What the Texas School Shooting Suspect's Pins Tell Us

By Dale Hartley Ph.D., MBA for Psychology Today

From Dr. Park Dietz’s mouth to God’s ear: “When we engage in an obsessive questioning of why a shooter did it, we are granting their  exact wish.” Dr. Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist and researcher, has personally evaluated many mass murderers and has provided expert testimony in numerous criminal trials. His conclusion (and here I quote from Hamlet rather than Dietz): “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”

What Dietz has found is that there is a common motive behind these mass shootings. The details vary in each case, but these shooters obsessively blame others for their problems and fantasize about the attention and historic notoriety that their savage act will provoke. The key to ending, or at least minimizing, the plague of mass killings, is to deprive the shooters of what they crave most: Fame. 

This is precisely what The New York Times gets wrong (link is external) (along with most other news media) – and  don’t think they don’t understand the risk. We’ve been on this merry-go-round of violence long enough for anyone with a lick of sense to realize that publicizing slaughter begets copycat slaughter. 

Don’t put the killer’s face on the landing page of The New York Times’ website. Don’t analyze and interpret his scribbling, social media posts, clothing, or graphic symbols. After John Wilkes Booth’s accomplices in the Lincoln assassination plot were executed, one Washington newspaper wrote, “we wish to know their names no more.” Exactly – that’s the posture we need our news media to adopt. Of course, this stands in opposition to the media quest for ever more clicks and eyeballs.

When their son, Alex, was killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater ambush, Tom and Caren Teves started a campaign called No Notoriety, aimed at changing how mass killings are reported in the news. No Notoriety makes the following appeal to media [quoted from nonotoriety.com (link is external)]:

  • Limit the name and likeness of the individual in reporting after initial identification, except when the alleged assailant is still at large and in doing so would aid in the assailant’s capture.
  • Refuse to broadcast/publish self-serving statements, photos, videos and/or manifestos made by the individual. Elevate the names and likenesses of all victims killed and/or injured to send the message their lives are more important than the killer’s actions.
  • Recognize that the prospect of infamy could serve as a motivating factor for other individuals to kill others and could inspire copycat crimes. Keep this responsibility in mind when reporting.
  • Agree to promote data and analysis from experts in mental health, public safety, and other relevant professions to support further steps to help eliminate the motivation behind mass murder. Recognize that the individual’s name and likeness is irrelevant to media coverage of such acts unless the alleged assailant is at large.

In conclusion, here’s Dr. Dietz again:  “I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”

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Simon Levshin