Is lack of coverage necessarily bad?

Eric Boehlert bemoans the fact that the killings at a high school near Seattle in the state of Washington last Friday did not make the front pages of the national newspapers. Three students, one of whom was the assailant who killed himself, died and three other students remain hospitalized. While I can understand the reasoning behind Boehlert’s sentiment (that this lack of national coverage is a sad reflection on the US that such dreadful shootings are now seen as routine), it may not altogether be a bad thing.

I have argued before that giving such stories huge amounts of publicity and going into great detail on the lives of the killers and their motives may actually serve to inspire other disturbed people to copy these killings, in order to make themselves famous. We know that the Columbine killers actually harbored such fantasies, having discussions about who might play them in the film re-enactments of their shooting spree.

T. J. Lane, another high school killer in our own region a couple of years ago, seemed to revel in all the attention he received and I was irritated that the Plain Dealer would feed his ego by having a fresh photo of him in court on the front page every day of the trial. The Plain Dealer also gave front-page, above-the-fold, coverage to the recent Washington shooting.

Of course, local news in the area of a shooting will still highlight these stories. But those prospective killers who dream of getting on all the national news shows and having pundits talk endlessly about them may (one can at least hope) become discouraged if there is less publicity.


  1. busterggi says

    If the shooter had been a Muslim student the right-wing media would have been all over it. But Christians killing Christians is no news.

  2. leni says

    I haven’t been following the story except the snippets I hear on NPR on the way to or from work. But I heard a brief report the other day that quoted the police chief (if I remember right) shutting down questions about the killer and his motivations by saying (paraphrase) “let’s make this day about the victims and heroes.”

    I am not crazy about hero talk, I think it’s often overblown and I very much doubt many of the people there felt like heroes even if they acted heroically by any normal measure. I also don’t like the idea of invading the lives of victims and their families at what must be the worst moment of their lives. Even so, I smiled. It was a gratifying shutdown.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I heard that NPR clip too and was pleased that they are trying to not name the shooter and generally avoid giving him any publicity.

  4. Ed says

    I don’t know what the right approach is. I can certainly understand not wanting to give the killers publicity, if that’s what they were after, but at the same time I’m morbidly fascinated by the fact that some human beings apparently see becoming known as a mass murderer as desirable to the point of trading their lives for a few moments of whatever satisfaction they get from it.

    The economic criminal wants money. The serial killer finds catharsis and sense of power over what could be a long period. The terrorist sees the cause as more important than his/her life and may expect reward in the afterlife.

    The vague motivation coupled with the diversity of personality and background among these killers when taken as a group is weird. Some seem to be consumed with bitterness taking vastly disproportionate revenge for real or imagined abuse or offenses against them while ones like the Batman premier shooter sound like they do fit the stereotype of the megalomaniac craving any kind of attention.. Still others, including this recent guy, appeared happy and popular to many who knew him.

    It simply astounds me that anyone would use their brief time on earth to do this. I understand all too well the desire to die to escape painful circumstances or the symptoms of long lasting depression. I also think I partially understand the feeling that dying violently for a cause is noble (though I oppose such acts).

    But there isn’t the motive here that a political or religious suicide bomber, for example, would have. Thankfully no powerful organizations promoting their activities no one praising them as martyrs or heroes. Public opinion of them ranging from hatred to at best pity. The only change in society they are likely to accomplish is increased security measures at the type of building they attacked.

    Though maybe it is wrong to think about them so much it’s because I am chilled by the possibility of an almost motiveless act of mass destruction. Radical evil as a whim. It puts me in a very Dostoevsian state of mind, which as a humanist I try to escape from by finding (or failing to find) a more satisfying explanation.

  5. Mano Singham says


    I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for me to comprehend the minds of such people. It is too far removed from anything that I am familiar with that I just cannot fathom it and have given up trying.

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