It is an unwritten rule of news reporting that suicides in general should not be reported on, and when they are, this should be done in a responsible fashion without exploiting the topic or the act of desperation. The idea behind this is to avoid other desperate people from emulating the action and committing suicide themselves – something that is known as copycat suicide or the “Werther effect” [1]. The name derives from Goethe’s novel The suffering of young Werther, the publication of which is said to have led to a wave of suicides among young males [2].

A WISO meta-search for the term ‘suicide’ from January 1st, 2020 until July 28th, 2022 reveals 126 articles containing mentions of suicides in the Kleine Zeitung, 149 articles in the Kurier, 146 in Der Standard and 172 in Die Presse, so approximately 1 article every 4 days. Many of these articles only mention the fact that a suicide was committed as additional information to news reports on murder-suicide cases. Others discuss ways to help people considering suicide. So it is reasonable to say that Austrian newspapers have been careful not to put suicide into the limelight beyond a justifiable level. However, when the same search is conducted for the short period of July 29th, 2022 until August 15th, 2022, we get 52 mentions in the Kleine Zeitung, 30 mentions in the Kurier, 43 in Der Standard and 35 in Die Presse. This amounts to an average of 2 articles per day. The reason for this increase was the suicide of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, an Austrian doctor, as well as the attempted suicide of Hans-Jörg Jenewein, a right-wing politician. In both cases, but particularly in the case of the Austrian doctor, the media reported extensively, not just on the event itself, but also on the background, motivations and implications of the act. This coverage also included editorials, the most prominent form of highlighting a story.

In the first editorial after Kellermayr’s suicide on July 29th, Kleine Zeitung’s editor-in chief, Hubert Patterer, explained:

Wir schreiben normalerweise nicht über Verzweiflungstaten. Wir wissen um den Sog der Nachahmung. Der Suizid der Welser Landärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr zwingt uns aus der gleichen Verantwortung heraus, von diesem Grundsatz abzuweichen. Dieser Tod darf nicht verschwiegen werden. Er ist Fanal und Anklage zugleich. Er offenbart auf bestürzende Weise die Zerrissenheit und die buchstäbliche Hilf-Losigkeit einer wundgeriebenen Gesellschaft, in die die Pandemie tiefe Kerben schlug. [3]

[We do not normally write about acts of desperation. We know about the maelstrom of imitation. Out of the same responsibility, the suicide of country doctor Lisa-Maria Kellermayr from Wels forces us to depart from this principle. Her death must not be concealed. It is both a warning signal and an accusation. It reveals in a disconcerting way the divisions and the literal helplessness of a society suffering from deep wounds caused by the pandemic.]

Similarly, in the Presse, an op-ed declared:

Viele Jahre wurde aus gut gemeinter Sorge nicht über Suizide berichtet: Man hatte Angst vor dem sogenannten Werther-Effekt, die Darstellung von Tötungsmethoden und Ähnlichem sollte keinesfalls zur Nachahmung anregen.

Nun aber hat vor etwas mehr als zehn Jahren die Medizinische Universität Wien nachweisen können, dass eine achtsame und angemessene Berichterstattung über Suizide sogar einen gegenteiligen Nachahmungseffekt, einen Präventionseffekt, auslösen kann. Wenn man von Menschen liest, die suizidale Krisen überwinden konnten, wenn man von psychisch belasteten Persönlichkeiten hört, die einen Weg gefunden haben, damit zu leben. [4]

[For many years, suicides were not reported out of well-intentioned concern: There was a fear of the so-called Werther effect, the depiction of killing methods and the like should in no way encourage imitation.

Now, however, a little more than ten years ago, the Medical University of Vienna was able to prove that attentive and appropriate reporting on suicides can even trigger the opposite imitation effect, a prevention effect. When you read about people who were able to overcome suicidal crises, when you hear about psychologically burdened personalities who have found a way to live with it.]

