Monday, December 07, 2009

Polytechnique victims inspire effort, just not enough to publish their names

Wwherever you live in Canada, you were subject to some media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre over the weekend.

Year after year, it is upsetting to read stories which mention the murderer's name, but not his victims. They are Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Maryse Laganière, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard,
Annie St. Arneault and Annie Turcotte. Is that so hard? Typical example:
"As 120 guests filed through the banquet hall door they were greeted by a table set for the 14 staff and engineering students, all women, who were gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique by feminist-hating (name redacted) on Dec. 6, 1989."
That paragraph is clean as a bean factually far as most journos are concern, never mind Maryse Leclair was stabbed to death and Barbara Maria Klucznik studied nursing.

The standard newsroom response likely is, "how can you not mention his name?" or, "How can you have a problem, we're giving it a lot of space." It is quite simple. You use a little of the creativity and artistic licence that ostensibly sets a paid media member apart from the rabble and just call him "the murderer." It sidesteps giving the jagov his dying wish and also avoids marginalizing the victims' memories. On the second count, it is a waste of space when the coverage reflects the same flawed thinking.

It just speaks to injecting some common sense into the media instead of following some grim half-formed outline of journalistic ethics (there's nothing wrong with mentioning him as a statement of fact, and so on). This is not meant as a feminist statement. There was a slew of time over the weekend if there was something original and profound to add. (You probably read that fewer women are applying to study engineering, but the cause-and-effect is not so clear. It could be due to The Hills and The Sex and The City, or maybe it is that other fields offer better salaries.)

It is wrong to mention that person's name because, as Fagstein noted, "the best thing that man could do that day to keep his name alive was to kill as many women as possible."

Sean Furfaro, whose blog is pretty solid, was also on the same wavelength:
"However, what bothers me, is that in discussions of what the button means, and what happened that day, everyone mentions the gunman’s name. So, instead of commemorating the lost lives, we instead remember the evil person who perpetrated the massacre.

"How does that make sense?

"In essence, while the phrase '14 Not Forgotten' is bandied about, nobody ever mentions the names of those 14 women who we say are 'not forgotten.' Today, when you read your newspapers and watch your TV news broadcasts, count how many times you hear HIS name. I refuse to mention his name in this post because by doing so, I give him what he wanted that day, to be the name that people speak. He wins when you mention his name, and it saddens me."
It is not an isolated phenomenon to put the murderer's name ahead of the victims'. It is easier to remember one name than several. It is a strange compartmentalizing trick. It is one we should check ourselves on. No one should use that A-hole's name in print or on-air anymore, pure and simple. It died with him. It does not take a journalism diploma to figure that out.

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