The right way to publish a killer’s deranged manifesto

There’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.

But don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t want to annotate it like this.)

Art Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, advocates the same approach when considering the publication of medical research produced by Nazi doctors. By explaining the flaws behind information, we contribute to an improving body of knowledge while neutralizing the potential of perpetuating harm.

“Make it clear this is the raving of a devious and delusional mind,” Caplan said of Rodger’s manifesto. “Help us understand what compels someone to be so hateful and mysogonistic.”

Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did, by labeling the killer’s ravings as those of a lunatic. Or you can point out the many places misogynists turn to reinforce their hate, the way the Soraya Nadia McDonald did for The Washington Post in this piece.

Journalists who repeat the names of childhood acquaintances that Rodger faulted for his personal misery have a particular responsibility to counteract that blame in their reporting.

When we leave out the additional context that would condemn Rodger’s logic, we run the risk of legitimizing his rationale. It seems ludicrous, until you consider the fact that misogyny is the root of many crimes.

Journalists asked similar questions when The Washington Post and The New York Times, at the request of the FBI, published the Unabomber’s manifesto in 1995, hoping that someone might be able to identify him (which worked.) That 35,000-word screed against technology, equality, and progressive causes remains available today.

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  • Jus’speakin’th’truth

    “Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did…”

    You mean, hunt down a woman identified in Rodger’s manifesto as being a source of his rage, and post bikini pics of her in its pages?

    Sorry, the Post is hardly worthy of praise for its “work” in covering this tragedy.

    David C.

  • Jim Harper

    Yes! Share the info. Add context as well as you can. Be prepared for debate. That’s the profession we’re in.