Reuters editor names theater-shooting 'person of interest' on Twitter

To understand why Reuters Deputy Social Media Editor Matthew Keys has earned such a wide Twitter audience, scan through the last 72 hours or so of his tweets. He's been an invaluable process-journalism firehose about Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes, digging up photos of the alleged shooter's car, stories about investigations into his background and his spurned application to a Colorado shooting range.

Presumably out of the same duty to transparency, Keys tweeted the name of an "associate" of Holmes who police had been looking for:

Not everyone agreed with Keys' decision to tweet Lee's name. Keys tweeted that he reversed engineered Lee's identity from a blurry photo of his Facebook page broadcast on KDVR, which didn't share his name when it first reported police wanted to speak with him.
Lee is a student in the same doctoral program as Holmes was but is not a suspect in the shooting. Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates said Lee's relationship to Holmes "was real inconsequential." Keys didn't reply to questions from Poynter about his decision.

Naming names has emerged as a meta-narrative in this awful story. Jim Holmes, a member of the Colorado Tea Party Patriots, was, let's say, not entirely sympathetic to ABC's Brian Ross, who linked him to the shootings Friday because of his name. “What kind of idiot makes that kind of statement?” Holmes asked The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas.

Holmes told TheDC that ABC News didn’t call him before going to air and he still hasn’t heard from them or received a direct apology. “No, not a thing,” he said.

Swinging in the opposite direction: the reluctance of some in the media to even mention Holmes' name. In an editorial Friday, the Denver Post wrote that Holmes "clearly planned the massacre in such a way as to evoke the maximum amount of publicity."

His theatrical final entrance to "The Dark Knight Rises," as well as his phony, flashy machismo and his black ballistic garb — indeed, the entire life-imitating-art scenario that the shooter choreographed — all point to someone shouting for the public's attention. If it weren't part of our job as journalists, we would hesitate even to mention his name and thereby ratify his intentions.

And Roger Ebert, in a column about the shooting, advanced a similar theory:

I don’t know if James Holmes cared deeply about Batman. I suspect he cared deeply about seeing himself on the news.

Anderson Cooper tweeted he'd prefer to shield history from Holmes:

That's some consolation to Jordan Ghawi, whose sister Jessica was murdered in the shootings.

With much respect to Ghawi, whose pain I can't imagine and whose own commitment to transparency has contributed an important first-person account of the shooting, not naming a suspect in a crime this high-profile is a futile gesture. So I'm not surprised a politician signed up for it.

(That said, my own thinking is hardly settled on this point: Should we name victims of sex assaults? Should we refer to Holmes an "alleged" assailant? My former coworker Amanda Hess just wrote a piece about rape victims who have published the names of their assailants on social media, a barely explored frontier of journalistic probity.)

But I'll go ahead and say journalists don't get to make the call about using Holmes' name. I suspect Cooper's view is evinced in this New York Times piece by Erica Goode and Dan Frosch, which portrays the victims without naming Holmes. That's sensitive, and arguably eases the horrible burden on their families. But it reflects discretion, not the conceit that you can affect history through your work. Moreover, not naming Holmes is a low-cost stance, morally, since several news organizations are reporting granular information about him, including Cooper's employer.

Related: KSAT honors Jessica Ghawi with sportscaster title (San Antonio Express-News) | How news spread of Colorado theater shooting | Details about Colorado shooter too important to tweet incrementally | How to approach sources on Twitter when covering tragedies like the Colorado shooting

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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