Mainstream Media, Stop the Free Publicity for Killers

You know, we really don’t need to know his name.

It is long past time for American print, broadcast and cable entities to agree to implement a firm policy of not naming the perpetrators of mass murder similar to the modern-era St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida. Giving free publicly to these natural-born killers has never served, does not serve now, and will never serve the public interest.

If curious members of the public want to know the names of heinous killers, they can figure out ways to learn their names without the Fourth Estate helping. What is gained by making celebrities of murderers?

It’s one thing if someone who already has celebrity status is accused of murder; obviously, it would have been ludicrous to keep O. J. Simpson’s name out of the papers and away from our television screens after the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. However, there’s no need to turn heretofore-unknown killers into famous people.

Keeping the names of killers away from the press would benefit the press as well as the public. Recall the controversy surrounding Rolling Stone’s decision to put the surviving perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing on the cover of the magazine in July 2013. The magazine brought tremendous heat upon itself for that decision, injuring its reputation at a crucial time—just as the legendary music magazine was distinguishing itself with its world-class coverage of the climate crisis.

Putting the surviving perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing on the cover of Rolling Stone hurt those who were directly and indirectly affected by that attack (in the interest of full disclosure, this writer has friendships with individuals who, in one case, knew the family of bombing victim Martin Richard, and in another case, knew a survivor who lost a leg in the attack). It did not serve the interests of journalism in any rational sense.

Glorifying killers with media coverage also fuels the public’s obsession with violence and conflict, something the Fourth Estate frankly should not encourage. If a news organization makes a media superstar out of someone who chooses to solve his or her perceived problems with violence, does that not encourage other individuals to solve their perceived problems with violence?

Ask yourself: what did society gain by learning the names of the men who killed John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.? Or the men who tried to kill George Wallace, Ronald Reagan and Steve Scalise? Whose interests were served? Whose cause was advanced?

We do not need to know a killer’s name. We don’t even need to know a killer’s specific motive. In all cases, it’s obviously hate, no? The individual who shot up the African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina three years ago didn’t do so out of affection.

We need to have a serious conversation in the country about the Fourth Estate’s role in perpetuating gun violence, in assisting the assailants with the AR-15s. When we turn killers into celebrities, we manufacture more mayhem. The heavily armed and heavily disgruntled among us know that they can become internationally famous with a firearm, thanks to the American press.

We need to know the names of the victims, not the names of those who took their lives. The victims–and only the victims–should be remembered, not the folks who snuffed them out before their time.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.