It didn't take long for video to appear on YouTube of two Virginia journalists, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, being shot dead during a live interview on Wednesday. Vester Lee Flanagan II, the suspected shooter who later killed himself, recorded the shooting himself, posted it on Facebook and then tweeted about it. His social media accounts were quickly suspended and the YouTube clips taken down. News organizations wrestled with whether to make any of the video available.
The Times decided to post a partial clip, stopping it before the shots are fired.
In her Aug. 26 Critic's Notebook, Times TV writer Mary McNamara explained why she thought it was appropriate for news organizations to cover every aspect of the tragedy debunk the premise that if we watched the Virginia TV shooting, the killer would somehow "win."
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post quoted commenter Repsac3 as saying people were "furthering the attention of the killer." It should have said they were "furthering the intentions of the killer."
"To suggest that we ought to ignore horrific events out of fear that acknowledgment will fulfill a killer's wish is not just absurd, it's agreeing to adopt a murderer's way of thinking," McNamara wrote. "Notoriety is not the same as fame no matter what a psychopath might think; watching or sharing the image of a terrible thing is not an endorsement of its occurrence."
Response to McNamara's column was swift and robust. Readers fell mainly into two camps: Those who argue that by sharing Flanagan's video the media was all but complicit in the murders, and who support a blackout of such videos; and others who insist on the need to publicize all aspects of the tragedy to drive home the preponderance of gun violence in America.
Here's a selection of comments:
Watch, learn, take action
Reader George S1 believes the video should be viewed. He argues that "it should be sickening," because "it gives us proper context for what violence really is, what our police and soldiers have to confront, what the results of an orgy of unregulated firearms allows, the dangers of untreated mental illness, etc."
George S1 added that remaining aloof from the reality of violence and condemning the predators was "a childish way of distancing, clinging to moral superiority, benefiting while condemning and ignorance is never the basis of wisdom."
Joseph Ramallo agrees. "It is important to see the horror that gun violence can inflict on the most innocent people at the most random times," Ramallo wrote.
"The reality is that gun violence kills and injures the innocent," wrote John2011. "Don't look away - DO SOMETHING."
Jay1001 argued that showing the video was necessary to ensure that the public continues to view killing as the heinous crime that is it.
"When a murder ceases to be News, we might as well change our initials from USA to ISIL or DPRK," Jay1001 wrote.
Don't give the killers what they want
But many readers are adamant that the media should refrain from showing videos of people committing crimes such as mass shootings in an effort to avoid giving voice to villains and to prevent copycats.
"No real name, no photos unless the suspect is still alive and wanted," wrote reader DecentDiscourse. "This is not to try and keep it secret.… the idea is to stop making these names and faces famous And no I will not be watching this or reading much about it. Just another Looney in a country where any Looney can have a gun."
Reader Tython agreed.
"We should not give attention to such acts," Tython wrote. "The less attention we give to these crazy people will perhaps sway the next would be killer to never imagine themselves carrying out such an act in the first place.… My vote is don't advertise these acts of carnage even if it hurts the evening news' bottom line."
Repsac3 intentionally didn't watch the video. "I purposefully do not watch any video made by a murderer," the reader said. "I think those who show them, make them available, or watch them are furthering the intentions of the killer and inviting the next terrorist or madman to film and broadcast their act for the same reasons."
Reader Nancy Groutsis said sensitivity and censorship were the answer.
"A highly moral person would consider what the victims want," Groutsis said. "I guess they don't want strangers viewing graphic videos of their deaths."