12.17.2012 10:03 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: read all about him

You’re holding it in your hands right now: one of the reasons for Newtown.

All of us have been reading incessant theories about the myriad reasons why a nobody murdered 20 children in Newtown, Conn., last Friday morning.

Americans are gun crazy, and they let crazy people access guns. Insufficient attention paid to mental health issues. A gun lobby that cares more about profit than children. A sick society that sees gay marriage as a threat to families, but not assault weapons.

Those are all plausible reasons for the extraordinary evil that took place in Newtown.

But the media? We’re partly responsible, too. We covered the story, and we’re also covered in blame.

Not because we insisted on interviewing terrified six-year-olds on air, actually asked them how they “feel.” That was evil enough, but not a root cause of the evil, per se.

Not because we descended on the place like vultures, picking through the viscera for something that someone else hadn’t yet reported and no one wanted to know about. That, too, was despicable.

But that isn’t why Newtown happened, either.

If the homicidal loser — the nobody — was still here, he’d tell us why.

As surely as that little bastard is burning in hell right about now, this surely is why he did it: Because the media turned a loser — nobody — into a somebody. We made him famous.

It was an act of unspeakable evil that lasted only a few moments, but we have been immortalizing the evildoer — making him a somebody the world will remember for years to come.

I won’t write his name, because that’s what the monster wanted.

In the aftermath of these mass murders, there’s always a sickening familiarity to the predictable profiles: A young man. A loner, a bit of an oddball. Not good at making friends, not ever having a girlfriend. Not academically stupid, but no real achievements in life, either. A nobody.

For untold years, they seethe at this. They silently rage at it, playing their infernal single-player shooter games, maybe torturing someone’s pet. For years, they languish in deserved anonymity, pitying their lot in life.

And then, one day, they pick up a discarded newspaper — or turn on a radio or TV news broadcast — and they are electrified. They receive their inspiration, like a telegram delivered by God.

Columbine, Aurora, the myriad shootings that have happened since Friday: The media dutifully tell the killers-to-be how to achieve immortality. Don some combat gear, pack up a bag with some easily acquired assault weapons, then go hunting for humans.

Pick a school or a hospital or a mall or a movie theatre, for maximum effect. We in the media do the rest.

Back when I was in law school, I worked at newspapers in Calgary and Ottawa to pay the rent.

Usually, I worked the cop beat. One day, I asked one of my editors why we never covered suicides.

I asked him why we never named the many people who kill themselves — usually with guns, often around holidays — and describe what happened.

“Because, if we did that,” my editor said, not even looking up, “we’d have a lot of other nobodies killing themselves. Just to get their names in the paper.”


  1. Pipes says:

    Ya man. In a far less articulate way I have said that over and over again. Great writing man, really good and honest

  2. Eddie says:

    As I alluded to indirectly wrt Montreal massacre, I never acknowledge the loser’s name unless I can name all the victims first. My 10 and 13 year old understand my reasoning. Let’s see if Obama has any stones especially since he has no more elections. And for those Harper haters, please focus on the issue instead of pointing fingers at him (once again).

    • Reality.Bites says:

      Regardless of whether Obama has the stones or not, there’s a Republican majority, and probably half the Democrats are no better on gun issues. Nothing is going to change.

  3. Jim Hanna says:

    Totally agree with you; I try blot out the name of the perpertrator. If there is a name I will remember, because I can’t pretend to remember all 26 of the lost, it will be Victoria Soto, the teacher who hid her students and then told the beast they were in the gym. She was killed protecting those in her charge. She died so they may live. Remember her name. And banish the beast’s to oblivion.

  4. Good point says:

    The last setence is a big one. The way suicide has been reported recently, the message that it’s the wrong “answer” doesn’t seem to come through.

  5. Stew B says:

    Good jounalism recognizes there is more to a story than appears on surface, digs deeper to explore more than just the obvious lead. Publishers and editors work together to present the stories of the day in a way that attracts the readers’ attention to maintain and increase reader and viewership.

    I agree with the editor Warren referred to where he said “we’d have a lot of other nobodies killing themselves. Just to get their names in the paper.” and not just when it comes to publishing names of people allegedly responsible for killing fellow human beings. The more articles published about any given topic, it gets normalized. Readers and viewers become conditioned.

    I’ve become conditioned. Whenever I read of another killing or pedestrian being run over in the GTA, I think less of it than I did 10 years ago. I make a mental note that it appears to be an every-day occurence and scan the next newspaper page looking for something more interesting to read. This tells us that yes, these incidents are becoming more common.

    In the case of this incident, Warren went over the edge referring to the shooter in simplistic terms as a “homicidal loser”, a “nobody”, or a “little bastard”. We know nothing of the mental state or intellectual challenges this individual endured and wasn’t getting help with. The personality traits of this person are all common to those of an autisitic adult. What does Warren know of Asbergers and autism? Has Warren lived through the complications of raising an autistic child through to adulthood and lived all of the experiences that come with that? Probably not.

    We need to explore the hidden stories about parental ineptitude, about misguided priorities in society, about public ignorance, and about inadequate support systems for parents and vulnerable members of society. There is always more to the story.

