Perhaps tighter gun control measures could have prevented Friday’s horrific attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; perhaps not. For a few weeks, partisan debate will funnel into this topic. But one measure that would almost certainly diminish the frequency of such attacks is getting almost no public attention at all. It is a measure that would require no legislation and very little effort: zero publicity for mass murderers.
Certainly, the motives of such men are varied and obscure. Many seek vengeance on a society, or a world, by which they feel betrayed. Some may desire a feeling of power by taking innocent human life, by trampling the bounds of morality. But many, it seems, crave fame. Having given up on life, they want to go out with a bang – and be noticed.
We should, as a society, decide that the names of such men will not go down in infamy, but in oblivion. Every news outlet should strip the name and photograph of the Connecticut murderer from its reporting. Those that do not should be boycotted. The public learns little from back-story pieces – "He was very quiet … I never expected it." Quenching our curiosity has a price; such inquiry can be left to the experts.
Already the Connecticut murderer is gathering public honors, from the likes of Fox News, ABC, and the Huffington Post: "intensely bright;" "fiercely intelligent;" "a genius." Soon he will, like the Aurora killer, have his own Wikipedia page. What kind of incentives are we, as a nation, setting up for the unnoticed and desperate?
News stories about such incidents should refer simply to "the murderer" or "the suspect." To refer to such killers by name is already – in the eyes of men prone to such acts – a form of lionization. We should honor the memory of the victims, not glorify their killers with the dignity of fame.
Note: After writing this, I was informed of Morgan Freeman’s article on media sensationalism as a spur to such acts, which can be found here. Those in agreement with Freeman’s diagnosis should consider the solution offered above.