Famous Or Infamous?
One of the first rules of journalist involve the "w's": who, what, when, where, why (and how).
Today was one of those days when some of us in the biz might've wanted to skip the first one.
I'm talking about the Omaha mall story involving a gunman who chose to end an existence he deemed no longer worth prolonging by taking eight innocent bystanders with him to the great beyond. It's a sickeningly familiar tale of a malcontent seeking ultimate revenge against a society he thinks did him wrong. It's SO familiar, in fact, that many of us forget that there've been at least three similar attacks at shopping centers this year. Three of 'em.
"Now, I'll be famous," the gunman wrote in his suicide note.
Yes, we used his name today on Wisconsin's Morning News, as did virtually every other media outlet telling the story of his sad life and cowardly, self-inflicted demise. "Fame" and "infamy" are pages apart in the dictionary, and don't share the same planet when it comes to accomplishment.
If fame is what this guy sought, he can rest assured it'll be short-lived. Who remembers the name of the college student who shot up Virginia Tech, killing 30+ people earlier this year? You may remember the details, as well as the package of home video he sent to NBC News, but do you remember who he was? NBC took a lot of flak for airing the gunman's ramblings, but it was news, providing the much-needed "why" component after something so senseless. Critics said the network only gave the perp what he wanted: a platform for his ramblings, the notoriety that he sought so badly.
And so it'll be with this guy. People who knew him are fleshing in the post-mortem details. We're hearing about the McDonald's firing and the break-up that preceded Wednesday's outrage. I'm sure there'll only be too many people willing to admit they knew the shooter--witnesses and acquaintances have a thirst for fame, too, with some craving it more than others.
The Omaha man won't be the last mass shooter we'll ever hear about. There will be some who say this story already got too much attention, and that this week's events could encourage others to follow suit. It's sad, but there's no lack of people who seem to need to validate their existence by doing something bad--maybe because it's so easy to knock down the proverbial 15 minutes of fame by being the heavy.
If and when it happens, let us remember again not to confuse "fame" with "infamy". Let's not make victims of people who use guns to process their rage. Let's call these people what they really are.
Even if it means having to say their names..