Media Violence Plays Part in Shootings: Ex-Army Ranger Argues TV, Films Affect Children

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Violent television programs, movies and video games are a major cause of criminal violence by young people, according to an expert in the psychology of killing.

"In the video games, in the movies, on the television, the one behavior that is consistently depicted in glamorous terms and consistently rewarded is killing," says retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and Army Ranger.

The impact of media violence, he says, was a significant factor in the series of armed rampages during the past school year by students at public schools in Pearl, Miss.; West Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Springfield, Ore., that killed a total of 12 persons and wounded 45.

"What all of [the killers] have in common to a certain degree was this tremendous fascination with media violence," he says. "They all suffered an inferiority complex and were enthralled by violent images from television and film."

Now an instructor at Arkansas State University, Col. Grossman arrived on the scene of the Jonesboro, Ark., massacre within an hour of the March 23 shootings in which Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, killed five persons and wounded 10 others outside Westside Middle School.

He applied his background in psychology and trauma as a instructor for mental health counselors responding to the shootings. He also briefed teachers at the school. The Jonesboro killers were in many ways typical of the phenomenon of media-induced violence, he says.

The combination of a sense of inferiority and exposure to media violence can provoke violence by young boys who are "wannabes," Col. Grossman says.

"They want to be tough, they want to impress people, they want to make a bold statement and they don't know how," he says. "And then the media tells them how. And the message they get from the media is that killing is the route to greatness. Killing is the route to fame."

Col. Grossman says the types of role models in violent TV shows and movies can generate specific types of crime. He cites the 1995 movie "The Basketball Diaries" as shaping last year's spree of school shootings committed by white, teen-age boys.

"When children look for a role model they look for a glamorous role model similar to themselves - that similarity is terribly important," he says. "In `The Basketball Diaries,' Leonardo DiCaprio of `Titanic' fame, probably the most glamorous actor alive in the eyes of young, white children, went into a schoolroom and shot numerous children and teachers. In doing so, he became a role model that other white males desired to emulate."

But Richard Taylor, spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said it is wrong to suggest such a movie directly causes violence.

"One young man, clearly disturbed, who sees this film and lashes out - there's clearly more at work there than a single film," Mr. Taylor said. "Hundreds of thousands of people saw that film and go about their lives as good citizens."

Exposing children to media violence "is a form of child abuse," Col. Grossman said. "It is identical to what the military does in basic training. But instead of doing it with a drill sergeant on an 18-year-old volunteer, we're doing it to 3-year-olds over the public airwaves, in order for the networks to increase their ratings."

The parallels between media violence and military training became clear to him while working on his 1996 book, "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."

He explains that Army officials discovered that only 15 percent to 20 percent of U. …