Media Violence: A Target in Wake of Jonesboro Critics Decry Fare on Big and Small Screens, Suggesting an Indirect Role in Tragic Shooting

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As the shock of the tragic shootings in Arkansas this week reverberates across America, the media have also become something of a target.

The daily doses of murder and mayhem heaped up on television and in movies are, at least for now, taking the brunt of the blame for the decision by two youngsters to put on fatigues, pick up a couple of guns, and fire at will at their classmates.

"It should shock us and maybe wake us up to recognize ... it's a cultural disease that we've got to address," said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in the wake of the shootings that killed four children and one teacher. Most media critics contend there's no direct link between fictional, on-screen violence and the horror in Jonesboro, Ark., at least not yet. But they are willing to lay part of the blame on the mass media for helping to nurture a culture in which violence is more tolerated than in the past. For some educators, a bigger problem in the media is a lack of positive alternatives to physical aggression as ways to resolve conflicts. Because of that awareness, educators are helping a new generation of youngsters look at the media with a critical eye. "It's part of the background, it's part of the culture in which we live that glamorizes the violence and makes it entertaining," says David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis. Debate about the media's influence on viewers' violent and aggressive tendencies has raged since the 1950s. Of more than 3,500 studies, the vast majority have found some link between the amount of violence watched on television and increases in anti-social behavior. "We know that media violence is most likely to provoke real-life violence when it's rewarded, seems realistic, and is directed against victims that seem appropriate," says Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonprofit media think tank in Washington. But the media critics' critics argue that such conclusions are based on research that is tenuous, at best. They ask questions such as: Does watching violent shows tend to make children more aggressive, or do aggressive children tend to watch more violent programs? "I'm skeptical of all of the evidence," says Jonathan Freedman, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. "Particularly in light of the fact that violent crime is down in the last five years. …