  6. kenn2 says:

    I agree 100% with the observation that media make these tragedies sensational and the shooters famous, and to the disturbed, maybe even aspirational. It’s just the natural intersection of human nature with for-profit news-media, I guess. But the SUN organization, especially the newspapers, are about the worst offenders at this in Canada. Change comes from within…

    I’m theologically-challenged, but I don’t expect that the genuinely ill are sent to Hell for their crimes. Let’s try harder to detect and help those with problems.

  7. Mike in Toronto says:

    Warren – Very well said.

  8. Nasty Bob says:

    An interesting article from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law which concludes that mass murders are not new but the recent rise the ” Pseudocommando” is. ” Present day access to powerfull automatic firearms as well as the glorification of the phenomenon by the media are two factors making modern mass murders unique”

    While infamy or immortality via media may play a role -the psychiatry of the shooter is more complex. It may be the path to such unforgivable horrors started many years ago when the shooter was called a “loser” and treated as a “nobody” Perhaps in addition to gun control and media ethics we might want to examine our compassion, or lack there of, as preventative measures.


    • frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

      Interesting article, Nasty. I was going to mention the Bath School Incident, and lo, there it was at the end of the article………


    • Ted H says:

      Pseudocommando, what a descriptive term. It seems these guys are attracted to black garb or camo garb, bulletproof or tactical vests, military style weapons and plenty of them. That image is readily seen in TV shows about Police or Military, movies and Video games. Obviously the culture has planted this in their minds as a romantic image to be emulated.

  9. dave says:

    Sunday I listened to a discussion of this shooting on radio. I had my tv on mute to catch the end of the Seahawks game. During the 30-40 minutes that I watched the game i saw 4 ads, 2 for coming tv shows, 1 movie, and 1 video game. Each showed me young men in shiney leather and with oily muscles with weapons as big as a burlesque dildo shooting down assorted monstrous “others.”
    We create the myth that we live in, and act out. Some of us go a bit further than others. Many of the shooters we see are young men who dress in costumes that are right out of our myth making.
    Not the whole cause, but, I think it contributes.

    (A wee bit of demurring on the editor’s attitude on suicidals…kind of chintzy not to give a “nobody’ even a small mention in his or her death. Of course, covering it up by ignoring it would have saved Apple some embarrssment about the working conditions in their China plant.)

  10. RonMac says:

    Guns and insane people don’t mix, but it’s near impossible to ban either. Here’s hoping Obama can impose some kind of sanity test to Americans who seek to own an arsenal of weapons. But even then, illicit gun sales will continue because they are saturated with weapons. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  11. david says:

    While I agree with most of W’s piece we cannot forget the power of humiliation. As a senior I was completely radicalized when I watched the young woman being humiliated and then arrested by Officer Bubbles during the G20; knowing full well that a certain politician was grinning from ear to ear while spending enough money to supply permanent housing for a small town.

  12. Ted H says:

    Latest statistics show that gun deaths have exceeded automobile related fatalities in 9 US states in the last few years. That eliminates a favourite gun advocate talking point, that more people are killed by cars than guns.

  13. Eric Weiss says:

    “Not because we insisted on interviewing terrified six-year-olds on air, actually asked them how they “feel.”

    Absolutely. Even more disgusting than the media vultures who do this, is the parents who allow it. If my child was involved involved in something like that and some newshound came up to him looking for a sound bite, I’d lose it. I haven’t been in a fight since I became a parent, but I have no doubt in my mind I’d punch them in the face. What kind of parent would allow someone to exploit their child like that? Just so they can be on TV? Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race.

  14. JT says:

    That’s an interesting concept, not one that I’ve considered until reading your piece. However, I doubt it would work. As a former journalist who despised having to knock on the door of the family members of the recently deceased for a sound bite or a photo, I had to get out. I hated it. I couldn’t stand doing it, but the news editors credo of “if it bleeds it leads” holds truth for a reason. We as humans have an innate penchant for a train wreck, some kind of horror or tragedy. What happens when there’s a multi-car accident on the highway? All the traffic in the other lanes slow and jam up because it’s in our nature to look. As much as we might despise the news coverage of carnage from a simple car crash to something as horrible and unthinkable as what happened in Newtown, the reason journalists feed on those stories is because it sells. People read those stories, they watch those news reports. I would bet my house that the sales of newspapers and the ratings on news shows shot up dramatically after this recent event. Because of that, and because of this new media universe where you not only have the traditional news media, but the social media and citizen journalists, you’ll never be able to keep such a key detail like that away from the masses.

    It’s a messed up world. When one moment you can watch the President of the US make one of the most heartfelt and saddest speeches in history and only a few moments later you can watch a documentary about people selling a spot for hundreds of thousands of dollars in a post-apocalyptic survival community where there are lots of guns, ammo, food and self-sustaining, self-defense plans in place; it makes you shake your head.

    I’m not a pessimist but I think as much as we might hope for change… due to politics, lobby groups and our own human nature, very little of substance will come from this. Even something like putting an embargo on the killer’s name… it’ll never happen.

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