This time, let’s not put the killer’s name in lights

Whoever perpetrated this Colorado atrocity–I don’t want to reward a mass murderer with publicity.

Another atrocity, this time at a movie theater in Colorado.

I don’t know if I can prove it, but I feel confident that publicity provides a powerful motive to commit an atrocity. We seem to reward the perpetrators with such publicity every time. We do a lot to glorify villains. Movies like Silence of the Lambs build killers up to be much more interesting and impressive than they really are.

I wrote the following after Rep. Giffords was shot.

Time magazine arrived in my mailbox today. There are many ways to grace its cover. You can found Microsoft. You can date Taylor Swift. You can win the Nobel Prize. Or you can kill or wound nineteen people, including a judge, a congresswoman, and a nine-year-old child. There on this week’s cover is an artistically tweaked crazed mug shot of Jared Loughner.

In my view, Time made a huge mistake. Publicity is a very enticing motive for some violent people to commit atrocities. Eying that smirking pose, I believe Loughner got what he wanted: to see his name and his picture in lights across the world.

Must we give him that?

I hope Time and others do better this time. I don’t want to read the killer’s weird manifesto. I don’t want to see his face. I don’t want to see pornographic interest in his weaponry beyond what might usefully inform public policy.

Maybe the column-inches saved could be devoted to wonderful professionals in rehabilitative medicine, or to discuss how even the Affordable Care Act could have done more in the domain of long-term care for people disabled due to violence or a simple car wreck. Maybe Time could find some people wounded in a shooting in 1985. How are they doing? Do they need some form of help?

Just this once, let’s try shunning the sick little people who commit large crimes. It can’t hurt.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

15 thoughts on “This time, let’s not put the killer’s name in lights”

  1. My sentiments exactly. Give him his day in court, and that’s all.

    Having all the photos of anguished victims and printing his life history as we rend our garments in our futile attempt to understand the incomprehensible only serves to encourage other with the same sickness.

    Shun him.

    Do not print his name or photo, and do not make visible the suffering he has caused. In his quest for attention and to feel that he “matters” to us, deny him. He is beneath our contempt.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, as to the press coverage. Any attention paid to a mass murderer should be that which makes him out to be a coward. No “mastermind,” no “assasin,” no use of any words that imply any kind of masculine proactivity of any kind. And yes, I know those words deserve a lot longer explanation than I have time for, but, we need to reprogram our ideas of what a “man” is.

    1. A lot of very bad ideas have started off as ridiculously wishful thinking, so I don’t see why that ought to be an insuperable barrier for good ones. Trying to make his name taboo and consigned to the memory hole would be doomed to failure: pointedly refusing to take an interest in his depressing vileness is most certainly not.

      1. My wife left with the girl scout troop this afternoon and mistakenly drove by the mall on the way up to the mountains. She described it as “there must be every satellite truck within a half-days’ drive here”.

        So, not going to happen this time either.

        I could take about a half-hour this morning, watching the local bobbleheads avoid asking how this guy had assault weapons and hundreds of bullets.

  2. It’s a strange mix of sadness and satisfaction to have the opportunity to keep bringing this up

    Like Prof. K’s HOPE regime, the resistance of authorities to smarter systems is proof of what a wag said; “You never have to worry about people stealing your ideas. If they’re any good, you’ll have to ram them down their throats.”

    1. I’m a prorev fan from way back. I’ve used his ‘stupid school administrator tricks’ idea at my daughter’s school. We don’t get the runaround.

  3. I hope Time and others do better this time. I don’t want to read the killer’s weird manifesto. I don’t want to see his face. I don’t want to see pornographic interest in his weaponry beyond what might usefully inform public policy.


  4. When this becomes last week’s news, there will be time to discuss one lesson which appears to this observer as glaring as the noonday sun.

    For a long time after 9-11, after airport security reached absurd heights, I had been expecting the next terrorist attack in this country to take the form of coordinated mass killing at the opening of a blockbuster movie. When Shrek 2 had its premiere, I felt a strong sense of apprehension, and had mental pictures of Al Qaeda operatives blowing themselves at 4 different theaters in 4 different cities, sending the movie theater industry into a tailspin. But nothing of the sort ever happened. My fear of a coordinated attack on a Spiderman movie opening similarly proved to be a figment of my imagination.

    The lesson appears to me to be this: This country probably does not face a foreign terrorist threat. It has not faced a terrorist threat in the years since 9-11. If there had been a terrorist presence of any significance, an action like this at shopping malls or at multiplex theaters or other large gatherings would have been carried out by Muslims acting as part of a conspiracy in multiple cities at the same time. This would have been an act of asymmetric warfare of the Al Qaeda brand, and would have required only a trivial investment in resources by a handful of martyrs. If there had been a dangerous Islamic underground lurking in the shadows for this time, that underground would have carried out attacks of this kind at some point in the past ten years. It could have done this with ease.

    The hypothesis that America has been facing the threat of foreign terrorism since 9-11 is testable: if it were true, certain observable consequences of its truth would have been seen. The observations were not made. The hypothesis should be rejected.

  5. Channel 9 in Denver has been giving brief profiles of the individuals who died in its news broadcasts this evening, with barely a mention of the killer. The friends and families of the deceased have been giving some interviews in which they convey the uniqueness of each of the people who did not survive the attack. This is a commendable effort to place the fame where it is needed.

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