Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, considers and rejects a ban on publishing mass murderers' names, faces, and "manifestos," though with some misgivings:
The Times posted both the 141-page written manifesto and a video statement issued by the California gunman [Elliot Rodgers] last week....Sullivan concurs with Alison Mitchell, national editor of The Times, who thinks that "we would have very consciously not have been telling a big part of the story" if this material had been omitted in Times reporting. But Sullivan takes seriously the idea that, as one critic puts it, "There's an unspoken agreement that if you are frustrated and angry, that all you have to do to get your feelings broadcast is to kill a lot of people," and that a "conscious copycat effect" fed by publication of such details leads to similar crimes.
Unlike many news outlets, The Times did not cast the video and written statements in a sensational light -- but it did publish them....
When I started writing this column, I had the notion of leaving out Mr. Rodger's name. But it proved impossible, just as, however appealing it might be, it would be impossible for news organizations to leave out the names of other mass killers.
Ross Douthat seems to have unmixed feelings about this:
IN an ideal world, perhaps, the testimony left by the young man who killed six people in Santa Barbara would have perished with its author: the video files somehow wiped off the Internet, his manifesto deleted and any printed copy pulped.I once expressed agreement with the notion that we should deny these guys publicity. Now I don't think it would make much difference.
Spree killers seek the immortality of infamy, and their imitators are inspired by how easily they win it.
If mainstream news organizations refused to draw attention to mass murderers this way -- refused to published their statements, and maybe even withheld publication of their names and photographs -- less-mainstream outlets would almost certainly rush to fill the void. The information wouldn't be suppressed -- it would just be available in slightly more disreputable precincts of the Internet.
But at least the killers would get a lot less publicity, right? Potential future killers would learn that mass murder wouldn't lead to mass fame, and that would be a good thing, wouldn't it?
I'm not sure potential future killers care about mass fame. Cult fame may be sufficient.
Consider the story Erin Gloria Ryan published at Jezebel on Thursday. As you may know, Elliot Rodger spent a lot of time at an online community called PUAHate.com, where men railed against the pickup artist culture, which had promised to teach them techniques for attracting women, and had failed to deliver. Thr PUAHaters fled PUAHate.com after the murders; Ryan spent a day following their discussions at another forum. Many talked of violent revenge -- and Elliot Rodger wasn't their only role model. As Ryan noted, a man named George Sodini "was mentioned -- with praise -- seventeen times by the PUAHate participants during the time I lurked."
Who is George Sodini?
George Sodini is a cowardly fuck who, in 2009, killed 3 women and injured at least ten others when he opened fire on a gym in Pennsylvania.Chances are you've never heard of him. But these guys have. He didn't get the mass media attention Elliot Rodger did, but in the world of these violently angry guys, he's famous. And admired:
The boys reminisce fondly about George Sodini.As Jezebel's Anna North reported in 2009, Sodini was pretty much Rodger with a lower body count and less media attention. You may not have heard about it when he committed his mass murder, but cultists took note:
[3:27 PM]: remember goerge sodini? what if elliot met george sodini
[3:27 PM]: the great sodini
George Sodini killed three women and injured at least ten others at a Pittsburgh-area gym before shooting himself yesterday. His online diary reveals an obsession with "hoes" who refused to date him -- and a connection to more "mainstream" misogynists.He had an online diary indistinguishable from Rodger's rants:
I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne -- yet 30 million women rejected me -- over an 18 or 25-year period. That is how I see it. Thirty million is my rough guesstimate of how many desirable single women there are. A man needs a woman for confidence. He gets a boost on the job, career, with other men, and everywhere else when he knows inside he has someone to spend the night with and who is also a friend. This type of life I see is a closed world with me specifically and totally excluded. Every other guy does this successfully to a degree. Flying solo for many years is a destroyer.In response to the crime, a blogger named Roissy in DC wrote:
I'm not surprised Sodini hasn't had sex in nearly 20 years. As I've written before, to men celibacy is walking death, and anything is justified in avoiding that miserable fate....Five years later, most of America has forgotten his crime. But the PUAHaters hadn't. It's quite possible Elliot Rodger hadn't.
If Sodini had learned game he would have been able to find another woman and gotten laid after his ex dumped him. He wouldn't have spent the next 20 years steeped in bile and weighed down by his Sisyphian blue balls, dreaming of vengeance. Game could have saved the lives of the women Sodini killed. [...]
we are going to see a growing eunuchracy of involuntarily celibate betas and the marginalized men in their ranks decide that exiting in a blaze of hot lead beats living in loveless obscurity.
Suppress the stories all you want. You won't turn future Elliot Rodgers into anonymous figures of universal contempt. You'll turn them into George Sodini.