Why Make a Celebrity of the Alleged Austin Bomber?

You know, it really isn’t this complicated.

There is no compelling interest and no public value in naming the suspected extremist who assaulted Austin, Texas with bombs over the past few weeks before blowing himself to smithereens on Wednesday. No rational person gives a damn what his name is. So why make him famous?

Almost as foolish as the decision to make this fellow a martyr to other malcontents by publicizing his name was the media speculation in the aftermath of his suicide about his motive. What do you think was his motive, peace and love? It was fairly obviously terrorism, no?

It is highly irresponsible for American mainstream media entities to continue fueling the bizarre cultural fascination with heinous killers by making them celebrities. All such coverage does is motivate the next disgruntled misanthrope to make a bomb or buy an AR-15.

Ask yourself: what did you gain by learning the names of the folks who shot up Columbine High School? Or Virginia Tech? Or Sandy Hook Elementary School? How did their names increase your understanding of the world?

More people will know the name of the suspected Austin bomber than will ever know the names of his victims. It’s a damn shame. The victims of these acts of evil should be known by the general public, not the perpetrators.

The person who allegedly launched these attacks should be remembered as a coward, a walking example of toxic masculinity who chose to kill himself rather than face the legal consequences of his alleged actions. Instead, because the press decided to make him famous, he’ll be regarded as a hero by our most heinous.

The Fourth Estate needs to stop making killers media icons. It’s dangerous enough to have so many easily accessible weapons in this country; the knowledge on the part of the mentally unstable that buying or building weapons can put them on the front page of every major newspaper makes things even more dangerous for the average American.

We will never know how many people engaged in mass murder with bombs or bullets because they knew they would gain the fame in death they lusted for in life. One such person lost at the hands of someone who wanted to become a celebrity through calamity is one too many.

It is simply morally wrong for American mainstream media outlets to effectively glamorize violence in this fashion. By not naming these killers, American mainstream media entities could save lives—and there’s nothing “biased” about saving lives. The next angry young man who wants to become famous with a pistol or a pipe bomb might think twice if he realizes he won’t become a media main-eventer through murder.

How much more bloodshed to we need to bear witness to before the Fourth Estate asks itself hard questions about the role it may be playing in continuing such bloodshed? This is not a First Amendment issue, as no one is calling for the government to restrict the mainstream media’s ability to publish the names of mass murderers. Of course the press has the right to do so. However, is it right for the press to do so?

We don’t need prior restraint, just self-restraint.

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.