That was predictable. Virtually every time we run a photo of the perpetrator of a terrible crime, some readers call to object. The most typical criticisms – and I’m hearing them this morning – are: The newspaper is “glorifying” the killer (and shouldn’t), and “this is what the killer wanted (so you shouldn’t do it).”
While I don’t reject those points of view, I do find them hard to understand. After hearing that word, “glorify,” again this morning, I pulled out the dictionary just to see if I misunderstood what it means. The two most pertinent definitions were:
“To praise extravagantly; honor; extol” and “to make seem better, larger, finer, etc. than is actually the case.”
It seems clear to me that running a photo of the most reviled human being in the country, next to the headline, “Video reveals a ‘sick mind,’ ” does not constitute extravagant praise or honor. Does a photo of him preparing for mass murder make him seem “better, larger, finer” than he was? It doesn’t have that effect on me, but perhaps for some viewers that truly is the case.
Can we assume that having his photos and words published is what he wanted? Absolutely. Why else would he prepare that material and mail it to a national news organization?
But does that mean all of the material should be suppressed, that we shouldn't be able to see it because that was his intention? Take that argument to its logical extreme: The killer wanted massive attention, so, to thwart his will, the news media should treat it as a minor incident. Would that make any sense?
As both a reader and an editor, I don’t care what the killer wanted. I care about what I and most readers of the newspaper want, which is information about what happened, who was involved and why it happened. Some of the information he may have wanted the public to know, and other information he probably didn’t. In either case, he isn't the one who decides what information is disseminated, and in what context.
If the public doesn't have whatever information can be discovered, how can people try to understand the event -- what it means, how it might have been prevented, what to tell our children to do should they ever encounter similar danger, and a hundred other things?
For me, part of the information I need is a chance to look into the eye of the killer. I want to hear his voice and watch his expression as he insanely spews his justification for the tragedy to come. I want to see how he was dressed. And I also want to see the faces of the dead, and of the survivors, and to know about their lives and their heroism and acts of compassion.
Our job at the Daily News is to provide as much of that information as we reasonably can, despite its disturbing quality, even while knowing that some readers may want more and some may want less.
I can understand readers who say there is more information in the paper about an event than they want or need. What I have a harder time understanding is readers who say, in effect, I don’t want this information for myself and I don’t want you to make it available to other readers, even if they want it.
And photos, because of their emotional power, are often the content that stirs those objections. The photo of the killer in the paper today is . . . what? Chilling, frightening, disturbing, infuriating, sickening.
But in trying to tell the story of a tragedy of such magnitude, I think a photo like that, played prominently, is a necessary ingredient.
I invite to tell me whether you agree or disagree, and why.