If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media can be counted on to pay a great deal of attention to their horrific deeds.
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To suggest such a banal motive is neither to diminish the evil of the crime nor to deny that the killer was mentally ill. Ordinary motives—money, jealousy, revenge, pride—can lead insane people to do monstrous things. One might object that the killer in this case, as killers often do, took his own life and thus is not around to “enjoy” his recognition. But the human desire for recognition consists in substantial part of projecting beyond one’s own death. Whose dreams of fame would not be crushed by the certain knowledge that one would be forgotten immediately after dying?
The point here is that the medium is the motive. If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media will inevitably pay a great deal of attention to their horrific deeds. They are, after all, newsworthy, and they do raise important questions of public concern, not only about the availability of weapons and the vulnerability of “gun-free zones,” but also about the treatment of mental illness.
We journalists often proclaim high-mindedly that the public has a right to know—and we’re right. But as in the Garden of Eden, knowledge is dangerous. An industry devoted to serving the public’s right to know gives twisted and evil men the means of becoming known.
This problem is not obviously amenable to a solution, and it certainly is not amenable to a legal one. A regime of media regulation that would be both effective at preventing mass shootings and consistent with the Constitution is no easier to imagine than a regime of gun regulation that would meet the same criteria.
The Times’ editorial, before getting to the inevitable anti-gun talking points, hinted at this moral ambiguity of journalism:
People will want to know about the killer in Newtown, Conn. His background and his supposed motives. Did he show signs of violence? But what actually matters are the children. What are their names? What did they dream of becoming? Did they enjoy finger painting? Or tee ball?
“What actually matters are the children.” A lovely thought, an empty piety. The children had “news value” only because they came to a horrible end. Had they been left alone to grow up, it’s unlikely any of them would ever have come to the attention of the Times editorial page. The editorial omitted the murderer’s name—perhaps a deliberate gesture, and if so, a futile one. Even if you don’t know his name, you know who he is.
Committing journalism is not a wrongful act, and often it is a noble one. But all of us who, in the course of making a living at it, help publicize these horrific acts are in a small way implicated in enabling them. Perhaps those who scapegoat gun-rights supporters do so because they have too much pride to contemplate their own fallen nature.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?