Nidal Malik Hasan

What’s in a name? Very, very little—particularly when it comes to divining the motivations of the perpetrator of a violent crime. But that will not stop media analysts from reading into the fact that one of the shooters—and possibly the only shooter—at this afternoon’s massacre at Fort Hood was named…Nidal Malik Hasan.

Take Shep Smith, the Fox News anchor oft cited for being one of ‘the good guys’—the real, responsible reporters—at Fox. Smith, covering the network’s 5pm time slot for an appendicitis-stricken Glenn Beck, interviewed Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison about the Fort Hood events. In the process, Smith went out of his way to stress the decision he’d made to err on the side of caution when it came to revealing the identity of the now-deceased shooting suspect. Until military sources had confirmed the name, Smith said, he wouldn’t report it.

That decision would be admirable—had it been purely about journalistic accuracy, respecting the suspect’s family, etc. But it wasn’t. It was also about the name. And what the name, you know, meant. As Smith put it: “The name tells us a lot, does it not, Senator?”

The assumption being—well, you know what the assumption is.

Below, my transcript of the exchange:

Smith: Senator Hutchison, uh, other news organizations are identifying the shooter—the now deceased uh, uh, officer in the United States Army [coughs]—who, as you’ve reported to us here, was about to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, was upset about that, and then today went on this shooting rampage. I’ve been given a name that’s being reported elsewhere, and, uh, I’m not—are—have you been given a name, and what do you know about this suspect? How much are you able to tell us?

Hutchison: Well, I have been given a name, but I would not want to confirm that, because I don’t know if this person’s family has been notified. So I would not want to give the name. I do know—I, I have been given a name.

Smith: We’ve been given a name, as well, and, quite frankly, I’m not comfortable going with it ‘til it’s given to me by the United States military, and they say, ‘This is who it is.’ Unless we get it separately. But the name tells us a lot, does it not, Senator?

Hutchison: It does, Shepard. And that’s why it’s a very sad situation.

Smith—and Hutchison—and all the others who are tempted to engage in this kind of Muslim-to-murderer implication-mongering—would do well to heed the warning of ABC’s Jake Tapper: “No word on motive yet,” he Twittered earlier this afternoon, “and at a time like this ppl should listen to their better angels.”

Update: Hasan, contrary to initial reports, was wounded—but not killed—in the Fort Hood shooting. The post has been updated to reflect the new information.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.