The Rev. Billy Graham has passed away at 99. He is hailed as the most noted American evangelist of the 20th century. He is also rightfully lauded as a media pioneer, a brilliant communicator who was versed in print, broadcast, digital and live event. Watch the short video below to appreciate how the man brought the Gospel to the world.
CNN is currently airing ”The Radical Story of Patty Hearst,” a multi-part documentary on the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of media baron William Randolph Hearst. The Hearst saga foreshadowed spectacles such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial by two decades, as the heiress declared her allegiance to the terrorist group that had abducted her, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Bank robberies, shootouts, bombings and a fugitive run ensued before Ms. Hearst’s recapture in 1975. She was sent to prison, receiving a commutation from President Jimmy Carter and eventual pardon from President Bill Clinton.
The pinnacle of media coverage regarding Patty Hearst was the live broadcast of the Los Angeles Police Department’s shootout with the majority of the SLA in South Central LA (Hearst was not at the hideout). The real-time relay of the military-level battle on American streets was a television and technology breakthrough thanks to the minicam, a (relatively) portable video system comprising a camera and backpack. Washington Post writer Paul Farhi provides an illuminating history of the minicam including its pioneering use by KNXT (now KCBS), the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles that landed the video scoop.
As Farhi points out, live TV feeds were commonplace in 1974 but required pre-positioning bulky traditional video cameras. In 1955, Walt Disney unveiled Disneyland with a live broadcast, stationing nearly 30 big cameras around the park. In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald died on the air as news crews were in place to cover his transfer to county jail. Political events and space launches were routinely seen in real time but not without scrupulous planning and copious equipment. The minicam injected breaking news into the telecast—spontaneous scenes not captured on film hours earlier, not described in “a thousand words” by radio remote, not filtered by an in-studio anchor.
I was 12 years old when I watched LAPD’s SWOT battle the SLA. A news buff, I had followed the Hearst kidnapping. I felt fear and fascination knowing the story had come to “our town” although I was approximately 20 miles away from the firefight, safe at my family home in the Hollywood Hills. That night as I slept, the .22 rifle I had gotten for my birthday lay under the bed (five-round magazine loaded, chamber empty, safety on). The “era of televised terror” was underway, as commentator Jeffrey Toobin would write decades later.
Today, everyone with a smartphone is a one-person minicam crew. As I’ve blogged previously, the man/woman on the street creates the message. Toobin’s televised terror is constant, from tours of Aleppo’s ruins, to images inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during Nikolas Cruz’ rampage, to bullies immortalizing a beatdown on Facebook Live. We never have to miss a minute.
Nikolas Cruz, by his own confession, attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a semi-automatic rifle in Parkland, FL, fatally shooting 17 people and wounding 14 others. Cruz had been reported as a potential danger months earlier to the FBI, but the bureau took no concrete action. Many close to Cruz knew there was something wrong and law enforcement was aware of him. Still, this was insufficient to stop another mass killing.
See below a post I wrote during my graduate studies addressing the 2011 Tucson mass shooting. In it, I reference Anatomy of a Massacre, a book I wrote on the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria, America’s worst such attack until the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech.
“Mass Killers and Communication”
Posted January 13, 2011
Mass killers are communicators. They communicate their anger, their disconnection from reality, their progress toward violence. They communicate vividly and frequently. They find audiences who receive and understand their messages. And despite their prodigious output of warning signs and pronouncements, mass killers go unchecked. This is the ultimate lesson of the attack in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
In 1993, I wrote Anatomy of a Massacre, a true-crime book about what was then the worst mass shooting in American history: George Hennard’s attack on Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, TX, October 16, 1991, that left 23 dead. Hennard was a communicator, as was Jared Loughner, perpetrator of the Tucson mass shooting. Hennard exhibited bizarre, threatening behavior in the lead-up to his crimes. He stalked a family–Jane Bugg and her daughters, Jill and Jana–who lived down the street from his parent’s home where he was living alone. Jane’s complaints to local police brought no official action.
Hennard made his own complaints to law enforcement. He reported to the FBI that “a secret group of white women” had formed a nationwide conspiracy against him. He made a pilgrimage to the site of the San Ysidro McDonald’s where James Huberty set the previous mass shooting victim record at 21. He voiced his hatreds, paranoia and speculation about killing people to those around him. His physician father openly deemed him mentally ill.
Still, nothing happened to stop Hennard. He drove his pickup truck through Luby’s front window at lunch hour, exited the vehicle, and began firing on the building’s occupants with two 9mm pistols. Five minutes later, several police officers engaged Hennard in a gun battle. Twelve minutes later, he was dead in the restaurant’s back hallway. Twenty-three innocent people had been fatally shot with approximately 40 wounded.
Hennard communicated the outcome of Oct. 16, 1991, to anyone who would pay attention. Huberty communicated his instability and intent as well. So did Charles Whitman, the sniper atop the University of Texas tower, who killed 16 people in 1966. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the mass killers at Columbine High School, documented their threats and early dangerous acts online. Seung Hui Cho, who exceeded Hennard’s death toll by killing 32 at Virginia Tech, was a known menace to family, students, teachers and authorities. Nidal Hasan, murderer of 13 at Fort Hood not far from the location of Hennard’s attack, recurrently expressed extremist views and sent intercepted e-mails to terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.
And now we hear the all-too-familiar story of Jared Loughner, his ominous behavior, his outbursts, his YouTube video speaking of genocide. In Comm 4144 at University of Denver, we are currently studying communication models. Emulating flow charts, they track the path and effect of communications. Repeatedly, the communication model for mass killers is: Source–>Message–>Receiver–>Tragedy
It’s time for a new model.