Monday, January 10, 2011

Against Insane Fame

Now comes insult added to social injury as the "news" starts to tell us every detail of the Tucson killer's sick life and what led him to massacre innocent people and devastate a nation as well as so many families.

In my lifetime of journalism spanning Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated JFK, to Mark David Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon, one of the sorriest dilemmas was how and how much to report on those monstrous figures who try to redeem their twisted obscurity with the blood of well-known others.

"How much will I get for my memoirs?" the gunman who shot white supremacist George Wallace in 1972 asked police, after having stalked Richard Nixon and failed to kill him in his search for insane fame. (That was before passage of the "Son of Sam Law," to keep killers from profiting from their crimes.)

Their stories are always the same, in recent years from the Virginia Tech mass murderer on--resentful loners who explode into violence after years of bizarre behavior helplessly reported by those who came into contact with them. We, and journalists who represent us, search for moments when they could have been stopped, but never find satisfying answers.

The result is a kind of blood pornography, focusing on the perpetrators of violence. We want to know what drove them but never really find out.

As a First Amendment near-absolutist, I have no solution for this journalist trap, only a confession of my continuing regret about the one occasion I broke my own rule about not rewarding such behavior. I paid Oswald's mother to be interviewed by Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Jean Stafford. The result was a magazine article and later book, "A Mother in History," that dramatized the madness in which he grew up, but I still regret doing it.

As we mourn the victims and celebrate the lives they lived and, in the case of the girl born on 9/11/01 might have, we want to know what happens legally to the perpetrator but as much as we can, let's leave him in the darkness from which he came to destroy those lives.


Fuzzy Slippers said...

It's completely understandable that you paid for Stafford to interview Oswald's mother. Such in-depth reports on the madness of the mad can actually help people recognize the signs in people they know. I read somewhere that John Wayne Gacy's dad had no idea that he was raising a serial killer even though there were clear indicators dating back to his childhood (or so I read, this isn't my field). Maybe if he'd read a book about one, he'd have seen signs and been able to intervene in some way. Please don't feel bad about it, for all we know, someone read that article or book and was able to get help to someone who needed it.

I must say, too, that I'm so happy to see that you aren't jumping on the "blame Sarah" bandwagon. This guy is obviously completely unstable, possibly a paranoid schizophrenic. His politics seem to be all over the map, as might be expected from a crazy person, but it does appear that he was "more left" than right. I do not, however, think that matters one whit in this case. He's just an insane, sick killer. He certainly doesn't deserve to bask in "insane fame."

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

Fuzzy Slippers - “but it does appear that he was "more left" than right.”

Perhaps you might exercise the common decency to acknowledge the somberness of the moment and refrain from leveling partisan potshots, especially in view of the fact that Mr. Stein has NOT DISRESPECTED YOU or any conservative readers with insinuations in kind. There is no way you can put lipstick on a squeal. Shame of you! said...

The solution, as Rick Perlstein wrote last September amid a spate of Koran-burning small-town pastors, is to renew the moral mandate to stigmatize uncivil discourse and extremism. That means, cover and write about this things, but do so with a clear "this is wholly unacceptable" slant. Biased? Not really. Just maintaining the social norms that we already do a thousand times a day.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

@Octopus, despite our ideological differences, I've been reading Mr. Stein's articles for well over a year because his writing is often sublime. In that time, I've also grown to admire his even handedness on most topics/events and to appreciate that he often surprises me with his viewpoints. This post was no exception to the latter point. Mr. Stein, I am confident, did not take my comment as disrespectful. If he did, I am sincerely and deeply sorry.

That said, your opinion is meaningless to me.

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

Fuzzy Slippers - I've also grown to admire his even handedness …

A courtesy you have not repaid in kind, given this statement, “but it does appear that he was "more left" than right.”

By all accounts, the shooter fits the profile of a disturbed loner who crossed a threshold into the abyss of schizophrenia, which is not a partisan point until you chose to make it one.

Fuzzy Slippers - I've been reading Mr. Stein's articles for well over a year because his writing is often sublime.

If you admire his evenhandedness so much, then why did you accord him the disrespect of leaving underhanded polemic in your above comment.

Mr. Stein, methinks you need a better troll.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

@Octopus, was there some part of "That said, your opinion is meaningless to me." that you have difficulty understanding?

As to Mr. Stein, he's certainly free to delete my comments and take me off his blogroll, but I sincerely doubt that he'd do so on your recommendation.

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

Fuzy Slippers, - “… was there some part of "That said, your opinion is meaningless to me." that you have difficulty understanding?

In your ill-mannered attempt to privilege yourself, perhaps it may not have occurred to you that there are others readers of Mr. Stein, including Mr. Stein himself, who may have interest in my opinions. You are NOT the sole and exclusive proprietress of Mr. Stein’s readership.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

@Octopus, perhaps you're new to the internet? If you are making a general comment and not directing it at another commenter, simply refrain from beginning with that person's name (in bold. Twice.).

That said, I sincerely doubt that Mr. Stein nor any of his other readers are in the least interested in your commentary to me. What on earth makes you think he would be? Do you think you're so extraordinary in any way? So clever? So witty? If so, keep on commenting. I'm sincerely uninterested in your self-righteous nonsense. It's boring.

Swampcracker said...

It appears the Fuzzy is frazzled and turning quite nasty. Personally, I like the little critter's comments.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

@Ecophotos, frazzled? Hardly. I find it endlessly amusing when lefties attack me for no reason (other than that I'm a conservative, apparently), and then keep upping the ante in rhetoric (condescension, sniping, and snark) and then have the bizarre audacity to see my matching their tone as "nasty."

I didn't attack your friend, she attacked me. Repeatedly. I merely responded in kind, stepping up the rhetoric to match hers. That I was more effective is cause for consternation, I'm sure, but reread this thread, who is really "nasty" and "frazzled" here, so much so that the attacks continue on another post by Mr. Stein?

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

Let the record show that I am a Mr. Octopus, not a Miss or Mrs. or a Ms.

Oops, you missed again.