Does This Photograph Glorify Matthew Murray?

Under ordinary circumstances, the attached photograph of a twerpy-looking young man looking down at an electronic keyboard as if confused about what the hell to do with it would never be considered a glamour shot. But a media debate is raging over how and even if news organizations should use the image, which spotlights Matthew Murray, the gunman who murdered four people and seriously injured several others during separate incidents in Arvada and Colorado Springs on December 9.

During their December 11 afternoon-drive program on KHOW, talk-show hosts Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman debated this subject at length with Rocky Mountain News editor/publisher/president John Temple. Caplis argued passionately that media organizations should shun the shot, with Silverman leaning in that direction, too, while Temple countered that it had news value but should be played carefully so as not to exploit the situation or make the story seem to be solely about Murray, who was felled at Colorado Springs' New Life Church by voluntary security guard Jeanne Assam before he took his own life.

As I listened to this exchange amid a long, icy drive home, I had not yet seen the photo under discussion. But given the tone of the conversation, I imagined a lethal image like those of Seung-Hui Cho, who posed with his weapons for a series of idiotic shots that circulated widely after he gunned down 32 people at Virginia Tech earlier this year. For that reason, I was taken aback when I finally got the chance to eyeball the photo in question, which presents Murray as awkward and confused, not strong and vengeful.

Nevertheless, the Rocky didn't use the photo on its December 12 cover, choosing instead to publish it small on an inside page. Then, the next day, the paper printed "Treatment of Story No Easy Decision," a highly unusual inside-the-media piece that ran in the news section, not its op-ed pages. The article, penned by David Montero, allows Temple to justify his reasoning at length while putting Denver Post editor Greg Moore on the spot for going the opposite direction: The Post's December 12 front page was designed around the photo. Montero quoted Moore as saying, "I'm aware of the [copycoat] aspect and that's always a concern, but I also think, as a number of thoughtful people have pointed out, that trying to hide this under a bushel [basket] doesn't make the most sense."

Given the context, Moore's assertions look more questionable than they really are. Had the photo featured Murray mugging for the camera and waving around one of the many firearms he had no trouble obtaining over the past year, the Post's move would have been more dubious. But the image actually diminishes Murray more than it builds him up. Where's the glamour, or the glory, in that? -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts