Last night on her Fox News program, star anchor Megyn Kelly kicked things off with a lesson in journalism ethics:
Breaking tonight. Fort Hood, Texas on lockdown. A suspected shooter is reported dead. This is ‘The Kelly File’ and I’m Megyn Kelly. We’re expecting the first news conference from Fort Hood to begin any moment, Fox News confirming four people are dead, including the shooter. Fourteen people are wounded. Authorities are identifying the shooter. If you are interested, you can get his name on other shows like the one that preceded this one and online, but we have decided not to name these mass killers as a policy here on “The Kelly File.” Too often it is infamy they seek and we decline to help.
Some points here:
*This is a noble pursuit. It is genuinely good that a program, in whatever channel, would seek to withhold assistance to others who seek infamy through bloodshed.
*It’s a noble pursuit that’s undercut by Kelly’s own instructions: “If you are interested, you can get his name on other shows like the one that preceded this one and online.” If Kelly and Fox News are serious about the policy, they should consider making it network-wide. As noted by Politico, Fox News breaking-news guru Shepard Smith had already given viewers the name of the shooter, Ivan Lopez.
*There surely is evidence that mass shooters read the clips of those who’ve come before them. Following the Newtown massacre, for instance, investigators found “articles and other documents related to other mass murders” at the home of shooter Adam Lanza, according to the Hartford Courant.
*If you don’t publish the name, what other details do you withhold? Kelly and her producers apparently considered newsworthy the “nationality” of the shooter: “The nationality of the shooter appears — it sounds Hispanic, Latino, but you can look up his name online if you care to know more.” “Hispanic” and “Latino,” of course, are not nationalities, but Kelly was on live television doing breaking news. The point is that if you provide certain details about the shooter’s background and not others — and you can’t even use the person’s name — how to present a scannable news story?
The five W’s (and one H) of journalism form a powerful imperative. News anchors abandon them at their peril, and with unknown consequences. The logic behind Kelly’s decision is to deprive this individual of “infamy.” Yet she appears to have gone wall to wall with her coverage, as did other news broadcasts. So just how much “infamy” did this tactic withhold?