NPR logo Why Does the Media Always Focus on the Shooter?

Why Does the Media Always Focus on the Shooter?

It happens every time there's a major shooting: the killer gets more attention than the victims.

The story of Wednesday's fatal killing at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC was no different on NPR. The 88-year-old man charged with the murder of museum security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns got the lion's share of air and web time at NPR.

A quick search of NPR's Website shows that the alleged gunman was mentioned 13 times and Johns 7 times within first two days.

Shortly after the shooting, Allison Keyes mentioned Johns by name in her story for the second feed of All Things Considered that airs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. It had not been clear when her original story aired during ATC's first feed that Johns had died.

NPR's news blog, The Two Way, confirmed at 4:40 p.m. that the security guard had died. NPR did name Johns in subsequent newscasts throughout the night once his death was confirmed, said NPR managing editor David Sweeney.

But during on-air coverage the following day, June 11, there was no mention of Johns, a security guard who'd worked for the Holocaust Museum for six years. (See Washington Post profile.)

Dina Temple-Raston spoke with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep for about 4 minutes about the alleged gunman's background and ties to white supremacy.

"I found it fiercely annoying listening to the reporting of the Holocaust Museum shooting this morning," wrote Joseph Gamble of Tampa, FL on Thursday. "Sure we learned plenty about the lunatic but where was the mention of the security guard who died heroically? His name deserved mention and a bit of coverage as he died in the line of service and undoubtedly saved lives with his sacrifice."

Tell Me More host Michel Martin did note Johns' murder in a blog post Thursday.

But why nothing on Morning Edition? "The focus of Dina's two-way on Morning Edition was the possible motive behind the shooting and the background of the alleged shooter," said Sweeney.

Sweeney noted that Wednesday's reporting included comments from the museum director about the vital role guards played in countering the attacker and in guiding museum visitors to safety.

"In hindsight, it probably would have been better to include the guard's name in the Morning Edition conversation about the attack," said Sweeney."When an attack such as this takes place, more attention is almost always given to the attacker than to victims. Sometimes the difference may appear disproportionate. I think the reason goes to a basic desire on the part of society, and by extension journalism and those who read and listen to the news, to try to understand why these incidents happen in our society.

"Sadly, in trying to understand the motivation behind these attacks there is usually much more to be learned by investigating and telling the story of the attacker than the victim."

Sweeney said NPR had no plans to do any follow-up stories on the guard.

I understand that any news organization is obligated to help its audience understand why such a shootings occur, but it still troubles me that the public always end up knowing more about the killer than those who tragically and randomly end up in their paths.

Update: Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday, posted to his blog on Saturday about anti-semitism in America. Listen and read it here.