Should Media Avoid Naming the Gunmen in Mass Shootings?

A few months after teen shooters killed 12 classmates and her father at Columbine High School, Coni Sanders was standing in line at a grocery store with her young daughter when they came face to face with the magazine cover.

It showed the two gunmen who had carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Sanders realized that few people knew much about her father, who saved countless lives. But virtually everyone knew the names and the tiniest of details about the attackers who carried out the carnage.

In the decades since Columbine, a growing movement has urged news organizations to refrain from naming the shooters in mass slayings and to cease the steady drumbeat of biographical information about them. Critics say giving the assailants notoriety offers little to help understand the attacks and instead fuels celebrity-style coverage that only encourages future attacks.

The 1999 Colorado attack continues to motivate mass shooters, including the two men who this week stormed their former school in Brazil, killing seven people.

The gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, killing at least 49 people, was said to have been inspired by the man who in 2015 killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, who has studied the influence of media coverage on future shooters, said it’s vitally important to avoid excessive coverage of gunmen.

“A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment,” he said.

The notion hit close to home for Sanders. Seemingly everywhere she turned — the grocery store, a restaurant, a newspaper or magazine — she would see the faces of the Columbine attackers and hear or read about them. Even in her own home, she was bombarded with their deeds on TV.

Everyone knew their names. “And if you said the two together, they automatically knew it was Columbine,” Sanders said. “The media was so fascinated — and so was our country and the world — that they really grasped onto this every detail. Time and time again, we couldn’t escape it.”

Criminologists who study mass shootings say the vast majority of shooters are seeking infamy and soak up the coverage as a guide.

Just four days after the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, which stands as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Lankford published a paper urging journalists to refrain from using shooters’ names or going into exhaustive detail about their crimes.

These attackers, he argued, are trying to outdo previous shooters with higher death tolls. Media coverage serves only to encourage copycats.

Late last year, the Trump administration’s federal Commission on School Safety called on the media to refrain from reporting the names and photos of mass shooters. It was one of the rare moments when gun-rights advocates and gun-control activists agreed.

“To suggest that the media alone is to blame or is primarily at fault for this epidemic of mass shootings would vastly oversimply this issue,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center, which works to curb gun violence.

Skaggs said he is “somewhat sympathetic to journalists’ impulse to cover clearly important and newsworthy events and to get at the truth. … But there’s a balance that can be struck between ensuring the public has enough information … and not giving undue attention to perpetrators of heinous acts.”

Studies show a contagion effect from coverage of both homicides and suicides.

The Columbine shooters, in particular, have an almost cult-like status, with some followers seeking to emulate their trench-coat attire and expressing admiration for their crime, which some have attributed to bullying. The gunman in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting kept a detailed journal of decades’ worth of mass shootings.

James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University who has studied mass shootings, said naming shooters is not the problem. Instead, he blamed over-the-top coverage that includes irrelevant details about the killers, such as their writings and their backgrounds, that “unnecessarily humanizes them.”

“We sometimes come to know more about them — their interests and their disappointments — than we do about our next-door neighbors,” Fox said.

Law enforcement agencies have taken a lead, most recently with the Aurora, Illinois, police chief, who uttered just once the name of the gunman who killed five co-workers and wounded five officers last month.

“I said his name one time for the media, and I will never let it cross my lips again,” Chief Kristen Ziman said in a Facebook post.

Some media, most notably CNN’s Anderson Cooper, have made a point of avoiding using the name of these gunmen.

The Associated Press names suspects identified by law enforcement in major crimes. However, in cases in which the crime is carried out seeking publicity, the AP strives to restrict the mention of the name to the minimum needed to inform the public, while avoiding descriptions that might serve a criminal’s desire for publicity or self-glorification, said John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president and editor-at-large for standards.

For Caren and Tom Teves, the cause is personal. Their son Alex was among those killed in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012.

They were both traveling out of state when the shooting happened, and it took 15 hours for them to learn the fate of their son. During those hours, they heard repeatedly about the shooter but virtually nothing about the victims.

