Photos of America’s mass-shooters
There’s a gruesome missing link in the
media coverage of the Texas school shooting
Edward Wasserman / San Francisco Chronicle
(May 31, 2022) — James Holmes, Stephen Paddock, Adam Lanza, Dylann Roof, Seung-Hui Cho, Payton Gendron, David Chou, Jeremy Alesunder, Connor Betts, Patrick Wood Crusius, Robert Aaron Long, Robert Bowers.
Recognize those names? Maybe one or two. The rest are unknowns.
They are among the mass killers who in recent years shot dead dozens of people, most of them strangers, in schools, movie theaters, concerts, clubs, shopping malls, churches, temples, massage parlors, grocery stores.
Last week, the killers were joined by a deranged teen named Salvador Ramos, who authorities say murdered 19 schoolchildren and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, in a midday spasm of madness. He’s dead now, too, and soon we won’t know his name, either.
Keeping Salvador Ramos out of the collective memory is no accident. The US news media, without a lot of discussion, have adopted a more or less sweeping policy of downplaying and even withholding the names of mass killers from their reports of the horror they wrought.
It’s an element of the curious restraint the news media choose to exercise in their mass shooting coverage. To be sure, there are good reasons for suppressing names — chiefly a wish to deny the killers the notoriety it is believed they murdered to achieve and which might inspire copycats — just as there are reasons of taste and decency for the even more widespread practice the media have unthinkingly adopted: withholding from the public the pictures of the dead.
But in both cases media restraint is a mistake. It has the alarming potential to make things worse. Anonymizing the killers, which doesn’t seem to have deterred anybody, leaves us to conclude that the killings are something like natural disasters, unavoidable and unpredictable happenings that fall outside human capacity to understand, let alone prevent
Photos of smiling victims mask the horror
Failing to run photos of the slaughter allows our visualizations of the event to instead be taken over by gentle and somber images of sorrow, of makeshift shrines built of toys and parents holding candles and weeping over pictures of their children, still smiling and intact. The media become purveyors of dignity and consolation. A community grieves. Reporters bear witness. Things will be fine again.
But they won’t.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.