The Washington Post, like most other major media outlets in the nation, gave first-page coverage Thursday to a story analyzing the actions of deceased Discovery Channel hostage taker James Lee. Lee was killed by police at the end of a four-hour stand-off Wednesday afternoon, after pointing a gun at one of the hostages. The Discovery Channel hostage taker had entered the network’s headquarters with a gun and explosives a mere two weeks after a restraining order requiring him to stay away from Discovery Communications expired. The restraining order was issued after Lee organized a disruptive protest at the building, paying homeless people to participate.
The Discovery Channel hostage-taker was undoubtedly mentally ill, suffering from an obsession. Media reports suggesting that he strapped explosives to his body and took three hostages because he objected to the network’s programming are befuddling. Saying that the network’s programming was the reason for Lee to take hostages at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters is a perplexing effort to rationalize the irrational.
When a person experiences a mental illness and behaves in an irrational manner, as appears to be the case with the Discovery Channel hostage-taker, why do we ask “why?” The mere asking implies rationality where there is none.
The Washington Post described the Discovery Channel hostage taker as an environmental militant. Does this mean that a mentally ill person acting out religious delusions should be considered a theologian? Or that when someone kills prostitutes due to delusions of a sexual nature should be called a sexologist? How about the one acting on the belief that aliens control him — do we characterize him as an extraterrestrial expert?
To label the Discovery Channel hostage taker an environmental militant implies there was order to his disordered thinking. It lends legitimacy to action for which there can be no excuse in a civilized society. Why can’t the media simply print that the Discovery Channel hostage taker committed his crime under the influence of mentally aberrant beliefs?
By labeling the Discovery Channel hostage taker an environmental militant, the media would have us believe James Lee was no different than the average Greenpeace worker. But Lee was different. His professed beliefs were irrational. His obsessions were deadly.