It is their desire to be known even if that means they are infamous. It all started when the Columbine killers had their names and faces plastered on every network across the globe. This media frenzy is the notoriety that they wanted and in death, the media awarded them their ultimate goal.
Last week there was a brutal attack in Christchurch New Zealand that left 49 people dead and many family members mentally scarred for life. Looking for answers, I read the shooters manifesto that was posted everywhere online. One clear thing is that he wanted to be known and wanted to this notoriety to spread his sickening message of hatred.
The judge in the case has ordered the shooters face to be pixelated to guarantee a fair trial.
A side effect of the judge’s order to pixelate all videos and pictures of the killer is that the court order prevented him from achieving one of his goals. That goal was to become a symbol of “white supremacy” and gain fame from his heinous acts.
The Charleston church killer inspired the New Zealand killer, and he planned to replicate his influence in other would be killers. He read articles and watched news stories about that murderer and wanted to follow in the shoes of the Charleston killer.
Should the media be blamed for the shooting in New Zealand? Absolutely not! The only one that responsible for senseless killings is the person pulling the trigger. The splattering of the Charleston killer’s name and face all over the media didn’t help though, and the media does bear some responsibility.
In my stories for this and other websites, I have been guilty of reporting the names of mass killers in the past. The naming of the murderers is something I have stopped doing and wish other journalists would commit to stopping as well. We have to learn how to balance reporting the news and not giving these monsters what they want.
The first journalist that I know of that pushed for the media to stop naming and showing the pictures of these killers was Philip DeFranco. DeFranco is an independent journalist whose primary platform is YouTube.
DeFranco might be on YouTube, but his numbers are something that most mainstream journalist could only imagine in their dreams. He averages more daily viewer than CNN by a large margin. CNN pulls in an average of 944k in Prime Time. DeFranco uploads two videos a day which averages 1.3 million views per video.
Ben Shapiro is another media personality that has stopped naming these killers. Shapiro has one of the biggest podcasts in the world and is Chief Editor of the Daily Caller. His reasoning is to stop playing into these killer’s hands.
Another journalist that tries to avoid using the mass killer’s name is Beth Baumann of Townhall.com. Town Hall doesn’t bar her from using their names, but she has made the conscious choice to try to avoid giving these murderers the spotlight.
“One of the things that mass shooters long for is attention and notoriety in the media,” Baumann told me. “I try my best not to include their names in stories because it does a disservice to the victims. It shifts the attention from those who lost their lives to those who did the killing.”
Other journalists in the independent realm have also joined in the movement to not name and show pictures of these killers. Unfortunately, most mainstream media seems to be resistant to the idea. The Washington Post even did the complete opposite with a profile piece on one of these sick mass murderers.
Tony Biasotti of the Columbia Journalism Review points out that journalist who names the killers are feeding into the motivation of these murderers. This is a charge that the Washington Post pushed back against by stating that such profiles help the reader know the “accused killer’s history within that community.”
Biasotti’s story links to a 2015 study from Arizona State University that found that the media coverage of each mass killing is partially responsible for .30 of future mass killings. That is a chilling number and haunting thought our reporting as a journalist could cause such bloodshed.
In recent days some journalist at the Washington Post Editorial Page has started coming around to the theory that by not using name and pictures of the killers that it can cut down on the motivation of these disturbed people.
Washington Post Megan McArdle wrote an opinion piece about using names in articles. In the article, McArdle points out these killers crave fame. Maybe McArdle should push for change in the Washington Post newsroom.
As researchers hold more studies into the contagion mass killings, just like with suicide, it becomes evident that by us as journalist naming the names of the killers it feeds into a vicious cycle. Even anti-gun professor Adam Lankford agrees with the coverage leads to more killings. I don’t agree with Lankford on much as our previous run-ins have shown, but this is one thing I think he got right.
Several groups are challenging the media not to feed into the egos of these mass killers. The first group is “No Notoriety” which challenges the media not to use the killer’s names or show their photos.
The group list mass killings that were at least partially inspired by media coverage of past attacks. This list includes the Virginia Tech killer, the Sandy Hook killer, and the Parkland Killer. True to their mission the site doesn’t name the killers.
The website links to studies and articles that show the link between sharing the names and pictures of these killers and their violent actions. Another thing the site list is how many times the media has been challenged to stop giving notoriety to these killers. These challenges date back to 2012 when Tom Teves challenged Anderson Cooper not use the Aurora movie killer’s name. The killer shot Teves’ son, Alex Teves, and 11 others during a screening of The Dark Knight.
The Aurora movie killer told his psychiatrist that “he couldn’t make a mark on the world with science but could become famous by blowing up people.”
It seems that these calls for the media to stop using names and pictures as well as doing a full profile on the killers sometimes fall on deaf ears. The sexy story is always about the killer and not the victims. This reporting is something in the journalist community that we need to change.
The second group that is pushing for change in the media world is “Don’t Name Them.” The ALERRT™ Center at Texas State University developed the group.
Their plan is to put public pressure on media outlets and law enforcement agencies to change policies about releasing names and pictures of mass murders. They are using petitions and letters to the editor to push for this change.
“Don’t Name Them” centers their efforts around a study done by Texas State University that show the seeking of fame influences most mass shooters. They believe by the media plastering their names and faces everywhere it is causing copycat acts of violence, and they have the research to back up this assertion.
The group also links to the FBI’s request for the media to stop using names and faces of mass killers. Most of the mainstream media ignore these requests. I for one can only guess that they feel like their ratings will take a hit if they don’t go for the killer angle. When acts of violence happens the public always wants to know who did it and why.
Let me be clear; I am not calling for any government regulation of the media to combat the sharing of the names and faces of these mass killers. We need to make this choice as members of the media. We need to stop feeding into the cycle. The research is clear, and the media does play a role in spawning mass killers.
The problem is not just the media. It is you! Every time you share a video of a mass killing, the Facebook profile of the killer, the killer’s name, their manifesto, or their picture you are giving these twisted individuals what they want. I am begging you to stop the madness!
The New Zealand killer wanted his message spread across the world. The same goes for the Charleston Church killer. They are achieving their goal, but why should we give these murderers what they want? They don’t care about jail or even the death penalty. They care about being famous and having their ideology spread. That needs to stop now!
In my journalism and my personal life, I have made the decision not to share the names and faces of these murders. I have in the past, and that is on me, but going forward I will refuse to feed into the cycle that helped spawn these individual’s twisted goals.
I hope you will join me in taking a stand against the sharing of the names, pictures, profiles, or manifestos of these mass killers.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He is the former CEO of Veritas Firearms, LLC and is the co-host of The Patriot News Podcast which can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/patriotnews. John has written extensively on the patriot movement including 3%’ers, Oath Keepers, and Militias. In addition to the Patriot movement, John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and is currently working on a book on leftist deplatforming methods and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, on Facebook at realjohncrump, or at www.crum