Not long after, they created the No Notoriety movement, encouraging media to stick to reporting relevant facts rather than the smallest of biographical details. They also recommend publishing images of the shooter in places that are not prominent, steering clear of “hero” poses or images showing them holding weapons, and not publishing any manifestos.

“We never say don’t use the name. What we say is use the name responsibly and don’t turn them into anti-heroes,” Tom Teves said. “Let’s portray them for what they are: They’re horrible human beings that are completely skewed in their perception of reality, and their one claim to fortune is sneaking up behind you and shooting you.”

Brazil’s Bolsonaro in US to Cement Alliance With Trump

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Washington on Sunday to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, and cement a budding conservative-populist alliance that, in part, aims to ramp up pressure on Venezuela.

The far-right leader flew out of Brasilia early Sunday with six ministers, among them Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and Justice Minister Sergio Moro, Brazilian media reported. They touched down at Joint Base Andrews, on the outskirts of Washington, at 3:40 p.m.

It was Bolsonaro’s first trip abroad for a bilateral meeting since taking office on January 1. He attended the Davos summit in Switzerland in January.

Bolsonaro, who will also meet in Washington with the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), is scheduled to return to Brazil on Tuesday.

Outside the White House Sunday afternoon, dozens of demonstrators gathered to protest the visit — holding signs including one that accused Bolsonaro of being a “murderer” over apparent links to suspects in the murder of rights activist Marielle Franco. Police have said those ties are coincidental.

A Trump-Bolsonaro bond could see the leaders of the Americas’ two most populous democracies working in concert on a range of regional issues.

Most pressing is the crisis in Venezuela, where the United States and Brazil — and dozens of other countries — have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president with the goal of pushing President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The tough-talking Bolsonaro has long expressed his admiration for Trump. He echoes the U.S. leader in spurning multilateral organizations and leftist politics, while promoting businesses over environmental concerns at home.

Their shared nationalist sentiment can be seen in another relationship: that of Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, who is a federal lawmaker, with Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon.

Eduardo Bolsonaro announced in early February that he was part of the Brussels-based group known as The Movement, which Bannon set up to promote far-right nationalistic values and tactics.

The older Bolsonaro announced on Saturday that one key result of his current trip would be the signing of an agreement under which the United States might gain access to a satellite-launching base in Brazil near the equator.

But most eyes will be on developments surrounding Venezuela, which shares a border with Brazil.

Previous Brazilian administrations took a friends-to-all approach to neighboring countries. But not Bolsonaro.

The 63-year-old former paratrooper is vehemently opposed to leftist currents, at home and abroad, and he shares Trump’s hostility to the “dictator” Maduro, who took over after the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that “all options are on the table” with regards to Venezuela, a phrase understood to include military action.

But Bolsonaro, like other members of the mostly Latin American Lima Group, has ruled out military action in favor of a policy of tightening the economic and diplomatic noose around Maduro.

As well as a “private meeting” with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Bolsonaro will sit down with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and participate in various forums to promote economic opportunities in Brazil.

The United States is Brazil’s second biggest trade partner after China.

After his arrival, Bolsonaro was scheduled to dine at the residence of Brazilian ambassador Sergio Amaral with “opinion makers” including, according to press reports, Bannon and U.S.-based Brazilian writer Olavo de Carvalho, considered Bolsonaro’s ideological guru.

Bolsonaro is staying in Blair House, the official US state residence opposite the White House used for visiting dignitaries.

After his return to Brazil, Bolsonaro is planning a trip to Chile and then, in late March, to Israel. He forged close ties with Israel’s conservative leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when the latter attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration.

Latin America is World’s Deadliest Route for Migrants

The International Organization for Migration reports Latin America has displaced previous record-holder, the Mediterranean Sea as the deadliest route for migrants in the world.

Thousands of refugees and migrants have died while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

The region’s grim yearly record as the deadliest route for migrants for now has been broken by Latin America.

International Organization for Migration spokesman, Joel Millman, says since February 1, 79 deaths have been reported along this route. He says this is nearly three times higher than the numbers reported in the Mediterranean.

He agrees the rise in deaths is a consequence of increased migration from Latin American countries to the United States. He tells VOA the journey has become more dangerous because of greater reliance by refugees and migrants on smugglers to transport them to the U.S. border.

