Report to Readers: Naming Adam Lanza
There’s a curious drumbeat in my email in-box these days: Every time we publish a story about the Newtown, Conn., shootings, I hear from readers who are angry that we have – again – named the shooter.
It happens when we publish stories that originate with the Associated Press, the Washington Post or other syndicated news services. And it happened again yesterday morning when we published an opinion column by Dan Habib of Concord about how to reach the most troubled students in our schools. Habib wrote about his new documentary, Who Cares about Kelsey? but used the Newtown massacre as a jumping off point. And he named the shooter, Adam Lanza.
“We may never know what caused Adam Lanza to take those horrific actions. . . . Although his diagnosis is unclear, reports from Newtown indicate that Lanza was isolated, rarely left his home and was clearly experiencing psychological distress. Many students with emotional and behavioral disabilities – which can include depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other diagnoses – feel disconnected from their schools and communities.”
Our critics argue that by naming Lanza, we are giving the killer just what he wanted: fame.
They say denying him that notoriety – even in death – might dissuade others contemplating similar mayhem. And they believe that keeping his name in the public’s mind is disrespectful and painful to his victims.
On the morning after the shootings, I heard a TV reporter assure his viewers that he would try to use Lanza’s name as infrequently as possible. There has even been talk of legislation that would criminalize the naming of the perpetrators of mass killings.
I don’t agree with this. Our aim is not to glamorize the deeds of a madman but to explain them – and him – as best we can. The job of journalists is to give our readers as much important information as we can to help them understand the world around them. In a case like this, that includes the identity of the shooter and as much as we can uncover about his background.
There are many theories about what led, broadly, to the Newtown killings: easy access to firearms, untreated mental illness, violence in society, in films, in video games. But the children there were killed by an actual person, not a trend. That, too, is an important part of the discussion.
(Felice Belman can be reached at 369-3370 or firstname.lastname@example.org. An early version of this column appeared online at concordmonitor.com/opinion/reporttoreaders.)