To mark the fifth anniversary of the D.C. sniper attacks – which terrorized the Maryland and Virginia area in October 2002 – multiple media outlets are offering televised features about the lives of killers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo before, during and after their horrifying killing spree.
The recent revival of the incident in the public forum serves as a reminder that the American media are both the nation’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.
Regarding the sniper case, the media was extremely helpful in apprehending these men after local police were seemingly at a loss after the attacks started. The media was also used by law enforcement to reach out to anyone who had information that would be useful in ending the murders. I think it’s safe to say that there is a really good chance that authorities may have never caught these murderers without media assistance.
CNN ran a feature on the snipers, which premiered Oct.10, and the program did a good job of talking about the background of the snipers and the transition they made from being regular people to cold-blooded killers. It offered first-person accounts from people involved in the investigation and those who knew the snipers personally.
While the program was well structured and revealing, it crossed into the realm of being sensationalistic.
I couldn’t care less about the lives of these killers, and I thought CNN could have given a bit more attention to the victims during the program. Many of the guests who knew Malvo – the younger of the two killers – claimed he had been brainwashed by his mentor and surrogate father Muhammad. I disagree.
While Muhammad, then 41, probably was a big influence on Malvo, then 17, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that killing innocent people is a reprehensible crime.
The biggest problem I had with the CNN program, however, was that it aired a recorded statement from Muhammad, who showed amusement and very little remorse for the murders, stating: “I guess y’all thought I was finished.” He was apparently asking for help in getting off death row by setting the record straight about his so called “brainwashing” of Malvo, who was said to be the triggerman in most of the shootings.
I would like to know whose idea it was to send a camera to a maximum security prison to record this man. He was convicted of being the mastermind behind the attacks and sentenced to death. So what more does anyone need to hear from him?
Regarding Malvo, the younger murderer, he sent art and a written letter to CNN stating how sorry he was for his role in the attacks and how he is a changed man. That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m not sure this isn’t just more propaganda by this man to somehow get better accommodations, since he is scheduled to spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison – a prison which requires inmates to be in their cells 22-23 hours a day. This is the same method I believe he used when during trial he said his mentor Muhammad “made me a monster” to escape the death penalty. I’m no criminal psychologist, but it seems to me that these kinds of criminals seem to enjoy the attention their crimes accrue.
Programs like the one CNN aired, while great television, put an extra feather in the cap of folks who would otherwise be ancient history while they justifiably rot away in misery.
Ryan Watson is a graduate student in mass communications.