“Circular migration, in which there were repeat customers every year in Latin America going to jobs has largely ended. And, that means that the relationship that migrants have with the people who transport them tends to be much harsher and they are dealing with a more criminal class of smuggler than existed a generation ago. Clearly, that shows up in the numbers of people killed,” he said.

Millman says smugglers often take risks and cut corners to increase profits. He says many drive unsafe vehicles, and this often results in deadly accidents.

Just 10 days ago, he notes a truck accident in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas killed 24 Guatemalan men and women. He says this year has been a particularly deadly one for Guatemalans. He says this crash was one of the worst reported by IOM in the past five years.




Brazil Reportedly Weighing Import Quota for US Wheat

Brazil is considering granting an import quota of 750,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat per year without tariffs in exchange for other trade concessions, according to a Brazilian official with knowledge of the negotiations ahead of President Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington. 

That is about 10 percent of Brazilian annual wheat imports and is part of a two-decade-old commitment to import 750,000 metric tons of wheat a year free of tariffs that Brazil made — but never kept — during the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round of talks on agriculture. 

Bolsonaro is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday and meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

Farm state senators have asked that wheat sales be on the agenda, in a letter to Trump seen by Reuters. They estimate such a quota would increase U.S. wheat sales by between $75 million and $120 million a year. 

Brazil buys most of its imported wheat from Argentina, and some from Uruguay and Paraguay, without paying tariffs because they are all members of the Mercosur South American customs union. Imports from other countries pay a 10 percent tariff. 

The Brazilian official, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely, said the wheat quota could be sealed during a meeting between Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Teresa Cristina Dias and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday. 

In return, the Brazilian government is hoping to see movement toward the reopening of the U.S. market to fresh beef imports from Brazil that was shut down after a meatpacking industry scandal involving bribed inspectors. 

Brazil is also seeking U.S. market access for its exports of limes that are facing phytosanitary certification hurdles. 

The world’s largest sugar producer also wants tariff-free access to the U.S. market. But Washington is not expected to budge on that issue until Brazil lifts a tariff it slapped on ethanol imports when they exceed 150 million liters in a quarter. 

That is a major demand by U.S. biofuels producers, who are the main suppliers of ethanol imported by Brazil. 

Mexican Journalist Killed Near US Border 

A Mexican journalist who often covered crime and drug gangs in northern Sonora state died late Friday night after being gunned down at point-blank range in his home near the U.S. border, local authorities said on Saturday.

Santiago Barroso was shot multiple times after an unknown assailant knocked on his front door, the state prosecutor’s office said in a statement. He was pronounced dead later at a hospital. 

Barroso worked as a multimedia journalist in the border town of San Luis Rio Colorado, about 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Yuma, Ariz., on the U.S. side. He was host of a local radio show, director of the news website Red 563 and a contributor to weekly newspaper Contraseña.

While it was unclear whether his killing was linked to his work, Barroso was the third journalist killed so far this year in Mexico, one of the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters. 

Alfonso Durazo, Mexico’s security minister, pledged federal government assistance in the investigation into Barroso’s killing in a post on Twitter. 

According to free-speech advocacy group Article 19, at least 46 journalists were killed in Mexico from 2012 through last year. 

Venezuela’s Guaido Begins National Tour

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido began a tour of his country Saturday in Valencia, part of his effort to oust embattled President Nicolas Maduro. 

Guaido tweeted photos of the day’s activities, attended a service at Valencia Cathedral and visited a local market, greeting crowds of supporters in both places.  

In Spanish, he tweeted, “Those who live here and who come to buy what little they can are hardworking people who deserve to live better.”  

He said that while the Saturday market is usually full of “hustle and joy,” on this particular day it was instead full of the cries for hope and freedom.   

Guaido said people were feeling the consequences of Venezuela’s economic crisis, caused by what he called “an inhuman system that destroyed the production and purchasing power of our people.” 

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by most Western countries, including the United States and many Latin American nations.  

On Friday, the Inter-American Development Bank, Latin America’s largest regional lender, officially recognized the Venezuelan representative designated by Guaido. It was the first multilateral institution to take such action.  

