— Candace Baltz (@CandaceBaltz) October 2, 2015
Don’t take my word that mass killers seek media attention through violence. Take the word of the mass killer who attacked this week in Roseburg, Ore.:
Seems the more people you kill, the more your’re in the limelight.
That’s what this week’s killer du jour wrote about the August killer du jour in Virginia, who sought the limelight by doing his killing on live television and boasting about it on social media.
I don’t think that media cause mass killings any more than guns cause mass killings or violent entertainment causes mass killings or mental illness causes mass killings. Our nation’s violence sprees have complex causes and require complex, multiple solutions that will involve legislation, regulation, voluntary action and effective enforcement.
I don’t blog about all of the segments of society that contribute to the causes and might contributed to solutions. But I do blog about journalism, and it’s undeniable that the limelight that journalism provides is an incentive that appeals to mass killers.
I’ve made the points before (see the links below) and won’t belabor them here. But I want to note that every media organization that named this violent man and published his photograph provided the limelight that he sought and provided an incentive to the next twisted, heavily armed man who seeks it.
Maybe he was just a dangerous person whose desire for the limelight would have been satisfied with all the attention to his carnage and the victims and his turn refueling the never-ending arguments about gun control, even if no one ever spoke his name. And, of course, some would speak his name, because even if the news media acted in unison (as we never do), it would circulate on social media and in gossip in his own community.
But what is undeniable is that professional news organizations provide most of the limelight with our constant repetition of killers’ names and our constant showing of their photographs and constant publication of their rants about imagined grievances. The name of the Virginia TV killer was used in the headline of the Oregon killer’s post linked above and he described consuming the media coverage and reading the other killer’s “manifesto,” which is a fancy word for rant. Without question, media coverage of that killing provided incentive for this killer to go out in his own flash of bloody, demented glory.
Journalists need to discuss the incentives and rewards we provide to attention-seeking mass killers. I hope that some journalism organizations and conferences will address this topic. It’s the huge hole in our recent updates and discussions of journalism ethics. I’m willing and eager to join that discussion as a panelist or speaker. Or I’ll just keep blogging about it here.
I don’t think these are simple questions and I recognize valid arguments disagreeing with mine on this issue. My default setting is to answer each of the 5 W’s in a story, and who is the first of those. I don’t advocate lightly that we withhold such important names from stories. But we withhold names for other reasons, and I think we need more conversation about whether we should withhold the limelight from mass killers. I’m not suggesting we don’t report on these tragedies, or examine the issues they raise. But we can do that without names and photographs of those seeking attention.
Why is denying the limelight to mass killers a less compelling reason to withhold a name and photo from news stories than protecting the privacy of rape victims or shielding government sources from accountability?
Here are my earlier posts on identification of attention-seeking mass murders: