April 16, 2009

A Spate of Mass Murders Make the News

% of Newshole
J. Wong, NY 14 dead Mar. 30-Apr. 5 4.1
M. McLendon, AL 10 dead Mar. 9-15 2.8
R. Stewart, NC 8 dead Mar. 30-Apr. 5 1.2
E. Lupoe, CA 7 dead Jan. 26-Feb. 1 0.5
D. Crawford, OH 6 dead Mar. 2-8 0.2

4% – Amount of weekly coverage of the April 3 Binghamton killing spree

It is only April and there have already been eight different killing sprees in 2009 that have claimed at least five lives each—leaving an aggregate death toll of 62.  These tragic incidents have made headlines so frequently that Newsweek magazine recently asked three top criminologists whether they were connected to the bleak economy.

Not all these cases have received equal coverage in the media. And if there is any general pattern here, it is that the higher the casualty count, the greater the attention. The most coverage, filling 4.1% of the newshole from March 30-April 5, was devoted to the April 3 attack on a Binghamton, New York immigrant center that left 14 people dead including the perpetrator—a Vietnamese immigrant named Jiverly Wong. The next biggest case, (2.8% of the newshole from March 9-15) involved Michael McLendon, who killed nine people—including his mother and thee extended family members—in rural Alabama on March 10. The No. 3 story occurred on March 29, when Robert Stewart killed seven patients and a nurse in a North Carolina nursing home. That rampage filled 1.2% of the newshole the week of March 30-April 5—the same period when the Binghamton massacre was also making news.

Some of the killings thus far this year have not generated significant media coverage. The case of Ervin Lupoe, who killed six members of his family and himself in California on January 27 after losing his job, filled 0.5% of the newshole from January 26– February. 1. And Devon Crawford’s murder of his wife and four children in Ohio filled 0.2% of the newshole March 2-8.

None of these cases come close to equaling the coverage of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The Virginia Tech rampage that left 33 dead on that campus filled 51% of the newshole the week of  April 15-20, 2007.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