The bank’s move was a major setback for Maduro. It could eventually free up development lending to Venezuela if Maduro were to step down. 

Guaido named Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann, an exiled former Venezuelan government minister, as his representative to the IDB, forcing a vote by the lender’s 48-member board of governors. 

In another development Friday, American Airlines said it had temporarily suspended its operations into Caracas and Maracaibo, citing safety concerns in Venezuela.  

The decision came after the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid Venezuela “due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.” 

Venezuelans Relocating in Brazil to Ease Pressure on Host Communities

More than 200,000 Venezuelans fleeing economic hardship, political oppression and human rights abuses have arrived in Brazil since 2017. Most of them are living in the northern part of the country, putting a strain on the local residents hosting them.

The U.N. refugee agency and partners have begun relocating more than 5,000 Venezuelans from Brazil’s northern state of Roraima to 17 other states in the country.  

U.N. Refugee spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA this voluntary relocation scheme is designed to ease the pressure on host communities.

“What I understand from talking to my colleagues in Brazil is that many of them are sleeping rough on the streets, not everyone is able to find a job, not able to sustain themselves once they arrive in Brazil.  So, this support is very important for them and this targets different vulnerable groups, as well from families, individuals,” he said.  

Baloch said the whole idea behind the project is to move the Venezuelan refugees and migrants to different parts of Brazil where there are better opportunities to find homes and jobs.  

A first group of 225 Venezuelans boarded a Brazilian Air Force aircraft on Wednesday.  They took off from Boa Vista, the capital of the State of Roraima, for 13 different cities in Brazil.  The UNHCR says more flights are scheduled over the coming weeks.


Lawyer: Venezuela Frees German Journalist

A German freelance journalist jailed in Venezuela since November on espionage charges was released Friday within weeks of two other reporters being expelled from the tumultuous South American nation, his parents and a human rights attorney confirmed.

A court in the capital of Caracas ordered journalist Billy Six to be let go under the conditions that he report back every 15 days and not speak to media, attorney Carlos Correa of Public Space told The Associated Press.

Six, 31, won’t be deported from Venezuela, but Correa also said that the journalist isn’t prevented from leaving if he chooses.

“We are overjoyed!” his parents Ute and Edward Six posted on a Facebook, also railing against Germany’s foreign ministry for not doing enough to help their son who spent 119 days in solitary confinement.

“Viva Venezuela!” they wrote. “Free Billy Six!”

Resident of a Berlin suburb, Six has traveled the globe as an independent journalist for 12 years, publishing his reports in right-wing outlets. His arrest has generated little interest in mainstream German media, which relatives blame on his conservative affiliation.

In Venezuela, he documented the economic collapse and mass migration from the socialist country, landing in jail on espionage charges that his family rejected as false.

Earlier arrest in Syria

This wasn’t Six’s first arrest amid turmoil. In 2013, he was jailed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for three months after illegally entering that country to report on its bloody civil war. He was eventually handed over unharmed to Russian diplomats in Damascus who had helped secure his release.

Six turned his attention to Venezuela more than a year ago. His father previously told The AP that his son entered the country legally but was unable to secure journalist credentials required by Venezuela to work as a reporter.

While reporting on Venezuela, Six posted two crudely edited German-language videos online showing him walking the streets, interviewing people and at times narrating his conclusions, critical of Maduro’s socialist government.

While the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro has little tolerance for critical coverage by local press, foreign journalists who cross officials are usually spared the same harsh treatment. In the past, foreign reporters, like Six, who weren’t accredited would stay in custody for just a few days before being ejected from the country.

​Other journalists deported

The release of Six follows the recent deportation of other two journalists.

Venezuelan security forces seized U.S. freelance journalist Cody Weddle earlier this month at his apartment in Caracas where he had worked for more than five years. Most recently, Weddle sent dispatches to a Miami TV station.

Univision’s Jorge Ramos and his team were also deported in late February when Maduro cut short an interview during which he was shown video on an iPad shot a day earlier of young Venezuelans eating food scraps out of the back of a garbage truck.

