Media Called Out on Linking Shooting to PTSD

Did the mass shooting in a California bar stem from the shooter’s combat-related post-traumatic stress? Too many reporters jumped to that conclusion, a media critic writes.

In a rush to explain the unexplainable, journalists have written multiple stories that draw unfounded conclusions linking the combat experience of last week’s Thousand Oaks, Calif., mass shooter to post-traumatic stress disorder, Columbia Journalism Review reports. In an opinion column, CJR‘s Andrew McCormick cites stories published by CNN, Reuters, the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times that took unconfirmed reports about the shooter’s mental condition and broadly suggested a causal link to the shootings at a country bar in which 12 were killed.

“Even if the former Marine had been diagnosed with PTSD,” McCormick wrote, “it would offer little explanation for Wednesday’s events. PTSD is not a guaranteed pathway to violence, much less homicide; while PTSD can result in increased anger and aggression, those suffering from PTSD are more likely to to withdraw than to lash out at others, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The image of the veteran as a haunted killer, stamped indelibly into the zeitgeist, is a myth. As Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel and psychiatrist with experience in treating the condition, told The Washington Post, something like a mass shooting usually results from a psychotic episode, in which the perpetrator loses touch with reality, not PTSD.”