Why Most News Media Are Naming The Oregon College Shooter

Douglas County, Or., Sheriff John Hanlin has asked the news media not to name the shooter at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, saying, “We would encourage media and the community to avoid using [the name]. We encourage you to not repeat it. We encourage you not to glorify and create sensationalism for him.” Fox News host Jon Scott said, “I like the sheriff's approach.” Washington Post national editor Cameron Barr explains why his reporters won't be heeding the sheriff: “Chris Harper-Mercer is an accused mass murderer and we intend to report on his motivations and background as accurately and fully as we can. We believe that comprehensive information about those responsible for mass shootings and other horrendous events informs the public debate. While I can appreciate the revulsion that people feel in the wake of such an incident, we see no benefit in withholding information from readers.”

CBS News has used Mercer's name and photo, both in its broadcasts and on its Web channel, CBSN. “From a journalism perspective, it's a kind of a mistake to lay down an overall policy that you're not going to use a suspect's name in any of these cases. You've got to look at them on a case by case basis,” a CBS News spokesperson tells the Post. Although print and online publications used the name, many of the main cable networks–CNN, MSNBC and Fox News–did not, at least initially. Post media blogger Erik Wemple says, “Deep investigation by news organizations into Mercer's life is a public service, not some nefarious ‘glorification’ quest. And yes, it's more critical to stopping future shootings than ‘focusing on the victims.’ Journalists cannot make their calls based on notions that may be swimming in the minds of the insane.”

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