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Colorado shooting: How Americans deal with media-driven events

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We have shifted from a cool medium that provides some distance to the “hottest possible,” says Bernard Luskin, president-elect of the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association in Washington. “This means we are right in the midst of events now,” he says.

But as technology progresses, he says he sees little progress in the ability to respond and handle the deeper implications of violence. 

“The information is geared towards the needs of the people delivering the information rather than the deep, emotional needs for empathy and sympathy that the victims of real violence require,” he says.

At the same time, there has been marginal progress in certain areas, points out Dr. Karim.

Compare the coverage of the victims in the Colorado and Arizona shootings to the focus of the coverage in the Penn State scandal. 

In the case of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was found to have ignored warnings about child sexual abuse, he says, “we are very uncomfortable with the details of those victims' lives. It’s one of the last taboos with a significant stigma attached to it, and we don’t want to know the details of its impact or what actually happened.” 

As a result, he points out how much the coverage was geared toward the penalties imposed on the university and the impact they will have on the school and its football team. Innocent bystanders, such as Penn State students, in the scandal may suffer, he notes, “but they are not the real victims in that case.”

But the sort of psychological insight that can be provided in a swiftly moving media environment is limited, says Mindy Utay, a former lawyer who is now a psychotherapist and blogger for the Huffington Post.

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