When to Name, and Not to Name, Mass Murderers

By Chris Ariens 

In recent years some cable news anchors, most notably Anderson Cooper and Megyn Kelly, have chosen not to name the suspects of mass shootings. It gives them the attention the killers craved, they argue, and delivers another blow to the survivors.

Following a mass shooting at an Oregon college last October, Kelly’s decision not to report the name of the killer, Chris Harper Mercer, led to a social media debate with CNN’s Don Lemon, who argued naming the suspect is a key part of the story. It’s the first W of the 5 W’s and and H that are the basis of all news reporting.

Last night, as Kelly anchored a special Sunday night edition of her show following the massacre in Orlando, she chose to name the suspect, Omar Mateen. We wanted to know what goes into the decision about when to name, or not name, these brazen killers. Here’s what Kelly’s ep, Tom Lowell, told TVNewser via email:

Our policy is the result of several top security experts (not to mention the families of many mass shooting victims) urging us to refrain from naming mass shooters. Too often, these crimes are driven by a mix of mental illness and a desire for media attention. When we encounter an event where it becomes apparent that the shooter was driven by the desire for infamy, we decline to help. When it is clear there was some other primary motive, such as terrorism or ideology (e.g., the Orlando nightclub shooting and the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado), we typically will name the killer. We understand that here too, a desire to be known may also play a role, but the primary motive tends to be ideological in such cases, according to experts. Moreover, when dealing with a suspected terrorist, there is always a concern about other radicalized connections and associates and helping publicize the identity of these killers may actually assist an investigation. We recognize that this is not a perfect science. However, given the number of mass killings we have seen in recent years in the United States, and the enormous platform we have as part of the prime time lineup on Fox News Channel, we feel a responsibility to do what we can within reason.

During his half-hour speech on domestic terrorism today, Donald Trump announced he would not be using the killer’s name.

More: Cooper began his show tonight by telling viewers “there’s one name you will not hear in the broadcast, one picture of a person you won’t see. We will not say the gunman’s name or show his photograph, it has been shown far too much already.”