Should Media Curb Reporting On Colorado Shooting to Deter Copycats?


The news media's focus on James Holmes in the Aurora theater shooting inspired familiar criticism, says the Washington Post? Was the attention to the details of an alleged mass killer's life not just wrong but also potentially lethal? Could the media's gaze inspire the next nobody to commit a similar act in a sick attempt to become somebody, too? “How often must we see the alleged murderer's name in print and his face shown in photographs from happier times?” asked Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. “It is perfectly reasonable to shed light on the tragic event without a media spotlight on the alleged assailant. It is shameless, if not dangerous, to transform” an obscure individual into “an infamous somebody who may be revered and admired by a few folks on the fringe.”

Some people do get ideas that they hadn't had before and are willing to try them out,” says Howard Zonana, a Yale professor of psychiatry and law. “We're all susceptible to [media] influences, to a degree. It could be that someone is disgruntled enough and sees that he can go out in a big blast of fame.” Fox says the media should limit information reported about criminal suspects, as is the practice in other countries, where victims and suspects' names are shielded until after a trial. He draws the line at stories that delve deep into a suspect's background, in which friends and neighbors describe the accused person's hobbies, habits, and personality. “The first question people ask is what kind of monster did this?” said David J. Krajicek, a former crime reporter for the New York Daily News and vice president of Criminal Justice Journalists. “That's our job as journalists.” He adds, “These aren't loving portraits [of the accused]. We put these people under a microscope to figure out their pathologies. They're an object lesson for the rest of us.”

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