Today’s live-TV killing in Virginia clearly was planned to bring as much attention to the killer as possible.
When media fall for this, they are telling other sick, twisted or just evil potential killers that they, too, can get lots of attention by using their guns in ways that the media find sensationalist.
I made my initial arguments on this case in the posts linked below and won’t belabor those arguments here. But some thoughts about how my ethical principles about refusing to provide the attention they seek might apply here:
- Someone who attacks during a live telecast is seeking attention. Obviously you need to report the attack, but I would not broadcast the attack or make it available online.
- While a killer is at large, identification is important news. So as soon as the killer’s identity was known, if he were still at large, I would publish name, photograph and any other information that would help the public report his location, apprehend him or seek safety if they saw him. Public safety overrides my belief that we should not give the killer attention.
- Once the killer was dead, I would stop publishing his name or photograph.
- I see no ethical justification for publishing videos shot by the killer. That is the ultimate in attention-seeking behavior.
- You can report the mental health issues, gun access issues and other issues that a story presents without publicizing or profiling the killer.
- My focus would be on the people who were killed or injured. They warrant media attention, not the person who was seeking it.