Jordan Peterson calls for censorship to ‘solve’ school shootings

Even die-hard fans of his should admit that he’s wrong on this issue.

Dr. Jordan Peterson skyrocketed to international fame in part because of his defense of free speech. But he’s now seemingly calling for direct government censorship of the press.

This development comes in the context of the tragic shooting at a Nashville school that left six victims dead. Much of the conversation has since centered around what can be done to stop these atrocities. Peterson responded to a tweet from Prager University asking for solutions with the following: “Ban media from reporting the names of the perpetrators for one year. Problem solved.”

What Peterson is getting at here is the idea that many of these horrific mass shooters are carried out by deranged people who crave infamy. When the media plasters their faces and names all over and enshrines them into history, they are giving them what they crave and likely (inadvertently) encouraging future killers. This is a serious and valid concern.

While Peterson is wrong to claim that the entire problem could be solved with different media coverage, reforming how the media covers mass shootings certainly could reduce their frequency.

As I previously reported for Newsweek:

Western New Mexico University Psychologist Jennifer B. Johnston has found in her research that mass shooters tend to be in the midst of rampant depression, social isolation, and pathological narcissism; they are in part driven to such heinous crime by their desire for national attention.

And it is undeniable that the wall-to-wall coverage in the wake of these mass shootings—coverage that is amplified and jacked up by partisan political attacks that instrumentalize the shooters’ names and identities—makes the crime all the more tantalizing for these mass murderers.

“We find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hour news coverage on cable news programs, and the rise of the internet,” Johnston has said. “If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years.”

Indeed, Johnston’s research has concluded that a collective move to de-emphasize coverage of shooters could reduce mass shootings by at least one-third.

This isn’t an outlier finding. A letter signed by 140 experts after the horrific 2017 Las Vegas shooting unanimously echoed the same point: Reducing coverage and infamy of shooters will reduce future shootings.

So, Peterson’s desire to see different media coverage of mass shootings is certainly well-founded. But his call to ban such coverage or otherwise censor the free press to reach this outcome is not.

First, such a ban would obviously and blatantly violate the First Amendment. The government can not tell media outlets what they are and are not allowed to report. Yes, even on grave matters of life and death. A free press is an essential element of a free society. It keeps the government accountable and the public informed. Compromising that in the name of “safety” is a deeply dangerous path to go down—and one the current Supreme Court would almost certainly halt in its tracks.

That’s a good thing. We don’t want a government with the power to tell media outlets what they can and cannot say. And, newsflash to Dr. Peterson, that wouldn’t work out well for right-wing media outlets like the Daily Wire, where his show is hosted.

It’s also fundamentally unnecessary to compromise our principles to address this issue. By rallying public opinion, we can pressure media companies to change the way they cover mass shootings. Many already have!

It’s not a pipe dream. A few years back, when it became clear that the media coverage of celebrity suicides was leading to copycats, the industry, under public pressure, much of the media changed the way it covered these tragedies. 

Even die-hard Jordan Peterson fans should admit that he’s wrong on this issue. His stance is counterproductive and hypocritical.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.