These mass shootings have become tragically routine. As have the usual gun-control debates that rage in their aftermath. Now a new proposal is gaining traction, one that could be a very powerful deterrent if only the mass media would heed it.
These shooters—overwhelmingly male, mostly (but not always) young, often mentally ill and/or antisocial, alienated, disaffected—crave notoriety. They are nobodies who want the world to know their names, to sit up and take notice of their pathetic existence on the Earth.
And what does the media do? Play right into their hands, acting as free publicity agents for these sociopaths by flashing their names and images before the public. Even publishing and broadcasting their sad little “manifestos”.
There is a movement afoot to deny them that recognition, one that I hope continues to grow. Last year, at the time of the Las Vegas shooting, the suburban Daily Herald announced a policy of omitting the names of mass shooters from both its original and syndicated articles.
This op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times argues in favor of the widespread adoption of this policy. If only the Sun-Times itself would take the advice. They along with the Tribune continue to prominently display the photos and names of mass shooters for days and weeks after these incidents, long after the perpetrators are dead or in custody and it no longer serves the public interest.
I went to journalism school. I get that news outlets consider shooters’ identities a crucial part of the story, and as such, part of their journalistic duty to report. Their stance is that they are informing the public of critical facts: Who, what, where, and when.
But in these cases, this policy is inadvertently encouraging more killings. It’s giving the shooters what they are seeking: Fame. In many of these guys’ private journals and rants—including that of a Washington state would-be shooter who was turned in this week by his grandmother—they express admiration for other mass shooters and a desire to “top” them and glorify themselves.
No Notoriety was founded by Tom and Caren Teves following the murder of their son Alex, who was one of 12 killed in the Colorado theater shooting in 2012. As stated on their website, No Notoriety “calls on the media to eliminate the gratuitous use of the name and likeness of rampage mass killers, and shift the focus to the victims, heroes and survivors.”
See Tom Teves’ interview with Anderson Cooper here, where he makes a powerful case for this policy.
They and other advocates of a no-identification policy for mass shooters make it clear that it is perfectly acceptable to identify a shooter who is still at large and poses a safety threat to the public. But once that threat is eliminated, there is no reason to continue publicizing these losers.
If the media can protect the identities of rape accusers and underage criminals, there is no reason it can’t withhold the identities of these mass murderers once that information is no longer newsworthy.
We can argue over access to guns and all kinds of other things, but while that debate is raging this is one small step we could take that doesn’t require an act of Congress. No, it would not prevent all shootings, but at least it takes away one very potent motivator for these copycat killers.
They are nobodies—let them remain nobodies.
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