Lisa-Maria Kellermayr had committed suicide in her practice and had left three final letters, parts of which were published in one of Austria’s tabloid newspapers, Die Krone. In one letter, she wrote: “Kein Stress, Sie werden mich wohl nicht mehr lebend finden. Es ist 02:30. Ich habe mich in den Panikraum zurückgezogen und werde mich umbringen. Ich kann nicht mehr . . .“ [Don’t fret, you won’t find me alive. It’s 2:30 a.m., and I have retired to the panic room. I will kill myself. I cannot take it anymore…”] [5]

The doctor had been a well-known and avid promoter of Covid vaccinations who, for that very reason, had become an antagonistic figure in certain circles of people opposing vaccine and mask mandates. In that context, she had also been receiving threats going so far as death threats from radicalized individuals hiding behind their anonymity on the internet. According to media reports, she tried to get police protection but failed, and then invested a lot of money in her own protection. At the end of June, she then closed her medical practice due to security concerns [6]. Two weeks before she took her own life, she had had her first suicide attempt after which she was treated in a psychiatric clinic, but soon released. [5] She had become famous in pro-vaccination circles after criticizing via Twitter a demonstration against vaccine mandates and accusing the protesters of blocking all exits of the hospital, including the emergency lane. Police then tweeted out in response that this was ‘fake news’, as the emergency lane was not blocked [3]. Ever since then, Kellermayr had become a controversial figure, with her critics denouncing her for bending the truth to gain publicity while her supporters criticized the police for stabbing her in the back with their debunker tweet.

In the media, her death was front page news for several days, and remained a story for a couple of weeks. The coverage was characterized by extremely emotional language, by a great variety of voices – friends and family, colleagues, politicians, celebrities and people from all strands of society – as well as, in particular, through a focus on motives and blame for her untimely death. Some of these claims were explicit, some implicit, such as the following, taken from four major Austrian newspapers:

  • “Auslöser für die Ermittlungen ist der Suizid der oberösterreichischen Ärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, die über mehrere Monate hinweg von militanten Corona-Leugnern und Impfgegnern verfolgt und bedroht wurde.“ – Kurier [The investigation was triggered by the suicide of the Upper Austrian doctor Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, who was persecuted and threatened by militant Corona deniers and vaccination opponents over a period of several months.]
  • “Der Tod der oberösterreichischen Ärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr (36), die zuletzt wegen Morddrohungen aus der Impfgegner-Szene ihre Praxis geschlossen hat, hat tiefe Betroffenheit ausgelöst.“ – Kleine Zeitung [The death of the Upper Austrian doctor Lisa-Maria Kellermayr (36), who recently closed her practice because of death threats from the anti-vaccination scene, has caused deep consternation.]
  • “Die Ermittlungen zum Tod der oberösterreichischen Ärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr sind nicht abgeschlossen – auch wenn die oberösterreichische Polizei davon ausgeht, dass die Medizinerin aus Seewalchen, die über einen längeren Zeitraum von anonymen Hasspostern aus rechtsradikalen Impfgegnerkreisen mit Mord bedroht worden war, Suizid begangen hat.“ – Der Standard [The investigation into the death of Upper Austrian doctor Lisa-Maria Kellermayr has not been completed – even though the Upper Austrian police assume that the doctor from Seewalchen, who had been threatened with murder over a long period of time by anonymous hate posters from right-wing anti-vaccination circles, committed suicide.]
  • “Am Freitag beging die Ärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr Suizid, nachdem sie monatelang von Impfgegnern gemobbt worden war und etliche Morddrohungen per E-Mail erhalten hatte.“ – Die Presse [On Friday, physician Lisa-Maria Kellermayr committed suicide after months of being mobbed by vaccination opponents and receiving several death threats via email.]

Some of the attributions were also rather explicit, such as the following:

