Mental Illness, the Media, and the Moral Politics of Mass Violence: The Role of Race in Mass Shootings Coverage [2018]

We examine how news media portrays the causes of mass shootings for shooters of different races. Specifically, we explore whether White men are disproportionately framed as mentally ill, and what narratives media tend to invoke when covering mass shootings through the lens of mental illness as opposed to other explanatory frames.

The study examines a unique data set of 433 news documents covering 219 mass shootings between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2015. It analyzes the data using a mixed methods approach, combining logistic regression with content analysis.

Quantitative findings show that Whites and Latinos are more likely to have their crime attributed to mental illness than Blacks. Qualitative findings show that rhetoric within these discussions frame White men as sympathetic characters, while Black and Latino men are treated as perpetually violent threats to the public.

Results suggest that there is racial variability in how the media assign blame to mass shooters. While Black men and Latinos are cast as violently inclined, White men are treated as victims or sympathetic characters. Results also indicate that there are noteworthy differences in how blame is assigned to Black men and Latinos.

Scott W. Duxbury, Laura C. Frizzell, Sadé L. Lindsay

Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol 55, Issue 6, 2018