Should the media help mass murderers get famous?

The press judges all the time what info they will and won’t publish.

It’s my personal preference. I wish it were so. I realize that I can’t force my wishes upon you. I wish you also had the fortitude to wish it were so as well, but that’s life.

You’ll note I used the term “voluntary”. I am not so stupid as to think an embargo would work. That’s why I used the term “voluntary.”

Killers became infamous before TV, newspapers, and novels ever existed. Do you understand there is an entire category of folk songs called murder ballads? People have always been fascinated by this stuff and retold the gory details. I’m not saying it’s our best quality as a species, but it’s true. Blaming it on the modern mass media means you are not aware of a lot of history.

And yet these killings are still exceptionally rare. How do you account for that?

Do you have any factual basis for these statements? I get the sense that you think randomly killing for fame is somehow worse than randomly killing them for some other reason. It isn’t. It might seem more shallow and offensive on a certain level, but any reason for shooting a bunch of strangers is equally terrible. There are still serial killers who work in secret and don’t want to be famous. I guess they are a different breed of crazy from people who shoot up a school or a movie theater.

The motivator is mental illness. Maybe we should focus on that one. Unfortunately you cannot predict what will set off someone who is this profoundly disturbed. I know the Virginia Tech shooter sent pictures to NBC and wanted the press to pay attention to him. Other mass shooters like Nidal Hassan at Fort Hood had different motives. I do not know what James Holmes wanted or thought he wanted.

That’s reason the names of some accusers and criminals are not published is not just “it’s logical.” It’s because there is a compelling and concrete reason to think it’s better not to publish than to publish. You haven’t provided that, mostly because you have not established that it would work. So I don’t think your idea is logical at all. In fact, right now you seem to be arguing that it’s OK for the press to publish that 12 people were shot to death in a movie theater as long as the name of the killer isn’t published. The killer is going to know they’re talking about what he did. Wouldn’t that be plenty good enough? Do you have a reason to think that just avoiding his name and picture would discourage these acts? You’ve posted no evidence except claims that you are obviously right, you’ve provided no concrete reason to think it would actually reduce murder rampages, and maybe most importantly, you haven’t provided a serious argument as to why millions of people have to be denied basic information so one person in 50 million won’t do something crazy. Does that sound like a logical way to live? I don’t think it is.

I don’t need to know. I do have a right to know, and I think it’s better that I make the decision about what I want to know rather than having the press make that decision on my behalf because they’re afraid of provoking the kind of person who thinks Jesus is sending him secret messages through his alphabet soup.

Yup. Which means any blogger and any Twitterer can post them and send them around the world. This is a major challenge for press policies like the ones I mentioned earlier: it’s going to become harder and harder to keep these things private. Once it’s on the 'net, it’s pointless for the news to refuse to cover it because millions of people will already know. So what is accomplished with an embargo at that point?

I didn’t say it’s vital. I said people should have the greatest latitude possible to decide what they want to know. The press is in the business of broadcasting information. You have to make an extremely strong case to show they should not publish accurate information that the public might have an interest in. You haven’t done that. You’ve said these people are only killing for fame and that if their names were not published, they wouldn’t do it. You haven’t provided any evidence for that, and I don’t think you can.

It’s information in the public interest. That’s all the justification the press needs. I agree with you that this coverage is usually excessive and it’s often disgusting, and I wish it was handled differently. But I don’t think you can justify embargoing information on this basis.

My use of “embargo” is actually an industry term for the withholding or nondissemination of information for editorial or copyright reasons. It’s not related to a government or regulatory mandate.

You’re arguing the press should adopt your wishes, which basically does mean forcing your wish onto other people.

An embargo is when the press voluntarily holds off on publishing something.

It is in the public interest though? Not “does it interest the public”. But is it in the public interest?

To put it another way, is the public’s prurient interest always necessarily in the public interest in the sense of “central to the well being of the public”?

