We Can Handle The Truth

A friend criticized publication of Ander Breivik’s photo:

On July 25, the Globe published three handsome photographs of Anders Breivik under the headline “Norway suspect admits ‘facts’, not crime”. By doing so, the paper has elevated an extremist mass murderer to a position of relative glamour. I can only imagine how this choice of photos might encourage other potential killers to start shooting innocents — so they too, can get their images and crazy messages on the front page, even if it is below the fold. Bad choice.

My response was different:

I don’t agree with censorship.

Breivik committed a heinous, monstrous crime. But he doesn’t look like a monster. He could be a Gap model. One could pass him on the street or sit next to him on the subway and not be uneasy–until he opened his mouth. He was able to kill so many on the island because he called them out of hiding, saying he was there to protect them from the shooter. Obviously he was able to establish some trust because he was dressed as a policeman, but I expect his benign appearance helped convince others he was not a monster. His appearance is part of the story. Even if it were not, I’d want to know who did this thing.

From what we know his murders were driven by a lethal mix of ideology and mental illness. He’s acknowledged that he killed the victims but denies criminal responsibility because the killings were “necessary.” He’s written thousands of words explaining his fears of immigration, Islam, cultural mixing. The media is reporting his beliefs and their connection to the ideology of right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups. He killed because he was obsessed with these ideas. Other potential killers are far more likely to be similarly obsessed and motivated by ideas than by a desire to get their pictures in the paper. Should the media not report anything about these racist and murderous ideologies because doing so might inspire others to kill to promote their obsessions? I’d rather expose the hatred at the heart of these beliefs to public scrutiny.

Breivik is one of the most prolific mass-murderers in recent times. The scale of his shooting rampage is unprecedented. Should the media not report the number of victims because other mass murders will try to top it?

If the press censors every fact that might motivate, inflame, or inspire others to engage in similar acts, then what’s left to say? “In some place and at some time something really bad happened. No pictures, facts, or other information at 11.”

I agree with Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

3 thoughts on “We Can Handle The Truth”

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