The Washington Post

CNN host doesn’t want bio of Aurora suspect

On his show “Reliable Sources,” CNN’s Howard Kurtz votes for no biographical profile of alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes:

“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.”

I care. Though Kurtz’s aversion to turning the Aurora shooter into a celebrity is noble, it’s also shortsighted. Strong reasons exist for “caring” about the biography of a deranged alleged killer — look no further than the Virginia Tech massacre of April 2007. Extensive reporting on the past of shooter Seung Hui Cho — by The Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for example — revealed gaps in how the state handles the mentally ill and in how Virginia Tech dealt with this clearly troubled student, whose rampage killed 32 people. A massive report by a Virginia state review panel produced a 30-page chapter on Cho’s mental health history. Here’s one of the key conclusions of that chapter:

In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, much of the discussion regarding mental health services has focused on the commitment process. However, the mental health system has major gaps in its entirety starting from the lack of short-term crisis stabilization units to the outpatient services and the highly important case management function, which strings together the entire care for an individual to ensure success. These gaps prevent individuals from getting the psychiatric help when they are getting ill, during the need for acute stabilization, and when they need therapy and medication management during recovery.

The point: We’re an advanced society that’s supposed to have ways of treating those who suffer from mental illness, and we won’t plug the holes in the system by closing our eyes and covering our ears. Contrary to Kurtz’s contention, we need to know not nothing about the alleged killer; we need to know everything about the alleged killer.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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