Perhaps, but certainly my phrasing it as “wish” was intentional on my part to distance my meaning from “force others”. It was deliberately chosen. If you want to slide my statement of “I wish something were so” to one of “I wish to force others to do what I want”, that’s certainly up to you.

Yes, I see. I was using the term “embargo” more in terms of complete prohibition by using force, as in an embargo of a port by the navy of an enemy nation. I see that “press embargo” has a different connotation of voluntary action.

In the general sense that it’s important to have accurate information about crimes, criminal proceedings, dangers to their safety, and issues of that type.

OK. Nonetheless we’re talking about a policy where (if the press adopts your view), the public doesn’t get the information.

Well yes, but the only information I’m suggesting that the news agencies voluntarily withhold is the name and photo of the accused. Just don’t give his name notoriety. I’m sure it will get out via other means to those who really really want to know. That’s fine. but don’t splash his name and photo in huge font across the front page.

If the public does not get his name and photo blasted at them from the media 24/7 for the next 5 days, I don’t think that the essential well being of the public will be damaged, or that they will be unsafe for not knowing his name, or that the justice system will be called into disrepute because CNN is not showing his picture every 10 minutes.

Are you saying that would actually deter mass shootings like this, or do you just feel it would be in better taste? If it’s the second one, I don’t agree but I understand why you feel that way. If it’s the first, I don’t think it makes any sense.

Hearing a tale sung or story told about some long past murderer is not nearly the same as weeks of wall-to-wall news coverage showing photos and videos of the murderer, gory descriptions of crimes that took place just 10 hours prior, international media attention. Come on. You know that’s a far cry from any potential motivation a would-be psychotic might get from the tales of Sweeney Todd.

Rare but increasingly deadly. And so what? If there’s a very real potential for preventing one with no loss in availability of information, why wouldn’t you do it? If there was a chance of preventing a shark attack by not showing the picture of a killer shark, would you say “fuck it I’m showing it anyway? People need to see what this shark looks like!”

What gives you that impression? The point is if we know some of them do it for fame, that’s one motivator we can eliminate without sacrificing anything.

And a relatively frequent trigger is the opportunity for fame for an angry, borderline loner with no other means to get noticed or earn respect.

No, but you can figure out what might. It only makes sense to mitigate those risks when possible.

People take actions based on logical assumptions all the time. If fame-seeking is a commonly given reason for psychos to rampage, it’s a short, straight line to the conclusion that, hey, maybe we shouldn’t make them famous.

I’m arguing that news outlets ought to have a very compelling reason to broadcast the killer’s name and picture if they know it just might trigger another lunatic. It’s not about denying satisfaction to the current killer, they’re usually dead by now. We know for certain the Columbine killers were obsessed with the morbid celebrity they’d gain by murdering dozens of classmates, and we obliged them. Who know how many subsequent killers found that intriguing. Killers don’t have their delusions of grandeur satisfied if they’re reduced to anonymous, faceless losers… Which is the feeling they thought they’d change by killing a bunch of people.

You don’t seem to want to address this point. Nobody would be denied any information. I’m not talking about surpressing the public record. I’m talking about needlessly and instantaneously giving fame to guys who just may have killed so we’d give them instant fame.

Then look it up. It’ll be right there on the Google.

The press makes decisions all the time on what they’re willing to tell you, for a whole host of reasons.

This is true and certainly makes it easier for anyone to gain fame. But, it’s rarely possible to gain truly widespread notoriety without mainstream media exposure, despite what bloggers would have you believe. If you take ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, plus every broadcast affiliate, newspaper and magazine out of the mix, you can tweet until your balls turn blue, but the killers own parents won’t notice.

You said the news media made killers infamous, and I pointed out that there were infamous killers long before there was anything like the modern media. Is worldwide news coverage the same as a song about Stagger Lee? No. But I’d argue that was the olden-days equivalent.

How do you know where psychotics get their motivation?

Do you have a cite for that?

