What is a celebrity? Maybe it’s everyone knowing who you are and what you’ve done. Perhaps it’s nationwide media coverage dedicated to you. Google Dictionary defines celebrity as “the state of being well known.” When people think of celebrities, they generally think of Kim Kardashian or Ellen DeGeneres, but they don’t think of mass shooters.
I was scrolling through news articles about the recent anti-semitic mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I came across the name and photo of the suspect multiple times. Again with the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the suspect’s name and face was broadcast everywhere.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Fox News and many other popular news publications are all guilty of sensationalizing murderers through their reporting.
While some say that releasing names and pictures of mass shooters is a way to humiliate them in a sense, the history of mass shootings says otherwise.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Adam Lankford, criminal justice professor at University of Alabama, says that naming and publishing pictures of mass shooters “encourages a competitive mindset in the gunmen, who try to kill a greater number of victims than other shooters have”, “gives the killers fame” and “serves as an ‘advertisement’ for violent behavior through contagion, as ideas about mass shootings ‘spread through society and permeate the minds of at-risk individuals,’ resulting in copycat effects.”
Some publications such as CNN and The Daily Wire are taking steps to lessen the notoriety that mass shooters get in the media.
According to The Guardian, CNN began to reduce their coverage of the perpetrators of mass shootings when a newspaper in Maryland was the location of a deadly shooting. “Why should we ‘wallpaper’ an image of the person who committed an act of terror in a place previously considered safe?” says Meredith Artley, the senior vice-president and editor-in-chief of CNN Digital Worldwide.
The Daily Wire enacted a policy that mass shooters will never be named in their podcast publications or in writing. “We will still report the… details that could make a difference in the public debate with regard to policymaking. But we will not contribute to the unintentional glorification of shooters themselves by giving their names and faces airtime. Instead, we will continue to focus on the victims of such awful attacks, and the heroes who all too often must give of themselves to stop them,” says Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Wire Ben Shapiro.
Some believe that without reporting the identity of the suspect, the public is not getting the full scope of the news story, but the identify of a mass shooter doesn’t really matter in the scope of the entire story. The important details about the shooting, and even some details about the shooter (such as their age and gender) other than their name or picture, are sufficient for the public to be informed about the situation.
Publishing companies should be more concerned about curbing violence such as mass shootings through informed decision making about how to publish their stories rather than about increasing ratings.
I think inside all of us, we are attracted to drama. We inherently want to know who did what and why, but is it worth it? We, as consumers, should make an effort to support news companies that use their platforms to prevent violence, not sensationalize it.