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Let’s All Demand Killer’s Names Not Be Published

Here is something we all could do to make these horrific multiple murders less likely to happen:

Let’s not publish killers’ names or pictures.

Let’s all agree. Sign petitions. Make demands. Tell the New York Times and Huffington Post and Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, and all the newspapers, all the new channels, all the online news, all the bloggers:

Let’s not publish killers’ names or pictures. 

This could happen. There is precedent for it: Media don’t publish names or pictures of rape victims. Thank God for that. And it was done by general agreement, and there is no downside; everybody wins. Free press isn’t compromised when it’s a voluntary restraint. So too, media could agree not to publish the names or pictures of these killers. We don’t have to pass a law about it (although we ought to). We just have to make it the ethical norm.

man with face blurred and crossed out

Let me be clear: I am no way suggesting that this idea replace the need for better laws on guns, or that this is instead of better laws on guns. I don’t want to be guilty of suggesting we outlaw costumes in theaters instead of guns. This would be in addition to that. And this, unlike gun laws, is something concrete that we can do. We could be effective.,

All we really have to do is agree, enough of us, vocally enough, on this simple rule:

Let’s not publish killers’ names or pictures. 

What we’d get from that is a reasonable chance to change the equation the next time some sick person gets the impulse. Obviously nobody knows what strange combination of factors converge as a person commits these horrific acts; but there’s an obvious possibility that one of the influencers is getting worldwide attention, being famous, being a celebrity.

We all know the strange power and attraction of celebrity. And we can all guess how that influences the killers.

With some of these killers, it’s not just 15 minutes of fame; it’s forever. There are serial killers who are better known in our society than some great leaders.

And the attention on serial killers. Think of some huge box office moves focusing on serial killers. Think of the network television series focusing on serial killers. Now think of what’s in the mind of the next person who might be capable of committing a monstrosity like last week. What’s the chance that the attention, the celebrity, the “everybody knows my name” factor mixes into the concoction of self pity, rage, and revenge that has them grab a gun.

We could change that part of the equation, all of us, by getting together and insisting:

Let’s not publish killers’ names or pictures. 

So what do we do? We join up. We start saying it. I’ve never been a movement kind of a person, so I don’t know how we get going; but maybe you do. Where to we start the petition? How do we organize it? If you think it’s a good idea, then help me get going on this.

And what about a hashtag? #nofame4killers is the best I can come up with. Can we do better?


  • David says:

    I think the idea is great. Getting the media to join in on something ethical is a tough hill to climb. I’m glad to hear they don’t post rape victims names…just not sure why. Maybe it is in fact illegal. They post names of people that are murdered.
    Regarding the menal illness issure I too believe it is time to address the elephant in the room.
    A big challenge is that we still know so little about brain physiology and functioning to be able to beat it. Look how long we’ve been trying to “cure” cancer. Still no vaccine for HIV. Our present best option is to commit these folks .Yet how many people and parents are willing to allow that to happen? Some go their grave …literally.. procrastinating that decision about a loved one. Tough spot we’re in. Probably time to quit trying to be mr. and mrs. nice guy and get serious like we have to do with terrorists. Your rights…their rights…don’t trump public safety.

    • Tim Berry says:

      David, thanks for the comment. As far as I know the media have voluntarily maintained the agreement against naming rape victims. It is not by force of law. It looks like there is law about that in Canada, but not here. For my part I do believe in getting the media to join in something ethical. I think it’s happened before and will happen again.

      Your note about “commit these folks” scares the living daylights out of me. Which folks? And who decides? Totalitarian governments have been committing people for questionable reasons forever, and we don’t want to do that. For every publicized monstrous act like the ones in question there are probably 10 million other people who some neighbor or acquaintance decides is a possible future monster. “Commit these folks” would be affecting millions of innocent people for things that one monster might do in the future.

      What particularly worries me is the generalization of attributes. One killer was red headed. Another was a loner. A third was borderline autistic. And for every one of those there are tens of millions of others who share that particular characteristic. With this latest one, my heart bleeds for the tens of millions of parents and kids dealing with learning disabilities who have to read that this latest killer had learning disabilities.

      Do you see what I mean?

  • Bob Bickmeyer says:

    My email of 12/17 to letters at WSJ suggested we (media) not put mass killers pictures and name on front pages and on TV news reports as this is the fame these non-entities seek. You used it well, but it would’ve been nice and ethical if you had given me credit for that thought. I had sent it to USA Today too.. Kindly reply and explain.
    Bob Bickmeyer, Troy, Michigan

  • AUDIOMIND says:

    What new gun law would have prevented this tragedy? While I agree that the lamestream news is in part an accessory to the next mass murderer who wants national notoriety, mental health issues are the real problem. Not guns. As a country we have never given mental healthcare the seriousness it deserves. Pharmaceutical peddlers are not the answer to all that ails us as a society.

  • Greig says:

    Alternatively, publish everyone’s name and photo. Give everyone their 15 minutes of fame. Make everyone a celebrity.

  • Stephen Lahey says:

    Great idea, Tim. Adding to the links that Mimi suggested:

  • Dan Ness says:

    I like your idea.
    Sadly, sensational news with a name and face sells papers and generates clicks.
    With your experience in journalism and business, you’re more qualified than most to figure out how media may no longer publish killer’s name or pictures. Is there a way?
    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Dan, thanks for the comment. My understanding is that the best way to push this idea forward is to advocate for a general agreement, like a matter of convention and standards and generally accepted Journalist ethics, rather than trying to incorporate it into law. This would be very much like what happens to protect of rape victims, which is not a matter of law, just standards and practices. Here’s the relevant wikipedia entry on not naming rape victims. I’m hoping for the same kind of convention on standards and practice to inhibit the publishing of names and photos of serial or multiple killers. Tim

  • Mimi Plevin-Foust says:

    Tim – I couldn’t agree with you more and there are so many places to start petitions that could really garner you a lot of signatures. Here are a few links: – moveon’s start-a-petition tool – they’ll bring up one petition after another to be signed, getting you more signers. – Avaaz has millions of members worldwide.

    I heard this idea discussed on NPR over the weekend and it’s a great one. The question is, who will you direct the petition to? Who are the influencers or journalism associations that could tip the whole media? Perhaps talking with the Bob Garfield, host of NPR’s ‘On the Media’ could help you decide that. (

    Good luck – please keep us posted on this.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Mimi, these are great links. I promise to follow up with at least one of them, and more than one, if the first doesn’t work. Tim

  • Donna Maria says:

    Thank you for your post, Tim. As always, you are thoughtful and intentional in your commentary.

    Like you, I like the *idea* of no fame for killers. I am sick of the sensationalism and all of the people I see using tragedies like this to get SEO juice. I’d love if it killers would get no fame, but I do want the mental illnesses of killers to get fame. It seems clear that many, though surely not all, of the people who kill others and then themselves are driven mainly by mental illness and not by evil for evil’s sake. That’s the bigger issue, but like most other things health related in this nation, we are doing precious little to address it. Yes, I want no fame for killers. But I say let the brightest of light shine on mental illness so it can be addressed where possible before the unthinkable happens. I would love your thoughts on this. Thanks again for another though provoking post.

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