Michaud: Killers don't deserve the fame

People continue to visit the makeshift memorial to People continue to visit the makeshift memorial to the 12 movie theater shooting victims built across the street from the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colo. (July 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Anne Michaud Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Anne Michaud

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion. She has written about politics, government, education and transportation

This is a column about the man accused of killing a dozen innocent people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. But you won't read his name here.

I won't degrade our conversation with it. He doesn't deserve the attention, which apparently he craved. And potential copycats don't need the encouragement that might come from giving any more notoriety to this guy.

It's time we deprived such people of the fame they too easily achieve with their horrific acts. Maybe if we cut off the oxygen of attention, the murderous flames would die down.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. In 2007, a Nebraska man opened fire in a shopping mall and killed eight people before turning the gun on himself. He left a suicide note saying, "I'm going out in style. I'm going to be famous." Do you remember his name? Me neither.

Forget for a moment how sad a commentary that is on the state of our country -- we have so many mass murders that eight in Omaha doesn't stand permanently in memory. The point is that, after that shooting, radio host Paul Harvey refused to say the killer's name on the air. It was his personal protest against a twisted being who would inflict so much damage for a place in the history books.

Some are taking a similar tack today. A Dallas columnist, Jeffrey Weiss, wrote: "You may have noticed I've never mentioned the accused shooter's name . . . it's pretty obvious he wants to be famous. I can't stop that, but I don't have to be a party to it."

Jordan Ghawi, the brother of slain sports journalist Jessica Ghawi, 24, asked for people to focus on how his sister lived. He tweeted, "remember the names of the victims and not the name of the coward who committed this act."

President Barack Obama, after visiting with victims and families at the University of Colorado Hospital on Sunday evening, gave a televised speech saying that it will be the good people and the heroic acts that will be remembered -- not the alleged gunman. The president didn't mention the suspect by name, assuring listeners that though there was a lot of focus on him now, eventually that notoriety will fade.

"In the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy," Obama said.

Exactly so.

It's possible that studying the shooter's life -- his education, his family, his habits -- could help us learn how to avoid another tragic massacre. But the thousands of hours of reporting and writing about the Columbine and Virginia Tech killings didn't prevent the Aurora tragedy. The attention may instead have encouraged escalating horrors.

But we would rather not accept that randomness and chaos can reach us at benign events like a movie premiere. We study the motives of a killer to calm our fears and find "reasons" for his actions -- the way, when we hear of cancer, we hope to hear of smoking, or when we hear of an auto fatality, we're reassured if seat belts weren't used. We buckle up.

If I were in charge of the world, I'd withdraw at least one motivation for evil: the thrill of national attention. Take the cameras out of the courtroom. Let editors withhold photos from their publications. Let the justice system work its way to a result.

The ancient Athenians and the Quakers used to ostracize or shun people who refused to live by their rules. In baseball broadcasts, cameras often turn away from fans running out onto the field bent on mischief. Why reward that behavior with instant celebrity?

Celebrity, at least 15 minutes of it, is what Andy Warhol predicted was the fate of every person. Let's rob the Aurora killer of his remaining time on the clock.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.

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