  • “In mehreren Städten gingen die Menschen am Montagabend auf die Straße – im Gedenken an die Medizinerin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, die ein Opfer militanter Impfgeger wurde.“ – Kurier [People took to the streets in several cities on Monday evening – in memory of medical doctor Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, who became a victim of militant anti-vaccination campaigners.]
  • “Im Fall von Lisa-Maria Kellermayr gingen die Online-Drohungen von Coronaleugnern so weit, dass die Ärztin sich das Leben nahm.“ – Kleine Zeitung [In the case of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, online threats from corona deniers went so far that the doctor took her own life.]
  • “Montagabend fanden an mehreren Orten Gedenkveranstaltungen für die Ärztin Lisa-Maria Kellermayr statt. Sie wurde von Psychoterror und Todesdrohungen durch Impfgegner in den Selbstmord getrieben.“ – Der Standard [Monday evening, memorial services for physician Lisa-Maria Kellermayr were held in several locations. She was driven to suicide by psychological terror and death threats from vaccination opponents.]
  • “Milde ist nicht angebracht, all diesen wahnsinnigen Postern wird hoffentlich mit einer Mordanklage der Prozess gemacht. Denn Lisa-Maria Kellermayr ist nicht freiwillig aus dem Leben geschieden, wie Suizid mitunter euphemistisch auch genannt wird. Sie wurde von (bald nicht mehr) anonymen Covidioten umgebracht.“ – Die Presse [Leniency is not appropriate, all these insane posters will hopefully be tried on murder charges. Because Lisa-Maria Kellermayr did not leave life voluntarily, as suicide is sometimes euphemistically referred to. She was killed by (soon to be no more) anonymous covidiots.]

Over the course of several weeks, such suggestions and explications of the motive for the suicide of the young doctor were ubiquitous in media reporting. When individual voices tried to suggest alternative motives for her suicide, those were swiftly taken down:

  • “Weil Kellermayr nach einem halben Jahr extremer Belastung verzweifelte, wurden ihr jetzt in Boulevardmedien ohne jegliche Grundlage “innere Dämonen” diagnostiziert, also eine psychische Erkrankung. Doch hier waren “äußere Dämonen” am Werk: Frauenhass, Wissenschaftsfeindlichkeit und Feigheit.“ [Because Kellermayr despaired after half a year of extreme stress, tabloid media now diagnosed her without any basis with “inner demons”, i.e. a mental illness. But “external demons” were at work here: misogyny, hostility to science and cowardice.] [7]

Any other motive, therefore, was categorically ruled out. In this context, it is of interest that the Kleine Zeitung reported, on October 26, 2022, that Kellermayr had had debts of more than half a million Euros [8], which may or may not have contributed to her desperation, but was definitely never brought up as a possible motive. Only in a single article of one of the four newspapers analyzed was a psychiatrist in an interview quoted as saying,

  • “Über die Motive einer Toten kann man nur spekulieren.” [We can only speculate on the motives of a deceased person.] [9]

Yet despite this inherent speculative nature of what ultimately drove Kellermayr towards this act of desperation, corporate news media had already found their motive – vaccine critics, opponents of vaccine mandates, ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘covidiots’, right-wing extremists and sexists, interchangeable labels used to delegitimize and ostracize a large group of people. Even though some of the articles do mention that only two persons were being sought for sending death threats to the doctor, the discourse in the media attempted to implicate all opponents of the vaccination program in her death.

  • “Sie berichtete über die Folgen des Virus – in Interviews und in den sozialen Medien. Und wurde damit schnell zur Zielscheibe der Coronaleugner und Maßnahmengegner.“ – Kurier [She reported on the consequences of the virus – in interviews and on social media. And thus quickly became the target of corona deniers and opponents of Covid measures.]
  • “Eine Ärztin, die nicht Kriegerin sein will, nur Helfende, gerät ins Fadenkreuz fanatisierter Maßnahmen- und „System“-Gegner.“ – Kleine Zeitung [A doctor who does not want to be a warrior, only a helper, gets caught in the crosshairs of fanatical opponents of Covid measures and the “system”]
  • “Leute, die sich vordergründig als Impfgegner und Corona-Leugner präsentieren, dann wieder als Putin-Versteher und Sanktionenkritiker. Die aber im Kern aus einer rechtsextremen, staats- und vor allem demokratiefeindlichen Ecke kommen.“ – Der Standard [People who superficially present themselves as opponents of vaccination and Covid deniers, then again as Putin-apologists and critics of sanctions. But at their core, they come from a right-wing extremist, anti-state and, above all, anti-democratic corner.]
  • “Die Frau war bekanntlich monatelang von “besorgten Bürgern” aus der Coronaleugnerszene regelrecht gejagt worden, physisch, aber eben auch auf Twitter. Vor und nach ihrem Tod erbrach sich ein pöbelhafter Mob in einer Art und Weise, die ekelerregend zu finden dem Ausmaß der menschlichen Verkommenheit, das da sichtbar wurde, nicht annähernd gerecht wurde.” – Die Presse [As is well known, she had been persecuted for months by “concerned citizens” from the Covid-denier scene, physically, but also on Twitter. Before and after her death, a rabble-rousing mob badmouthed and attacked her in a way that calling it disgusting does not even come close to the extent of human depravity that was visible.]

