U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Proposed bill would direct media coverage of mass shootings

Incident Details

J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via REUTERS

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in March 2022. Lee and Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee jointly proposed a bill in July 2023 that proposed guidelines for how journalists should cover mass shootings.

— J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via REUTERS
July 18, 2023

Two Republican lawmakers jointly introduced a resolution on July 18, 2023, proposing guidelines for how the media should report on mass shootings.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee proposed a concurrent resolution asserting that “irresponsible and sensationalistic reporting practices” are one of the key factors behind the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States. They also alleged that the press routinely covers the shooter more than the victims, satisfying the attacker’s desire for “notoriety and infamy.”

The two called on the media to “voluntarily and responsibly” change its approach by, for instance, not naming alleged perpetrators or promoting the shooter’s ideology or advocacy for any particular public policy change. Instead, they said the media should focus coverage on memorializing victims and on the “heroism” of any law enforcement, first responders or bystanders.

Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University and former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY, told The Tennessean that any attempt by the government to stipulate how the media should operate raises immediate First Amendment concerns.

Paulson also challenged the lawmakers’ assertion that the press voraciously covers every mass shooting, saying that while many newsrooms have independently reduced coverage to avoid inspiring copycats, the sheer number of incidents has made the coverage decision for them.

“Mass murders now happen so often that they no longer get the same level of attention from the news media,” he said. “I believe the public sometimes confuses the coverage of unrelenting mass murders with excessive coverage of a single event.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].