Musings —12.17.2012 10:03 PM—
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.”