The use of very generic nouns in assigning the blame for her death leaves little room for interpretation that it was not only select individuals that were to blame, but an entire movement, a group of people, and the atmosphere of fear and threat that they created. The sweeping generalization is noteworthy insofar as the group that is being blamed is very heterogeneous, involving not only critics of the vaccine or so-called Covid-deniers, but also Putin-apologists, enemies of democracy, right-wing extremists as well as a trove of other problematic and negatively connoted labels, who are all lumped together as fringe groups corroding society and the frequently invoked solidarity.

Another part of the blame is placed squarely on the local police for contradicting a tweet by Kellermayr in which she suggested that a demonstration by critics of Corona policies was clogging the emergency entrance of a hospital.

  • “Impfgegner versammeln sich vor dem Krankenhaus Wels. Lisa-Maria Kellermayr twittert, dass die Rettungszufahrt blockiert worden sei. Die Polizei bezeichnet das damals als “Falschmeldung”. Ab diesem Zeitpunkt gerät sie ins Visier der Impfgegner.“ – Kurier [Anti-vaxxers gather in front of the hospital in Wels. Lisa-Maria Kellermayr tweets that the emergency access road has been blocked. At the time, the police described this as “fake news”. From this point on, she is targeted by anti-vaxxers.]
  • “Als die 36-Jährige eine Demo vor dem Welser Spital ins Netz stellt und zeigt, wie der Protestzug die Rettung behindert, fällt ihr die Polizei in den Rücken und spricht im Netz von einer „Falsch-Info“. Die Zurechtweisung dient den Radikalen als Freibrief.“ – Kleine Zeitung [When the 36-year-old posts a picture of a demonstration in front of the hospital in Wels on the Internet and shows how the protest obstructs emergency services, the police stab her in the back and speak of “false information” on Twitter. The rebuke serves as carte blanche for the radicals.]
  • “Unerträglich ist das Verhalten der oberösterreichischen Polizei im Fall Kellermayr. Die engagierte Ärztin kritisierte, dass im November 2021 die Polizei eine Demonstration von Corona-Schwurblern direkt vor dem Krankenhaus Wels nicht auflöste. Daraufhin erhielt sie eine öffentliche Retourkutsche der Polizeit, die die anonymen Hetzer erst recht auf sie lenkte.“ – Der Standard [The behavior of the Upper Austrian police in the Kellermayr case is intolerable. The committed doctor criticized that in November 2021 the police did not break up a demonstration by Covidiots directly in front of the hospital in Wels. As a result, she received a public rebuke from the police, which directed the anonymous agitators even more at her.]
  • “Im November des Vorjahrs schrieb die Ärztin auf Twitter, dass eine Demonstration mit Coronaleugnern die Rettungsausfahrt der Klinik in Wels blockierte. Direkt darunter antwortete die LPD, dass es sich um Fake News handle. “Damit wurde ich von der Polizei zum Abschuss freigegeben”, sagte Kellermayr im Gespräch mit der “Presse“. Der Beitrag verbreitete sich in Impfgegner- und Coronaleugner-Gruppen rasant, ein Nutzer meinte gar: “Die Polizei ist mittlerweile schon auf unserer Seite.” Ein anderer veröffentlichte Kellermayrs Adresse samt dem Aufruf, ihr zu schreiben und sie zu besuchen.” – Die Presse [In November of the previous year, the doctor wrote on Twitter that a demonstration with Covid-deniers was blocking the ambulance exit of the clinic in Wels. Directly below, the police department replied that it was fake news. “With that, I was cleared for being hunted by the police,” Kellermayr said in an interview with the “Presse.” The article spread in anti-vaxxer and Covid-denier groups, with one user even saying, “The police are already on our side now.” Another published Kellermayr’s address together with the call to write to her and pay her a visit.]

