Blame Games


Last night Dateline NBC ran a story on John Allen Muhammad, one of the two accused DC area snipers. The Wizard of Oz was on, so I missed it.

But NBC's promo caught my attention. Here's part of the transcript:

DATELINE HOST STONE PHILLIPS (voice-over): It's one thing to shoot at a static paper bull's eye, quite another to pull the trigger while aiming at a human target. But Muhammad apparently had this figured out, too.

(on camera): Sources close to the investigation have told DATELINE the duo had access to a popular Xbox video game called "Halo."

(voice-over): The game is a chillingly realistic simulation of what it's like to peer through a telescopic sight, line up an unsuspecting victim in the crosshairs and pull the trigger.

DATELINE has also learned that investigators are looking closely at this 1998 feature film, "Savior," about a man who loses his family to a terrorist bomb and takes revenge with sniper shootings. Sources say the movie likely inspired Muhammad and Malvo.

So access to violent entertainment made them do it?

Gotta run, my 3-year-old daughter just threw a bucket of water at me.

NEXT: The Only Thing Red About Rudolph...

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I feel the same way that I suspect most of you do: Contemporary society places a silly amount of blame on entertainment.

    Still, there’s nothing wrong with accepting the notion that somewhere, some time, somebody might be “inspired” to do bad things by a movie, game or song. It doesn’t absolve the individual of guilt, of course, and it certainly doesn’t place any guilt on the creator of the work.

    But it doesn’t hurt the cause of free speech to acknowledge that some folks, including John Muhammad, might get ideas from witnessing the work of professional IDEA people — people who get paid to comb through their imaginations and present the results: movie-makers, video game designers, musicians, etc.

    Acknowledging this — while insisting that free speech is nevertheless sacred — is a stronger First Amendment argument anyway.

  2. Brian, I think you are confused. I’m sure there is no mention of there about the anomoly of a sniper shooting people. It also fails to take into account the snipers’ pre-disposed willingness to take other peoples’ lives. You could say, easier, that Muhammed’s military training caused him to kill easier. Of course, I’m sure Dateline neglects to check out the militaries new and sophisticated simulations for infantry. They also, probably, fail to follow up on the practice of war games. Infantry, basically go out and play laser tag, often in the dark, so they couldn’t see the effects anyway.

    I’m not completely up to speed on the sniper case, but I’m sure Dateline as an organization is wrong in putting the majority of the blame on Halo. I believe we have a right and a duty to expose the idiocy and vacuacy of Dateline’s evidence and editorial stance.

  3. Everything I needed to know about supply and demand I learned from Roller Coaster Tycoon

  4. Well, I just played Grand Theft Auto.

    I’m still waiting for that sudden urge to run out and mow down some pedestrians.

  5. They’ve been saying the same things about video games for at least 10 years. Wolfenstein 3D got the same attention for it’s “realistic” and gory graphics back in the early 90s.

    We can probably look forward to decades more of the media concluding that the latest combat simulation game is the root of all of society’s ills.

  6. Yap, i suspect were in for atleast another 3 decades. At least until the gen xers get into there 40-50s. There the first true generation to grow up with violent video games.

    Yah i know, theyll still whine about them like they do movies. But it will sure as hell die down a hell of a lot like with movies.

  7. Guys, I think you’re misreading the real motive for those guys connecting Halo to the Sniper. This is NBC, right? As in, largely owned by Microsoft NBC? Halo is only one of a great many games that attempt to simulate sniping in a “realistic” manner, and there are quite a few more realistic than Halo. Halo just happens to be one of the flagship games for the Xbox, whose sales have been falling behind Sony’s PS2 in the market, mainly due to lack of game title popularity.

    Think about this: Grand Theft Auto 3(PS2, PC) is currently the best-selling game of all time. GTA3 also probably holds a record as the game most fequently and vehemently decried by the media for its “realistic” violence. They never played that one, either. The simple suggestion of a connection from a network exec to an ignorant but enthusiastic Dateline producer would be all that was needed to make that story appear as you described it.

    Not that I think it’s entirely a bad thing. It’s just a marketing tactic, and it relies not on the ignorance of the viewer, but on the assumption that people will discount the hysteria. That’s how I started listening to Linkin Park: one of their songs was linked to the Columbine shooters by a Dateline story, so I figured it had to be good. I downloaded it, it was.

  8. NBC is owned by General Electric. Microsoft and NBC a have a joint venture called MSNBC. MSNBC has a cable channel and a web site. For more information on MSNBC please go to and scroll down the MSNBC heading.

  9. fyodor: I agree with you, there are too many complex factors. I’m not sure why he killed people, but I think he would have killed people with or without playing Halo and being in the military.

    I think they may have just made him a more effective killer. But then again, didn’t John Lee Malvo pull the trigger quite a few times.

    I also have a problem believing Halo helped. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve played the XBox. Using a controller to aim is very different from aiming a rifle.

    Then again, they may have been playing Silent Scope 2.

  10. Actually, after hours of playing GTA3 or Vice City, I have to be careful behind the wheel (I experience the same thing after playing any of the NASCAR games). And I am also wondering how I can get a personalized star system to let me know when the cops might want to arrest me.

  11. Another pretty cool game, that is more to the point is Hitman2 (you play a profession assasin). There is also the new Tom Clancy games, like Ghost Recon, not only do you have snipers, but you have demolition experts, and get to shoot RPGs.

  12. Re set’s post: “You could say, easier, that Muhammed’s military training caused him to kill easier.” I believe in fact that that point *has* been made, maybe even in Reason or some other libertarian oriented site, where I recall seeing the suggestion that American terrorists are all too often vets, as McVeigh was too. It would be ridiculous to boil anything anyone does down to one motivational factor as humans are a bit more complex than that. Therefore, there’s no reason why video games and military training couldn’t both have been factors. Of course, there’s probably quite a few other important ones as well, which is likely the most relevant reason not to focus predominantly on the video game’s supposed effect. Still, I agree with Brian that it’s not altogether pointless to even bring it up.

  13. Halo will not help you shoot someone . I mean seriously you are shooting 3 foot aliens in the game.Im sure dateline is just looking for something to put the blame on because they dont know the truth

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.