Kish and I were driving home yesterday, so we missed the TV news coverage of the awful shootings in Virginia. We therefore didn’t see the footage of the killer gunning down two innocent people, for reasons no one will be able to explain.
We listened to the radio, though, and heard the sounds of the gunshots and the terrified and anguished screams of the witnesses — and that was bad enough.
Whatever other twisted grievances and chilling fantasies may have motivated the killer to commit a cold-blooded murder of a reporter and cameraman on live TV, it’s obvious that a desire for public attention was one of them. I won’t give it to him, nor will I have my sensibilities jaded and perverted and corrupted by watching something so horrible. I’m not going to look for his Facebook page, or read his “manifesto,” either, nor am I going to put a picture of him, or his criminal deed, on this post. Consider it my little protest against publicizing the evil actions of a sick, depraved mind.
There’s a serious journalistic ethics question lurking here: if you are a TV news program, do you broadcast the footage, which plays into the killer’s desires and potentially might lead to copycat actions, or do you decline to do so, knowing that some of your viewers might change the channel to a station that takes a different approach? I can’t fault those outlets that broadcast the footage, on a “just report the facts” rationale, but I can applaud those networks and programs that declined to do so. Journalists are part of society, and as a society we have an interest in discouraging murderous acts by disturbed individuals.
We live in a weird world, where ethical questions arise that wouldn’t even have been possible in an earlier, less technological age in which “social media” didn’t raise the possibility that every criminal could also become a celebrity. Sometimes, as in the case of the Virginia shootings, it’s a truly ugly world. I’d rather not dive into that ugliness.