Against Insane Fame
Now comes insult added to social injury as the “news” starts to tell us every detail of the Tucson killer’s sick life and what led him to massacre innocent people and devastate a nation as well as so many families.
In my lifetime of journalism spanning Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated JFK, to Mark David Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon, one of the sorriest dilemmas was how and how much to report on those monstrous figures who try to redeem their twisted obscurity with the blood of well-known others.
“How much will I get for my memoirs?” the gunman who shot white supremacist George Wallace in 1972 asked police, after having stalked Richard Nixon and failed to kill him in his search for insane fame. (That was before passage of the “Son of Sam Law,” to keep killers from profiting from their crimes.)
Their stories are always the same, in recent years from the Virginia Tech mass murderer on–resentful loners who explode into violence after years of bizarre behavior helplessly reported by those who came into contact with them. We, and journalists who represent us, search for moments when they could have been stopped, but never find satisfying answers.
The result is a kind of blood pornography, focusing on the perpetrators of violence. We want to know what drove them but never really find out.
As a First Amendment near-absolutist, I have no solution for this journalist trap, only a confession of my continuing regret about the one occasion I broke my own rule about not rewarding such behavior.