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Washington D.C. Area Sniper Shootings (2002)

Washington D. C. Area Sniper Shootings have become one of the most tragic events in the criminal history of modern America. The case has generated a whole range of reactions and responses in media. Generally, whether newspapers and internet sources supported or criticized police for their activity (or inactivity) depended on the whole set of political and historical factors; and while all of them covered one and the same event, each information source sought to create a different picture of the crime, and to shed the light onto the facts and factors that would interest different groups of readers.

Washington D. C. Area Sniper Shootings (2002) have become the cause of the increasing panic among Washington residents, and media sources did not try to conceal the fact that law enforcement officials were unable to immediately react to the new criminal challenge. However, while Voice of America gave a brief account of a shooting near Washington D. C. , CNN was more than concerned about shooting a 13-year-old boy “outside a middle school here in Prince George’s County” (CNN, 2002 http://www.

cbc. ca/world/story/2002/10/12/serial_sniper021012. html). The fact that school attendance fell sharply and the schools canceled the major portion of their outdoor activities had to create a vision of persistent danger and the atmosphere of helplessness which characterized Washington Area the day after the shooting took place. It should be noted, that CNN was more than optimistic stating that more than 1,400 leads had been developed to trace and monitor the sniper (CNN, 2002 http://www.

cbc. ca/world/story/2002/10/12/serial_sniper021012. html); in this context, Voice of America (2002) suggested that police had come up with only a few leads, but the fact of law enforcement professionals being frustrated and parents being concerned about their children’s safety was the subject of all media accounts (http://www. voanews. com/english/archive/2002-10/a-2002-10-20-17-Police. cfm).

Whether sniper shootings were the result of the Washington’s police inactivity and inattentiveness to the difficult criminal situation in the area was not clear, and while American media sources were mostly concentrated on the case itself, international media accounts went further to establish the link between the Sniper attacks (2002) and similar tragic accidents in the history of the U. S.

The Independent referred to the case of Theodore Kaczynski, “the Unabomber” who persuaded the Washington Post to publish his manifesto and was later used as a psychological clue to the serial killer in 1996 (Cornwell, 2002 http://www. independent. co. uk/news/world/americas/shooting-at-petrol-station-takes-sniper-toll-to-seven-613723. html). Here, the historical and political opposition between the American and British powers found its reflection in media; where Britain tried to prove its legal and criminal safety, the case of Washington Sniper has immediately become the means of depicting the U.

S. as the country of unresolved crimes. Canadian sources, on the contrary, did not create the panic and seemed the most objective in their coverage. As American and British news limited the scope of their journalistic activity to investigating the details of the case itself, Canadian CBC was more than attentive to its readers, stating that “Friday’s shooting was on Interstate 95, a popular route for Canadian vacationers heading south to Florida and the Carolinas.

The Canadian Automobile Association has urged Canadian drivers, for safety’s sake, to stay away from the area” (CBC, 2002 http://www. cbc. ca/world/story/2002/10/12/serial_sniper021012. html). In the context of media coverage, we cannot neglect the fact that the relationship between crime, justice, and media is a kind of a two-way communication, where crime becomes the source of information for media professionals, while media coverage may readily turn into the tool of managing the criminal situation.

In case of Washington D. C. Area Sniper Shootings (2002), professional journalists were given a chance to elaborate on the situation and to discuss its separate elements and details in ways that could create a clearer picture of the crime. Moreover, the news about an outstanding reward of $300,000 could stimulate police professionals and witnesses to work more actively, trying to resolve the case (Cornwell, 2002 http://www. independent. co. uk/news/world/americas/shooting-at-petrol-station-takes-sniper-toll-to-seven-613723.

html). Simultaneously, media professionals are well-known for their ability to generate panic and create dangerous moods, and here, not the search for justice, but the search for sensations could potentially distort the real picture of the crime. For example, CNN was overtly concentrated on the case of a 13-year-old boy shot to death not far from his school, neglecting the role which other deaths could play in the process of investigation (CNN, 2002, http://archives. cnn.

com/2002/US/South/10/08/shootings. maryland/index. html). As a result, thousands of parents could become the victims of those dangerously misrepresented moods. Moreover, media sources can work to establish closer cooperation with police officials, but none of them tried to support or encourage law enforcement professionals in their striving to resolve the case; thus, criticism and the vision of the police’s inability to crack the case is traced as the major subject line across all media accounts.

Obviously, none of the four media accounts could become the cure of the discussed crime; nor could they become its cause. With critical moods at hand, and with the desire to use Sniper Attacks as the means of judging the quality of police professionals’ work, newspapers and internet sources failed to go beyond the limits of traditional media coverage.

The information about a white van sought by police and an outstanding reward could stimulate the audience to think better of what they could do to help law enforcement officials resolve the situation. Unfortunately, the journalists’ desire to help the situation was buried under the whole set of cynical moods, turning media accounts into just another source of unnecessary criticism – the criticism, which is inappropriate in situations, where the whole districts are pressured by numerous criminal threats.

In any crime and criminal situation, media coverage tends to produce long-term effects on the public perception of the crime itself, and the ways police officials work to resolve the situation. In terms of Washington D. C. Sniper Attacks (2002), the media have become the source of extremely negative and almost panic moods, with the police’s inertness and professional incapability in its center. It is not the first time America appears in the midst of the shooting dangers, where dozens of innocent people are being killed without a due reason.

The feeling of insecurity and the feeling of injustice are the two major consequences of this media representation, and whether the readers are able to minimize the negative feelings towards law enforcement will not only depend on the quality of police officials’ work, but on the angle which media sources choose to reflect these or other crimes. Conclusion In any criminal situation, the media readily become the tool of managing public perceptions, emotions, and attitudes towards crime as such, and law enforcement officers in particular.

Depending on the angle which journalists choose to shed the light onto the most controversial aspects of crime, media coverage can either become a cause or the cure of the particular crime; but as long as media sources seek to criticize the quality of law enforcement operations, such media accounts cannot produce any positive effect beyond generating panic and helplessness among their readers.


CBC. (2002). Sniper kills 8th victim, ballistics link found. CBC News. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from http://www. cbc. ca/world/story/2002/10/12/serial_sniper021012. html CNN. (2002).Sniper keeps D. C. area on alert. CNN. com. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from http://archives. cnn. com/2002/US/South/10/08/shootings. maryland/index. html Cornwell, R. (2002). Shooting at petrol station takes sniper toll to seven. The Independent. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from http://www. independent. co. uk/news/world/americas/shooting-at-petrol-station-takes-sniper-toll-to-seven-613723. html Voice of America. (2002). Police investigate latest Washington-Area sniper shooting. Voice of America. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from http://www. voanews. com/english/archive/2002-10/a-2002-10-20-17-Police. cfm

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