CNN’s Howard Kurtz yesterday lamented that profiles of the alleged shooter in the Aurora. Colo., tragedy would soon be spilling onto newsprint. He doesn’t want such information, as he said yesterday on his show “Reliable Sources”:
“I don’t care — other than how he got the guns and how he got 2,000 rounds of ammunition, I read somewhere, through the mail: I don’t care about this guy. I don’t care about whether he was disappointed in school. I don’t want psychological studies of him, because anybody who shoots up a movie theater with men, women and children is crazy — is so much of a sociopath that, I think, it’s almost fruitless for us to figure out, well, what was it about it that made him snap.... It seems like the whole DNA of journalism is there are unanswered questions, we have to answer them. Well maybe some questions can’t be answered.”
The Erik Wemple Blogger protested, saying we need information about the alleged killer. But why trust some media writer Trust instead:
The father of a Columbine victim: Tom Mauser lost his 15-year-old son, Daniel Mauser, in the 1999 shootings in Littleton, Colo. When asked if there’s any merit in holding back a full biography of an alleged mass murderer, Mauser said this:
I don’t think it’s healthy to not talk about what their state of mind was. Why would we hide this?...I think that is ridiculous, frankly, because we do have to have an understanding of what is going through the mind of someone like that. It’s true that there won’t be a logical explanation because...they are deranged. But in order for someone to see this in someone else, you have to know about it. It’s prevention.
An advocate for the mentally ill. Doris Fuller, executive director of the Arlington-based Treatment Advocacy Center, says: “Whether we talk about them or not, these acts are going to occur.” By conservative calculations, says Fuller, 10 percent of homicides and a “higher percentage of rampage killings” are the work of individuals who suffer from mental illness. (Fuller’s organization keeps a database of so-called ”preventable tragedies” to document the magnitude of this problem.)
So precisely where is Kurtz so mistaken, so completely wrong? It’s in showing such a shallow understanding of mental illness.
The reality, suggests Fuller, is that mental illness is something that progresses. When Seung Hui Cho committed the massacre at Virginia Tech in April 2007 — taking 32 lives and then his own — he was at the “end stage of the disease,” says Fuller. He was fully psychotic. The trick, she says, is to educate people to detect the earlier stages of mental illness and take action. Fuller likens that imperative to what has happened in the field of autism, where advances have enabled doctors to diagnose the disorder earlier than was possible years ago.
Fuller’s message to those who would wish away serious reporting on the life of an allegedly deranged alleged mass murderer: “It’s only if you believe that ignorance is power that you don’t want to know these things. Knowledge is the basis of hope,” she says.