Monday, April 23, 2007

A New Low

Here's Jack Thompson's money shot.

Thompson uses this phrase or some variation in almost every interview (see a Hardball transcript from last Wednesday here):
Almost every school shooter the FBI and Secret Service has found is immersed in violent entertainment.

Or he'll say this:
The FBI, the Secret Service have found that the one common denominator among school shooters is the immersion in violent entertainment.

Really? Why don't I ever hear that from the FBI?

Maybe because the FBI never said it.

The FBI did publish a monograph titled The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective
(thanks to Brian Crecente of Kotaku for posting the link) in 1999.

How was this report prepared?
The monograph was developed from the concepts and principals developed by the FBI's NCAVC [National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime] in nearly 25 years of experience in threat assessment, ideas generated at a 1999 NCAVC symposium on school shootings, and an in-depth review of eighteen school shooting cases.

In other words, this was a serious effort to discuss a subject of great concern to all of us.

In the document, they list 46 different areas of possible concern, grouped under four categories: personality traits and behavior, family dynamics,school dynamics, and social dynamics.

Take a look at the behavior and personality traits (begining on p.22):
--Leakage ("Leakage occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an imprending violent act")
--Low tolerance for frustration
--Poor coping skills
--Lack of resiliency
--Failed love relationship
--"Injustice collector" ("The student nurses resentment over real or perceived injustices")
--Signs of depression
--Dehumanizes others
--Lack of empathy
--Exaggerated sense of entitlement
--Attitude of superiority
--Exaggerated or pathological need for attention
--Externalizes blame
--Masks low self-esteem
--Anger management problems
--Inappropriate humor
--Seeks to manipulate others
--Lack of Trust
--Closed social group
--Change of behavior
--Rigid and opinionated
--Unusual Interest in sensational violence ("The student demonstrates an unusual interest in school shootings and other heavily publicized acts of violence.")
--Fascination with violence-filled entertainment
("The student demonstrates an unusual fascination with movies, TV shows, computer games, music videos or printed material that focuses intensively on themes of violence, hatret, control, power, death, and destruction. He may incessantly watch one movie or read and reread one book with violent content, perhaps involving school violence. Themes of hatred, violence, weapons, and mass destruction recur in virtually all his activities, hobbies, and pastimes.

The student spends inordinate amounts of time playing video games with violent themes, and seems more interested in the violent images than in the game itself.

On the Internet, the student regularly searches for web sites involving violence, weapons, and other disturbing subjects. There is evidence the student has downloaded and kept material from these sites.")

In a fifty-two page report, those bolded sections, and a later sentence under "Media, Entertainment, and Technology" that says "The student has easy and unmonitored access to movies, television shows, computer games, and Internet sites with themes and images of extreme violence," constitute all the references to gaming.

That's it.

There's no mention of "training" on video games. There's no mention of "murder simulators." It even says there's "more interest in the violent images than in the game itself."

Want to see the other possible areas of concern? Here they are:
--Negative role models
--Behavior appears relevant to carrying out a threat
--Turbulent parent-child relationship
--Acceptance of pathological behavior (by parents)
--Access to weapons
--Lack of intimacy
--Student "rules the roost"
--No limits or monitoring of TV and Internet
("The student may know much more about computers than the parents do, and the computer may be considered off limits to the parents while the student is secretive about his computer use, which may involve violent games or Internet research on violence, weapons, or other disturbing objects.")

That's not even a comprehensive list of all the "areas of concern." I didn't include the school and social dynamics sections.

In other words, it's a giant list. Gaming is barely even mentioned.

How is this list supposed to be used?
It should be strongly emphasized that this list is not intended as a checklist to predict future violent behavior by a student who has not acted violently or threatened violence. Rather, the list should be considered only after a student has made some type of threat and an assessment has been developed using the four-pronged model. If the assessment shows evidence of these characteristics, behaviors, and consistent problems in all four areas or prongs, it can indicate that the student may be fantasizing about acting on the threats, has the motivation to carry out the violent act, or has actually taken steps to carry out the threat.

Please note the phrase "...consistent problems in all four areas." Gaming is 1 of 46 listed factors, and it's not even listed by itself--it's a subset of "violence-filled entertainment" that includes films, tv shows, music videos and "printed material."

The report lists seven areas for additional research, makes seven recommendations, draws multiple conclusions, and (in Appendix C) makes fifteen "proposals."

Do any of these mention games or gaming? No.

Does the report single out gaming as being unduly influential? That would be surprising, since gaming is barely even mentioned, but the answer is "no." The authors actually go out of their way to warn against this kind of emphasis on any single factor (p. 21):
The following cautions should also be emphasized:
1. No one or two characteristics should be considered in isolation or given more weight than others.

And again, on page 7:
This model is not a "profile" of the school shooter or a checklist of danger signs pointing to the next adolescent who will bring lethal violence to a school. Those things do not exist.

Do you see how the authors of this report are warning against the exact things that Thompson is saying? They are refuting everything he claims in the very report he uses to make those claims.

Let's take a last look at Thompson and his lies, this time in a Fox News interview (available here for viewing):
"What the FBI and Secret Service found after Columbine in looking at all the school shootings up to then was the common denominator being the immersion of the perpetrators in incredibly violent entertainment, most notably violent video games."

An outright lie.

I encourage you to read the report for yourself. It will be clear that Thompson is blatantly misrepresenting what was contained in the document.

It is also clear that Thompson is using the tragedy of school shootings as a promotional vehicle for his own celebrity. In the wake of a massacre that saw thirty-three people killed, is there anything lower than that?

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