The Aurora Rumor

Before reading this article, please keep in mind that it will potentially cover triggering content regarding mass shootings in America.


Despite its stellar box office debut, the new DC film Joker has been steeped in controversy since the debut of its first trailer. Critics have been quick to call out the film’s focus on mental illness as a catalyst for violence, romanticization of the villain, and more. These criticisms have primarily focused on the tragic events that transpired during a 2012 mass shooting at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. This tragedy, which occurred during a showing of Batman film The Dark Knight, gained national notoriety when reports of the incident claimed that the perpetrator came dressed as the Joker character. Fearing that this inspired the perpetrator, concerns of potential copycat violence at have swept through theaters across the country. There is one problem with that report.

While there is no denying the real-world violence that occurred in Aurora, reports that the perpetrator was inspired by the actions of the Joker can all be traced back to a rumor. Colorado prosecutor George Brauchler has sourced a press conference given by New York police commissioner Ray Kelly as the root of this rumor. Since the closing of the case, Brauchler has worked to clear up the persistent rumor, but reports of it are still circulating outside of major news outlets.

Although many major news outlets have issued retractions for this rumor, this persistent circulation does lend legitimacy to fears of copycat action. Whether or not this tragedy occurred in the name of a comic book villain does not matter. What matters is that the carelessness of one man and a variety of news outlets have created a dangerous perception that could have real consequences. While it is easy for journalists to get caught in sensational rumors, it is their responsibility to diligently fact check what they report.