As jury selection in the trial of the Aurora shooter proceeds, families of the victims implore the media to refrain from using the gunman's name. Bob talks with Tom Teves, who lost his son Alex in the shooting rampage, about his efforts to keep the press from turning mass killers into media icons with his group, NoNotoriety.
BROOKE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone
BOB: And I’m Bob Garfield. In the summer of 2012, a heavily armed man with garishly dyed hair stood in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater and opened fire on the audience. 12 people were killed, 70 others injured. Jury selection in the case began last week.
It’s journalistically routine to name the accused; it is, after all a matter of public record. But for the purposes of this conversation its a fact I’ll simply leave out. And I’ll do that because that’s the way our guest would prefer it.
Tom Teves lost his 24-year old son, Alex, in the shooting rampage. Alex died protecting his girlfriend from gunfire. Soon after the crime, haunted not just by his son’s murder but by the various unhinged-looking photos of the accused in the press, Teves and his wife, Caren, started a group called “No Notoriety.” It beseeches news outlets not to turn mass killers into media icons.
TEVES: When we talk to different journalists and they talk about, “Well we have to research their background to find out what motivated them,” I much applaud that. You do need to research their background. What you don't need to do is use their names and their likenesses. Definitely if they're at large, use their names and their likenesses to bring them to justice. But once they're apprehended, that's really no longer a part of the story other than to create a call to action for another like-minded killer to take his plans and his thoughts and make them deeds.
BOB: So the press becomes an accessory after the fact to giving a deranged gunman exactly what he's looking for to begin with, and then an accessory before the fact by motivating killers to do the same thing.
TEVES: That's exactly right. And if you look through the different data, you'll find that. Now you have to be careful because this is all basically case study data, because obviously we don't want to conduct an experiment on something like this.
BOB: But the case studies, and there have been many of them, give profilers at the FBI a pretty solid idea without a double blind experiment, as you say, of the common threads motivating this kind of outrage. What does the FBI have to say on this?
TEVES: The FBI doesn't want you to name them, they don't want you to talk to them, they don't want their pictures. Some of the psychiatrists say that if you have to put a picture of them on, if you just can't stop yourself, the reasonable thing to do is show a picture of them either in a very unflattering pose or preferably on the autopsy table. Because remember what you're dealing with is suicidal people, in most cases. Unfortunately not in my case, but this isn't about me, this is about stopping the future. My ship has sailed. My son is dead. No one can bring him back. This is about saving your children, and your grandchildren, and possibly yourself.
BOB: No Notoriety has a list of protocols that it proposes for media outlets to follow in the wake of one of these mass shootings. What's on the list?
TEVES: It says limit the name and likeness of the individual from reporting, except when necessary for initial identification. Refuse to broadcast, publish photos and/or self-serving statements made by the individual. Now that's a key piece. Many of these have manifestos. I struggle to think that many of the media that publish the manifestos actually spent the time to read the manifestos to come up with the motivation. You're really doing it because you're reporting on a story, you're not doing the in depth analysis of what motivates them. And then recognize that the name and likeness is irrelevant to media coverage except when the alleged assailant is still at large and in doing so would aid in the capture. And realize that the prospect of infamy could serve as a motivating factor and will inspire copycat crimes. And 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.
What we're asking you to do is be responsible. And we're not asking you to do something you don't already do. You don't name rape victims; you keep children's name out of the news. This is a very, very small area that you would have to become responsible in. And you would save lives.
BOB: The public is keenly interested, in varying degrees of nobility, ranging from morbid curiosity and bloodlust to assurance the justice system is functioning as it's designed to. This stuff is public information by law and by design. Why should that change when there is an Aurora or a Sandy Hook or a Fort Hood?
TEVES: If it had changed in Aurora, perhaps there wouldn't be a Sandy Hook, or what happened in the Washington Navy Yard. There is no need to name the individual, there's no need to show their picture, it doesn't change your story. My son would be just as dead from someone named John Doe. The name is irrelevant. And 95% of the people agree with us at this point. So I would argue that the public really doesn't want to see or hear them.
BOB: You have had some success. There have been news organizations which have rethought the journalistic routine. Who are they?
TEVES: Well, we've had some success with the local people in Denver. We've had success with Anderson Cooper, with CNN and Reliable Sources. But it has to become something that you guys realize is responsible. Right now I can tell in your voice that you don't agree with me. And you're trained to do exactly what I'm asking you not to do.
BOB: Hmm. Well as a matter of fact, our job is pretty much defined by five questions: who, what, when, where, why. And right at the top of the list, is who.
TEVES: So I would answer, if the who starts to create the why, then you have an issue. I am saying that, but I'm not the authority. The authorities, the psychologists and again, the FBI, are saying it. The reality is, and we both know that in today's digitally driven world, you can get the name of someone who killed someone in 1854 by going through the Internet. If they really want to know their name, they have complete access to it.
BOB: Based on conversations you've had with people like me, do you have a sense that you can chip away at this, or this is an insurmountable obstacle, this instinct to name names?
TEVES: I don't think anything's insurmountable. I think if rational people have rational conversations and make rational decisions for the greater good, that will get where we need to go. All I ask is that you think about it.
BOB: Tom, thank you.
TEVES: You're welcome.
BOB: Tom Teves is the co-founder of NoNotoriety.com. His son, Alex, was murdered in the July 2012 movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado.