Aurora Theater Shooting

James Holmes: The arguments for and against naming him

Accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes has been a public figure for two weeks now, due to the worst possible reason -- the murder of a dozen people, and injuries to scores more.

Since then, there's been a rising call for news organizations like this one to stop using his moniker -- a completely understandable reaction epitomized by the following tweet, sent to us yesterday.

This message neatly encapsulates the blackout rationale. Presumably, anyone who would commit such a desperate act is doing so to gain attention -- and by making Holmes simultaneously famous and infamous, the press is not only rewarding his actions but reassuring future sociopaths that they, too, will get their moment in the spotlight if their act is appalling enough.

The philosophy against? For one thing, it's not a journalist's job to make value judgments on the news, but to report it, no matter how unpleasant. To reject this duty is to tiptoe into Orwellian territory, in which large institutions have the power to rewrite history. And where do we draw the line? It's okay to refer to Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler, but not James Holmes? If so, why?

Just as persuasive for yours truly is what I'll call the Harry Potter theory. As anyone familiar with the book and film series (a.k.a., pretty much everyone) knows, young Harry's nemesis is typically referred to as He Who Cannot Be Named. But over the course of the action, our hero comes to realize that not referring to him by his handle actually gives him more power, not less. His decision to call him Voldemort is a symbol of his resolve, his defiance and his bravery -- and in the end, even those who think he's mad for uttering the "V" word come to agree with him.

There will be no such universal epiphany when it comes to James Holmes. After all, this is the all-too-real world, not a fantasy version of it. But in the end, I feel that using the name is the lesser of two evils. And given that there's already too much evil in this situation, less is more.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Lynne Fenton, James Holmes's doctor: Her ex-husband on minor discipline made to look major."

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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