Accuracy in Media

It didn’t take long: the A&E cable channel has already aired, “The BTK Killer Speaks,” about the serial killer, Dennis Rader, who murdered 10 people. Narrated by Bill Kurtis, the program asks, “?who is the man behind the BTK Killer, and what made him do it.” The answer is simple: publicity. This is a classic case of someone who killed to get media attention.

As noted by NBC News reporter Carl Quintanilla, the residents of Wichita, Kansas, where he committed his crimes, were “angry that Rader got the publicity he craved.” The coverage of his sentencing was the icing on the cake. Dennis Rader probably now anticipates a feature film or movie-of-the-week about his killing spree.

This is typical of the media and Hollywood. Movies have been made about the following serial killers: the Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos, the Hillside Strangler, Charles Manson, and Richard Speck.

On CNN’s Larry King Live, substitute host Bob Costas asked Larry Hatteberg of KAKE-TV in Wichita about how Rader enjoyed the publicity.

Costas asked, “In your view is Dennis Rader enjoying what’s going on now? He’s  a much bigger celebrity. Outside of Wichita he was not as well-known as other notorious types. Now he is extremely well-known. Is he enjoying this?”

Hatteberg replied, “Bob, he absolutely loves it. He loves to see us talking about it tonight and I’m sure if he’s watching television, if he has access to a television set tonight that he’s absolutely enjoying every piece of publicity he’s getting from this because that’s really what he lived for. He liked being in the limelight. He liked seeing his name in the paper. He liked hearing us talk about him on television, and that was one of the thrills.

“One of-his thrills was, of course to kill, and to torture, but the other aspect of it was he loved to be in the media limelight and he loved to manipulate it. We’ve said this many times, he was like a master puppeteer. He manipulated the public, the police and the media. And we were all being pulled by Dennis Rader, the master puppet puppeteer and he loves this publicity. And a lot of people have said the best thing can happen to Dennis Rader is to put him in a cell and turn the light off and not give him access to any radio or any television and that would be a terrible punishment for Dennis Rader.”

Costas replied that he had “serious misgivings” about doing the program. But those misgiving gave way to the need for ratings. On the other hand, Costas refused to do a Larry King Live show when the subject was missing woman Natalee Holloway. He thought that was a matter of too much media exploitation.

Kelly J. Hansen Maher, a Silha Fellow at the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, wrote a paper on this matter. “The BTK killer had long perceived Wichita media as a tool for publicity. BTK communicated directly with journalists so frequently that some anchors and reporters were, at times, on the list of possible suspects,” she said. “The BTK killer frequently demanded media attention, writing, ‘How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?'”

She notes that after Rader’s arrest and national media interest in the case, Sedgwick County District Judge Gregory Waller expressed his anger at inaccurate media reports and described the news coverage as “a bunch of mad dogs after a piece of meat.”

Mad dogs after meat. Sharks after blood in the water. These are phrases that describe the media.  They loved Dennis Rader and he loved them. They all have blood on their hands. And Rader sits in prison waiting for another media call.

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