You have not provided any evidence that your idea would prevent even one attack like this (which is a very limited claim). The idea is pretty silly, to be honest: you’re talking about people who are violently insane and willing to kill. I know that some of them wanted publicity, but you can’t assume that they will not kill if they know they won’t get media coverage. And second, you are arguing two contradictory points: that the crazy people won’t go on shooting sprees if they are not guaranteed publicity, and that the information will still be available to anybody who wants it. As the thread has gone on it looks like you are making an even more limited claim: that these people will be deprived of a motivator if the news reports on the shooting but just doesn’t mention the name of the killer (which will still be readily accessible on the Internet). There is just no reason to believe this.

Wall to wall coverage of a story like this - when nothing is happening and there’s nothing to report and they just repeat the person’s name and show a few clips over and over again - is very distasteful. Don’t get me wrong, we agree about that. There’s plenty of other news to cover and no reason to spend hours and hours rehashing a massacre when the event is over. But I don’t agree that it’s immoral to cover this stuff, I don’t think it is a good idea for the press to hide some of the details, I don’t think it would prevent shooting sprees, and I don’t think we should make these kinds of changes based on fear of what people who are batshit crazy might do.

If the shark is out there, wouldn’t people have a better chance of avoiding it if they knew what it looked like? (Maybe we should drop this analogy; it’s already getting kind of silly.)

Most of your posts on this topic. You’re insisting on a solution that, from where I sit, would not work and would accomplish nothing of value, but you’re insisting on it because you’re determined to deny publicity to these people.

We do not know that denying them fame will prevent anything from happening. You keep saying that’s the motivator, but the main cause is untreated mental illness. Only one person in millions will do anything like this. So how do you know that refusing to put their names in a newspaper will stop them?

Relatively frequent? Do you understand how uncommon these things are? Even if you start listing the most famous shooting and killing rampages, it’s easy to find ones where there is not much evidence that the shooters wanted media attention. The Virginia Tech shooter wanted that, but the Fort Hood shooter? That was about politics and religion and it was arguably an act of terrorism. The Tucson shooter had some crazy beliefs about money and arguably felt Rep. Giffords had once insulted him. The Luby’s massacre wasn’t about fame as far as I can tell. The Bath Township school bombing in 1924 - a bigger school attack than Virginia Tech, and in 1924! - was carried out by a guy who was upset about his mortgage. The biggest postal worker shooting was done by a guy who was angry about being reprimanded for poor performance. Some of these people - my guess is usually younger killers, and probably with an emphasis on some of the recent ones - have demonstrated attention seeking behavior above and beyond the fact that they murdered a bunch of people for no real reason. But you seem to have concluded that a lot of these guys do it for the inevitable news media coverage, and I’m not sure about that. Sometimes they’re dead before that coverage even begins.

So you’re acknowledging that you don’t really know this is the motive? It just makes sense to you that it is, so news coverage should be restricted because you think that’ll help?

There is a very compelling reason to broadcast the killer’s name: it’s major news. And they don’t know that it might trigger another lunatic. Considering how much coverage these shooting do get, you might expect there would be a lot more of them if that was how it worked.

Which we’re addressing by just not mentioning their names on TV even though we’ll report that they killed a bunch of people and their names will be all over the web.

Again, you are making two contradictory arguments: nobody would be denied any information, and the killers would be denied the fame they seek. Can you see where this might be a little ridiculous?

Right. The names will be easily findable with a Google search, but the killers won’t get famous and will be denied attention, so future nuts won’t kill.

Yes, they make judgments about what goes into the news and how it is covered. Decisions on withholding important information are rare and they require a very good reason. You’re provided a reason that sounds nice but doesn’t make logical sense and sounds totally ineffective.

If the information isn’t on the news sites and it’s on blogs and easily findable through search engines, it will gain wide exposure regardless.

Actually, think about this mass killing that just happened. You’ll notice that the image used is a “normal” image and not one with the dyed hair. Right now, law enforcement is trying to piece together what led up to this incident. Having his face/name “splashed all over the news” will ensure that many people see him. It is possible that people who could provide useful input crossed this man’s path without knowing him, but might have observed something that will be useful to law enforcement (remember, they still have to convict this guy, who will probably try to claim that he was not responsible due to mental illness).

