   

Krista Kafer did post a fine piece on Inkwell entitled “Peace on Earth” that dealt with sorrow at Christmas. But I think it is beginning to feel like it’s time to engage the story on issues. Let’s start with this on “The Roots of Mass Murder” from Charles Krauthammer this morning:

Monsters shall always be with us, but in earlier days they did not roam free. As a psychiatrist in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people — often right out of the emergency room — as a danger to themselves or to others. I never did so lightly, but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today.

Why do you think we have so many homeless? Destitution? Poverty has declined since the 1950s. The majority of those sleeping on grates are mentally ill. In the name of civil liberties, we let them die with their rights on.

Krauthammer cites a 2011 study by the University of California at Berkeley that found that states with strong civil commitment laws have a one-third lower homicide rate.

Krauthammer also writes about the culture. On this our president has not been as outspoken as on the matter of guns:

If we’re serious about curtailing future Columbines and Newtowns, everything — guns, commitment, culture — must be on the table.

It’s not hard for President Obama to call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU? And will he call out his Hollywood friends?

Culture emanates from something deep inside a civilization. I am not convinced it can be “on the table” in the same way guns or deinstitutionalism for the criminally insane can. We saw some of what is wrong in our culture in the ghoulish appetite for coverage of this very sad story. Honestly, can’t the care dogs visit these children without getting on TV?

I am a First Amendment fanatic. But I would agree with Commentary’s Bethany Mandel that this was “not the First Amendment’s finest hour.” Mandel writes:

Since the massacre of 20 children and six adults, the coverage on major news outlets has been unrelenting. Six-year-old witnesses were interviewed, grieving family members have been harassed by the press online, outside their homes and even at religious services. The manner in which the shootings have been covered (24/7, wall-to-wall and sensationalist are adjectives that spring to mind) has been criticized by experts concerned about copycats. 

If we have seen an upswing in these mass killings, it may be because the next killer glimpses his chance of fame in the last killing.

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