From the Editor: Not making mass shooters household names

  • Jim Baumann

    Jim Baumann

 
 
Updated 6/5/2022 4:40 PM

Buffalo. Uvalde. Tulsa.

Three mass killings in less than three weeks.

 

Much has been written about each shooting: an 18-year-old white supremacist kills 10 and wounds three more with an assault rifle at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store; another 18-year-old with an assault rifle kills 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a man kills his doctor, another doctor, a receptionist and a visitor at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Horror stacked upon horror stacked upon horror.

I don't know the names of any of the shooters. I don't want to give any of them the satisfaction of my knowing their names.

More than that, I don't want to publish their names any more than I absolutely have to for fear that putting someone's name and face in lights might prompt another unhinged person to seek out his own slice of celebrity.

Certainly, not everyone who commits mass murder does it for attention. Some are simply mentally ill.

But many have it in their mind to finally get noticed or to exact revenge.

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To our way of thinking, it's better to err on the side of caution and not make them household names.

Is it working? The recent spate of horrors would suggest not. But three weeks is a very short timeline.

Whatever we can do to minimize the attention on the person who commits such acts -- and rather put the focus on the victims of these crimes, their families and their communities -- well, that seems to us like time better spent.

Of course, we've had this philosophy for decades now. And there have been times when we've felt like the lone media outlet to feel this way.

A recent study in The Washington Post, however, suggests the philosophy we've long embraced is becoming more commonplace.

More print and broadcast outlets are showing restraint, no doubt feeling the weight of whatever responsibility the media has in exacerbating the problem.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I find that very encouraging.

I was struck while watching NBC coverage of the Uvalde school massacre that while the identity of the shooter was well known to the authorities and the media not once in an hour's time did anyone breathe his name. It really struck me, because this was a big departure for broadcast news.

We'll continue to cover mass shootings, because you should be aware that they're happening, but for the most part you'll find them inside the paper. It's worth looking at the causes of such crimes, too, though how much can you get inside the mind of people who often take their own lives or put themselves in a position to be killed by police?

You'll likely find the name of the suspect once in our stories -- just enough to provide context -- but otherwise referred to with pronouns in subsequent references.

And you won't see mug shots of them, either.

Will our position prevent someone from thinking twice about trading his life or his freedom in exchange for killing a bunch of innocents to get a slice of fame?

It's impossible for me to know.

But I'd like to think that if we can at least cast doubt in someone's mind about the upside of committing some atrocities, then we're on the right track.

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