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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

“I’ve seen enough. I don’t want to see any more” — Bruce Springsteen, “Cover Me”

When terrorists beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and posted video of the killing online, I refused to look. I explained my reasoning in this space. To watch that video, I wrote, knowing it was staged specifically to fill me with revulsion and fear, would feel like cooperating with the monsters who killed him. It would make me an accomplice.

I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want that blood on my soul.

Not long after that column appeared, I did see Pearl die. The video of his killing showed up in my inbox, sent by a stranger. Before I even knew what was going on, a terrorist was on my computer screen holding up the head of this 38-year-old husband and expectant father.

And I learned a sobering truth about murder and media in the new millennium. Increasingly, the decision about what we will and will not see is not ours to make. Increasingly, we are at the mercy, not simply of murderous monsters, but also of our own friends, family and colleagues who act as their henchmen, forwarding, retweeting and reposting their grisly misdeeds as casually as neighbors in another age might have shared recipes over the back fence.

If there were ever any doubt about that, what happened last Wednesday morning on live local television in Roanoke, Virginia, just laid them to rest. It wasn’t just that former WDBJ news reporter Vester Lee Flanagan II shot and killed two former colleagues — news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward — as they interviewed local official Vicki Gardner, who was wounded but is expected to survive.

Wretched as it was, that kind of event is ordinary in America, the fabric of any given Wednesday. But Flanagan, who committed suicide as police closed in on him hours later, went well beyond the wretched ordinary. He filmed the murder with his cellphone, tweeted about it, posted the video on Facebook. For good measure, he faxed his manifesto to ABC News; it is said to be a 23-page rant in which Flanagan, who was black and gay, blames racism, homophobia, the Charleston massacre and micromanaging former bosses for sending him over the edge. He also expresses his dislike for whites, Latinos and blacks, and his admiration for the mass killers who shot up Columbine High and Virginia Tech.

In other words, he curated this murder, used tools of social media — and traditional media — to manage it like a PR campaign. In essence, he provided us his press kit. And while that bespeaks a deranged man’s incomprehensible narcissism, it also suggests a canny understanding of his target audience: us.

Indeed, within hours, the video of Flanagan’s atrocity was so ubiquitous online that Ella, one of my colleagues, posted that she was signing off for the day after being ambushed by it. She was, she wrote, just “being silly” with Facebook friends, and the next thing she knew, there was death, live on her screen. “I can’t stop crying. I wasn’t ready… What are we becoming?”

“The world,” wrote William Wordsworth, “is too much with us.” This was in 1806, 200 years before the first tweets and Facebook postings. Yet the poet’s words seem to capture something true about our time, when we live cheek by jowl online, connected to one another in ways he could never have imagined, and some people post murder porn like a new music video, as if it has never occurred to them that not everyone will not want to see this — or can bear to do so.

You’d think you’d have a right to make that decision for yourself. But these days, apparently, that’s no longer your call to make.

This, then, is Vester Flanagan’s perverse triumph. He has made witnesses of us all.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: WDBJ reporter Alison Parker (L) is pictured interviewing Vicki Gardner before a gun is fired at her in this still image from video posted to the Facebook account of Bryce Williams, in Moneta, Virginia, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/via Facebook/Handout via Reuters

Blake Neff

Twitter screenshot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On July 10, CNN's Oliver Darcy reported that Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson's prime-time Fox News show, had been anonymously posting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content on an online forum for five years. Neff used racist and homophobic slurs, referred to women in a derogatory manner, and pushed white supremacist content while writing for Carlson's show. Neff resigned after CNN contacted him for comment.

As Darcy reported, in an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Neff claimed anything Carlson read during his show was initially drafted by him. Darcy also found instances where there was "some overlap between the forum and the show," as sometimes the "material Neff encountered on the forum found its way on to Carlson's show."

During a 2018 appearance on Fox's The Five to promote his book Ship of Fools, Carlson mentioned Neff by name, calling him a "wonderful writer." Carlson also included Neff in the acknowledgments of the book.


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Before joining Fox News, Neff worked at The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet that Carlson co-founded. The outlet has published a number of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots.


Carlson has a long history of promoting white supremacist content on his show. His show has featured many guests who have connections to white supremacy and far-right extremism. Carlson has regularly been praised by Neo-Nazis and various far-right extremist figures, and he's been a hero on many white supremacist podcasts. Users of the extremist online message boards 4chan and 8chan have repeatedly praised Carlson.

The manifesto released by the gunman who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 was strewn with content that echoed talking points from Carlson's show. Days after the shooting, Carlson declared that calling white supremacy a serious issue is a "hoax" as it is "actually not a real problem in America."

Carlson has been hemorrhaging advertisers following his racist coverage of the Black Lives Matters movement and the recent protests against police brutality. Now that we know his top writer was using content from white supremacist online message boards for Carlson's show, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers distance their brands away from this toxicity.