So, yes, I think it can serve the public interest to have his name/face splashed all over the place. You’ll notice that his booking photo IS NOT out there. There was nothing stopping the police from withholding all of his information if they didn’t want it out there.

Second, if there were a nutjob in waiting out there who is following this. The shooter’s notoriety is certainly not positive. I’m sure the comments on any online articles are filled with people who would like to see the shooter strung up by his boy bits. Notoriety today is not quite the same as in the past where a newspaper printed an article with no ability for public input. As days pass, there will be more and more reporting of the suffering caused to families and loved ones. That may actually put off some nutjobs who are really only intent on suicide-by-cop and going out in a blaze of glory. Perhaps they’ll choose an alternate path. If nothing else, in today’s online environment, the shooter will be ridiculed as a nutjob. Not exactly something to aspire to.

What’s your proposal? People are not going to self sensor. You do realize that, don’t you? So what policy do your propose to solve this “problem”?

Why does morality have to enter into the equation? If you own a media outlet, you can run it any way you like. But pretending that there is some objective test for what is newsworthy and what is not is simple arrogance. Who is to decide what is moral in terms of what is reported? If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

They go overboard. It’s up to you to tune out the excess.

Unfortunately and unforgivably, the alphabet news tried blaming the Tea Party (just as they did with the senator shooting) so I find myself coming back to watch for corrections. And I dont want to!

Sick fucking people. Everywhere.

As for what drives it, you decide, I had enough. (I just came here to see if it you all are going to talk about it. For the record Marley hit it spot on way up thread.)

Just to add… you know the kind of societies where this isn’r reported in the news? Yes, totalitarian countries where some governing body takes it upon itself to determine what people need to know and what information is harmful to the smooth operation of the state.

You may want to live in such a society, but I don’t. People are not going to self sensor, so if you want this to change you are going to have to bring the heavy arm of the state into play. If you don’t want to do that, then you’ll just have to learn to live with this “problem”.

Who would motivate young would-be football stars today? Tales of Johnny Unitas or watching Aaron Rodgers win a Super Bowl?

Check the U.S. Numbers particularly. You’ll see that worst rampages fall predominently 1985 or later. Probably not a lot of Stagger Lee-motivated killers in there.

If throwing rocks at bears was shown to increase bear attacks, would you need empirical evidence that non-rock-throwing would reduce the chance of getting attacked compared to rock-throwing? Or would you draw the ridiculously obvious conclusion that it would be wise to stop throwing rocks at the bears?

Here’s more or less what it boils down to:

You: We shouldn’t do it because we don’t know it’ll work.
Me: We won’t know it’ll work until we do it, but there’s a logical and demonstrated connection between cause and effect.

So, what’s the cost? Virtually nothing. A brief Google search for those who must know.
What’s the benefit? Best case, prevent a mass murder.

If you’re okay with your position, so be it. I’m fine with mine.

Good lord.

The alleged booby trap is more interesting for me than the shooting. Ties in well with The Joker theme and makes me think in terms of media, but not news media - stuff like … tv/Hollywood death and violence playing on a troubled mind over many years

Victor Charlie, I agree with you. I have complained since columbine that it is disgusting how we know the names and faces of the perpetrators, but not the victims.

However, I think the only action required is simply to ban the public PHOTO of the perpetrator in the context or discussion of that specific crime. Information or descriptions, whatever, should not be restricted because we should all demand communication of our surroundings. If there is another crime or whatever, then fine. But in discussion of that crime, we should not give the criminal a glorious headshot in prime-time in every coffee shop accross the world. Who does it benefit besides the criminal?

Does anyone have a reason why the photo of the criminal SHOULD be front and center for any positive reason? Show me the victims. At least require that the victims get more face time than the cowardly wannabe with a gun.

As for those who say there must be proof that the crime is attention-getting, phooey. Of course getting attention is a huge part of the act, and it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to figure that out.