The Herostratus syndrome. That's what they ought to call it. Herostratus was the man who, one summer day in 356 BC, set fire to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and burned it down -- in order to become famous. Of course, it worked.
The week after John Lennon was murdered, I read in a newsletter that a friend of mine subscribed to a statement that went something like this: John Lennon was killed by some asshole who wanted to get his name in the papers. Well, you won't read it here.
I've always liked that idea. Notice you've never read the name of the Virginia Tech shooter here. And guess what? You never will! You also won't see any of those self-posed pictures he sent to NBC while he was between murders. The picture immediately above shows the ruins of the temple at Ephesus.* Now there's something that deserves to be remembered!
Should NBC -- and papers, news shows, and web sites all over the world -- have publicized those videos and pictures? Here is a principle that is relevant: it is morally bad, other things being equal, to help a criminal to achieve his or her criminal intentions. If I kill my uncle Julius in order to inherit his money, don't give me any of Julius' money!
This doesn't (yet?) answer the question about the NBC images, though. When I say "other things being equal," I mean to recognize that there can be overbalancing reasons on the other side. What are they in this case?
That "the people have a right to know"? That's just silly. I don't even think the people who talk that way mean what they say. If you have a "right to know x" and I know x, don't I immediately lose my right to remain silent and not tell you x? What about my rights?
That's not the answer. But what it is, I am really not sure.
* Added later: A commenter pointed out that the above picture is actually the Library of Celsus. I got that picture from a web site that obviously mislabeled it. Another website indicates that what remains of the Temple of Artemis is actually little more than the single column you see here at the left. The blogosphere: imperfect, but self-correcting! (Or can be.)