Development Bank Recognizes Guaido-Chosen Representative

The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) has officially recognized the Venezuelan representative designated by opposition leader Juan Guaido, the first multilateral institution to take such an action.

The bank is Latin America’s largest regional lender, and the move is a major setback for President Nicolas Maduro. The action could eventually free up development lending to Venezuela if Maduro were to step down.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by most Western countries, including the United States as well as many Latin American nations.

He named Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann, an exiled former Venezuelan government minister, as his representative to the IADB, forcing a vote by the lender’s 48-member board of governors.

The bank said in a press release that its decision to recognize Hausmann was effective immediately. It said that a sufficient number of members had voted “to meet the requirements of quorum and favorable votes for a decision.”

In another development Friday, American Airlines said it has temporarily suspended its operations into Caracas and Maracaibo, citing safely concerns in Venezuela.

“The safety and security of our team members and customers is always No. 1 and American will not operate to countries we don’t consider safe,” the airlines said in a statement.

The decision comes after the U.S. State Department this week issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid Venezuela “due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens.”

US Eliminates Coveted 5-year Tourist Visa for Cubans

The U.S. State Department said Friday that it is eliminating a coveted five-year tourist visa for Cubans, dealing a heavy blow to entrepreneurs and Cuban members of divided families, who used the visas to see relatives in the United States and buy precious supplies for their businesses on the island. 

The elimination of the visa cuts a vital link between the U.S. and Cuba by forcing Cubans to make a costly and complicated trip to a third country like Mexico or Panama every single time they want to visit the U.S. That’s because the U.S. withdrew most of its non-essential diplomatic staff from Havana in September 2017 and stopped issuing visas of almost any type in Cuba. 

“This affects every Cuban but especially entrepreneurs who have to travel to get products that don’t exist here,” said Niuris Higueras, who brings salt, hand towels, candles and other products from the U.S. for her restaurant Atelier, one of Havana’s most successful private eateries. 

Change announced on Facebook

Until now, Cubans who saved the money and mastered the complexities of successfully applying for a visa in a third country would receive a visa eliminating the need to apply again for another five years. That possibility will disappear on March 18 when the B2 visa will only allow a single entry for a three-month stay, Mara Tekach, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, said in a video posted on Facebook Friday. 

Tekach said the change was due to the need to achieve reciprocity between the visa rules of the U.S. and Cuba, which issues Americans single-entry tourist visas allowing a stay of up to three months. 

However, the Cuban visa application process is a formality, with airlines and travel agencies authorized to hand out visas to anyone who requests one and pays $50 as part of the purchase of an airline ticket or travel package. Cubans must pay $160, plus airfare and hotel costs in a third country, often to see their visa application swiftly rejected. 

“Invoking reciprocity here is beyond insulting,” said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American History at Florida International University and an expert on contemporary Cuba who advocates for closer bilateral relations. “The announcement today will come as a real blow to many Cubans, only the latest of the Trump policy years.” 

Very harsh measure

The seemingly obscure change in visa rules in fact is one of the harshest measures against Cuba taken by the Trump administration because of the effect it will have on the informal supply chain for the communist-run island’s small but vibrant private sector. Virtually all of the supplies used by Cuban entrepreneurs from barbers to restaurant owners are either stolen from state enterprises or brought in suitcases from capitalist countries by business owners or “mules,” couriers with visas who are paid to haul in the hundreds of varieties of products unavailable in Cuba’s stagnant, centrally planned economy. 

The U.S. five-year visa not only allowed frequent trips to Miami, Latin American countries such as Mexico would allow Cubans with the U.S. visa to enter automatically. 

“This is going to limit me a lot,” said Vanesa Pino, owner of the Sweet Details bakery in Havana. She uses her five-year visa to travel once a month to the United States to buy ingredients such as food coloring, decorating tools and sugar for icing. “It doesn’t make sense to go to a third country to get a single-entry visa. You can make that effort if the investment then lets you make a lot of trips.

“In my case, in addition to bringing supplies, I would go several times a year to pastry-making fairs, see new products and techniques, and now that’s not going to be so easy.” 

Her visa expires next year.