In its first paragraph alone, the New Yorker’s profile of Peter Lanza, father of the Newtown, Conn., gunman, Adam Lanza, provides valuable information. It shows how Peter Lanza received all kinds of “keepsakes,” including Bibles and candy, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Not that Peter Lanza ate any of the candy — he fears it could be poisoned.
The article by Andrew Solomon comes from several long interviews with Lanza. In addition to documenting Lanza’s feelings of guilt and inadequacy, it fills in a huge informational hole in the story of Adam Lanza. E-mails between Peter Lanza and his ex-wife, Nancy Lanza, that were shared with Solomon help narrate the day-to-day agony of dealing with an increasingly unstable Adam. For example, Solomon writes:
When I visited Peter, he produced four binders of printouts of his e-mails with Nancy and Adam since 2007. By 2008, when Adam turned sixteen and was going to school only for occasional events, Nancy’s e-mails describe his escalating misery. “He had a horrible night. … He cried in the bathroom for 45 minutes and missed his first class.” Two weeks later, she wrote, “I am hoping that he pulls together in time for school this afternoon, but it is doubtful. He has been sitting with his head to one side for over an hour doing nothing.” Later that year: “Adam had a rough night. He moved everything out of his room last night. He only kept his bed and wardrobe cabinet.”
Of all the pieces written on Newtown, this particular one comes the closest to marrying narrative journalism with service journalism. That is, it’s an exceptional read, and it may just help parents who are struggling with children losing their connection to reality. Here’s Solomon, explaining why Nancy Lanza made a series of decisions to comfort her child: “All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy’s error seems to have been that she always focused on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son.”
Deep in the story, we find out why Peter Lanza opened up. Writes Solomon, “The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event.”
Despite the story’s laudable contributions to understanding Newtown, there is a smidgen of opposition to it. In an interview with USA Today, Monte Frank, a Newtown lawyer with the Newtown Action Alliance, expressed his wish that the New Yorker piece hadn’t been published. “For this story to come out 15 months after the unspeakable tragedy only serves as an another reminder of that horrible day and raises questions as to why now,” Frank told USA Today.
Those questions are answered within the New Yorker article. In September, Peter Lanza indicated to Solomon that he was ready to talk. They talked and talked and talked, with “interviews lasting as long as seven hours.”
Frank’s concerns that the article would serve as “another reminder” of the Newtown massacre echoes other maneuvers to tamp down media attention. Last December, on the first anniversary of the tragedy, some news organizations stayed away from Newtown in deference to appeals from residents who didn’t want satellite trucks rumbling around. Good thing such appeals didn’t make the New Yorker think twice about publishing its story. The role of the media is never to assist others in forgetting.