This was an unpublished blog post, until now. I wrote the following years ago, before I covered the October 1st, 2017 mass shooting in Vegas, the deadliest in American history. I wrote this before the unthinkable struck in my own backyard in Thousand Oaks, near my hometown. As the one year anniversary approaches for the Borderline mass shooting, the victims and their families remain top of mind. I think about how there have been more than 2,200 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. Schools, movie theaters, Walmart, night clubs, fairs, country concerts, and churches have been some of the targets. Yet not much has changed. I can’t imagine the anger and pain countless family members feel over those who were lost, and the subsequent inaction. Though, the movement spurred by the high school students in Parkland was awe-inspiring to say the least.
The Washington Post reports a mass shooting happening on average every 47 days in America since June 17, 2015, the night a white supremacist killed nine people at a bible study in South Carolina. Tragedy just struck Dayton and El Paso days apart this summer. As we approach one year since Borderline, I feel compelled to share why I believe the media can play a role in preventing mass shootings. It’s a very complex issue, and this is only one piece of a big pie, but in my opinion it can be one step toward thwarting future events. The following is the challenge I felt as a reporter to not say the shooter’s name.
Sometime before 2017:
I have a confession. I have been struggling. Big time. This is something that has plagued my mind as a TV reporter. In a past mass shooting, my bosses at various points in my career have demanded I say the name. In fact, my top three managers called me right before my live shot when I expressed I didn’t want to say it, I told them it was against my moral compass. He didn’t deserve it. They said I better, or else. At least once, I was sent home when I refused to say the shooter’s name. I actually wept. I was overcome by sadness for the life stolen from the victims, and realization that mass shootings are now seemingly the norm in America.
I didn’t say it. I couldn’t. I was called into the office.
Despite all that, I think the momentum is swinging in the right direction. I will not contribute to the glorification of these mass murderers, and I encourage all journalists to do the same.
Some say “it’s your job to report the facts.” I disagree. It is my job to report the facts responsibly.
One veteran CBS journalist I deeply respect said we must say the gunman’s name because the FBI is looking for tips, and how are they going to get them if we don’t say the name. Well, perhaps a compromise would be to say it once. Then never again. Perhaps.
But consider the fact even the FBI director who is the lead investigator in the Orlando massacre would not use the terrorist’s name. “You will notice that I am not using the killer’s name and I will try not to do that. Part of what motivates sick people to do this kind of thing is some twisted notion of fame or glory and I don’t want to be part of that for the sake of the victims and their families.”
An FBI report outlined 160 active shooting incidents from 2000-2013 and found they are happening with increasing frequency. Those at the top are blaming, in part, the glorification of the mass shooters’ names.
For those who believe it’s our job to report the facts, at what cost?
Past shooters have specifically said they wanted notoriety for their terror, which is exactly what the media had been giving them. The Orlando shooter named the brothers involved in the Boston marathon bombings. Their evil actions made them martyrs to him, he believed they were heroes for what they said they did in the name of Islam and Allah.
The deranged ex-employee at a TV station in Virginia, who shot and killed his former coworkers Alison Parker and Adam Ward, stated that now “everyone will know my name.”
The shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon also said he wanted notoriety. That prompted Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin to say “You will never hear me mention his name.” And he didn’t.
Further, the Oregon gunman is believed to have written a blog post that specifically cited the WDBJ shooter: “I have noticed so many like him are unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are.”
No. Just no.
The idea of not using the name or photo has been used by esteemed and trusted journalists like CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Family members of victims echo that sentiment of not using the gunman’s name and have launched site nonotoriety.com. They want absolutely no name or photo used. They might have a point. This is posted on their website:
In an effort to reduce future tragedies, we challenge the media –calling for responsible media coverage for the sake of public safety when reporting on individuals who commit or attempt acts of rampage mass violence thereby depriving violent like minded individuals the media celebrity and media spotlight they so crave.
So what’s my job again?
Sure, it is due diligence for journalists to get the gunman’s name, learn his or her background, and share information with the public that helps reveal what led to the point of terror. But do we need to see their picture, the evil in their eyes, staring us back in the face? Do we need to re-victimize the families of the dead every time we make the decision to blast the murderer’s name and photo across our viewers’ screens? And what about the fact our actions could be part of America’s epidemic of mass shootings?
If anyone’s name deserves to be said, honored, martyred, it’s that of the victims. Their hopes, their dreams. They are the heroes. We will say their names. We will remember their lives. We will honor their legacy. This is for them. #ThousandOaksStrong