Naming Murderers

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A makeshift memorial three days after the Omaha mall shooting. Source: Getty hide caption

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From Virginia Tech to a the mall in Omaha, there's been a slew of killing sprees committed by mentally ill people who claim to want the notoriety. This, of course, puts the media in a funny place — we want to report the news, but by naming the murderers, are we simply giving in to these madmen who want to be famous? Today we're going to talk to the brand-new NPR ombudsman about the tricky issue, as well as a newscaster who opted not to name names on the air. What do you think?



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It makes little difference what the perpetrators say. They never get famous whether they remain alive or kill themselves after the act. The fame on their part is disillusionment. Historically, they become notorious, pariahs, nothing a normal person would want to be remembered for.

Sent by Karwani Nyakairu | 3:56 PM | 12-26-2007

I was thinking exactly what you are talking about on the occasion of both the Virginia tech shootings, and, even more, the recent killer who wanted to become famous because of the Omaha Mall shootings. we should pay much more attention to the victims, both the dead and their significant others who are hurt and must live with the hurt/loss. I suppose we don't partly because we want to consider their privacy. Too bad. It leaves us only the criminal to talk about. In a related, interesting observation, I recently (today, in fact, on NPR) heard a quote from Oscar Wilde: "America['s]...heroes tend to come from the criminal 'class.'" We may not exactly be making "heroes" of these killers, but they certainly get too much attention and "fame" of however twisted a kind.

Sent by J.P. Cusack | 4:02 PM | 12-26-2007

why isn't this available to listen to online, and why is it cut out of the podcast? i am very interested in learning more about this, and am frustrated.

Sent by Emily | 1:40 AM | 12-27-2007

I feel, very strongly, that the aspect of "fame", notoriety or infamy if you will, is increasingly a functional and motivational aspect of many of these very public shootings.

So many journalists make the statement, " is our duty to report the names of these people..." as though this is an irrefutable fact... says who?

I am one of the "public" they feel this duty to and, if publicity is a goal of a murderer, then I do not want him/her to get what they want.

Responsible journalism is, in my opinion, not well served in America today.

The vast majority of the media are run as for-profit businesses and this conflicts with their responsibility for the role they play in these types of incidents. To resolve this conflict they state the public's 'right to know'.

The right to know something does not equate to the NEED to know everything.

If ONE life is saved because the media takes a responsible stand and stated: "If you seek fame through violence, you will not get it here." Would not that worth some lost profit?

Sent by Jason D. Blackwell | 10:56 AM | 12-27-2007

I think a large part of the fame and public attention given to such criminals is associated with trying to understand how it could happen. I believe public obsession with these people and not the victims is because we could have all been the victim, but it was something aberrant that made that person the killer they became. I believe the large amount of psychologists interviewed and speculation on the criminals backgrounds and personal lives occurs because we want to understand how a person could do such a thing. I would even go so far as to say its a way of looking into the dark part of ourselves and humanity. Just as was mentioned in the blog previously, the glorification isnt exactly a positive one for those individuals. they become examples of evil. And perhaps the sympathy that some people try to develop for the killers as they watcht the psychologists' interviews and all the documentaries is because that killer is still human and if we observe the situation in order to peer into the darker side of human nature we worry that it could have been anyone of us who has that dark side come forward.

Sent by maria | 11:51 AM | 12-28-2007

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