Although it is true that the media communicate news of real events, it is also true that news is changed by very fact of its passage through the media, whatever the efforts to present it objectively. In particular, the media are often accused of giving undue importance to events involving violence. There is also concern for the growing tendency to mix fact and fiction in presentations designed to give heightened interest to the news. The media can not only reinforce impressions gained from other sources, they can also create the impressions. The commonest charge made is that by portraying violence the media lead people to imitate what they read, hear or see. It is even more often claimed that the violence gives rise to imitation and thus leads to juvenile delinquency or crime. The long-term effects of violence in media far outweigh its immediate effects, but are more difficult to assess.
At the time of his arrest, Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, had a copy of The Turner Diaries in his possession. McVeigh's action against the Murrah Federal Building was strikingly similar to an event described in the book where the fictional terrorist group blows up FBI Headquarters. The book details a violent overthrow of the federal government by white supremacists and also describes a brutal race war that is to take place simultaneously.
The portraying of violence by the media contributes to violent behaviour by conferring approval, by spreading information, by suggesting violence as a form of problem solving, by shifting levels of tolerance, by associating certain groups with violence so that they felt they had to live up to their image, by exaggerating the problem, and by over-simplifying alternatives. The media may lead to violence in other ways that by depicting violence. Feelings of frustration can be aroused or reinforced by an emphasis on materialistic aims which are not attainable by the audience.
Violence existed before the mass media; it is therefore unfair and illogical to blame the media for violent behaviour. Using the mass media as the scapegoat is merely a way of avoiding recognizing the real roots of the problem. The portrayal of violence could be seen as a form of communication in itself, perhaps as a danger signal, perhaps leading to increased awareness of a problem, perhaps enabling people to come to terms with the violence in themselves and in society.