This tweet from the Seattle Times is dangerously sensational, attempting to lure readers into a debate about the personality of a suspected mass murderer, instead of focusing on the crime, its victims, and what is actually happening in Charleston. It panders to lurid curiosity—running counter to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics—even though the linked story, by the Associated Press, does not:
Today's Seattle Times tweet includes a photo of the suspect, doesn't make this story as boring as possible, and doesn't tell us anything about the localized, affected community in Charleston. Nor does it situate the crime in the historical context of anti-black terrorism.
For years, forensic psychiatrists have been urging American journalists to reform the way they report on these incidents. In a 2009 BBC interview, perhaps the best known among those psychiatrists, Dr. Park Dietz, said: “We’ve had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”
Here's how Twitter user Vinny Spotleson responded to the tweet:
And Stranger contributor Larry Mizell Jr.:
A better tweet would have stuck to the article's overview of the shooting instead of focusing on the background of the suspected killer—perhaps something like: "Here's what we know about the attack on the church in Charleston so far."
UPDATE: They deleted the tweet. Spokesperson Jill Mackie said the news editor who wrote it "decided it was so badly worded it was a distraction on the day of a tragedy. He decided there was no suitable fix but to delete it, and he apologized for it personally."