What is interesting about these passages is that none of the reports offer any proof that the police’s claim was wrong, but they do suggest that police had backstabbed Kellermayr by tweeting their rebuke, insinuating that they should have stayed quiet about this. So here, the police’s debunker, rather than the doctor’s possibly wrong perception, are blamed for the wave of negative and hateful reactions that she received after that tweet.

In summary, the coverage of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr’s suicide shows the following characteristics:

  • detailed, long-term and emotional coverage
  • narrow focus on online mobbing as a motive for her suicide
  • blame is summarily assigned to a very heterogeneous group of people whose only shared characteristic seems to be that they are system critics
  • police are blamed for inciting Kellermayr’s critics by rebuking her and for inadequately protecting her

The media justify their in-depth coverage of a suicide by the scandalous nature of a raging mob pushing a well-meaning person to her death and by the need to raise awareness for the dangers posed by non-conformists radicalized during the pandemic. The characteristics outlined here by themselves would have been enough to warrant a discussion in that never before any suicide had been covered with so much detail, so much outrage and such an accusatory tone. What makes this discussion even more important is the way in which another, similar event was covered about half a year later.

In 2023, another tragic death occurred by a person who had come to be well-known through his comments on the mRNA vaccines. Clemes Arvay, a biologist and early critic of the pandemic response, committed suicide on February 18. Like Kellermayr, Arvay had been very vocal in promoting his viewpoints, albeit for the opposite side. And like Kellermayr, he had also been targeted by radicalized elements who opposed his arguments. As the Krone reported on March 5th of 2023, Arvay had written to a friend and psychiatrist about the strains of being targeted by pro-vaccine fanatics: “Ich bin mit den Nerven am Ende, Raphael. Ich mache weiter, aber es ist der nervliche Wahnsinn. Die Methoden sind so niederträchtig. Wird mich am Ende ein Wutbürger umbringen??? Bei so viel Hass? Seit meinem ORF-Auftritt ist es ganz massiv.“ [I am a nervous wreck. I’ll keep going, but it’s mental madness. The methods are so vile. Will an angry citizen end up killing me??? With so much hate? Since my appearance on ORF1, it’s been massive.] [10]

Different from Kellermayr, though, Arvay had not received benevolent media coverage while he was alive; rather, he had been harshly criticized and slandered by a press who saw any criticism of the vaccines as unscientific nonsense. In a long-read article by Der Standard on August 28, 2021, Arvay, along with others, was called out as a fear-monger, profiting off of people’s anxieties. With regard to a book he published on the risks of the mRNA vaccines, it says:

Von “Corona Impfstoffe – Rettung oder Risiko?” hingegen wurden in einem halben Jahr über 150.000 Exemplare verkauft. Da kommt bei einem Autorenhonorar von zehn bis 15 Prozent selbst beim billigen Ladenpreis von zehn Euro einiges zusammen. Arvays Geschäftsmodell, ganz auf die Thematisierung etwaiger Impfrisiken zu setzen und wissenschaftliche Studien für seine Zwecke zurechtzubiegen, hat sich also ausgezahlt: Mit verantwortungsloser Impfangstmache lässt sich eben auch ganz schön gut Profit machen. [11]

[“Covid Vaccines – Salvation or Risk?”, on the other hand, has sold more than 150,000 copies in half a year. With an author’s fee of ten to 15 percent, that’s quite a lot, even at the cheap retail price of ten euros. Arvay’s business model of focusing entirely on the issue of possible vaccination risks and bending scientific studies to suit his own purposes has therefore paid off: irresponsible vaccination scaremongering is a great way to make a profit.]

Similarly, Der Falter, a left-wing liberal magazine, attempted to discredit him by suggesting he was just after the money, and by covering his critique alongside deprecatory labels such as tin-foil hats or anti-semitism:

Der Biologe und Impfkritiker Clemens Arvay ist ein klassischer Corona-Trittbrettfahrer. Corona-Kritik ist ja auch ein Geschäftsmodell. Deutsche Corona-Stars generieren mit ihren Videos hunderttausende an Klicks, die Organisatoren von Corona-Skeptiker-Demos buhlen um Spenden und bieten Abo- und Bezahlmodelle an. Array [sic!] erreicht auf Youtube bis zu 50.000 Zuschauer, diese Woche erscheint sein neues Buch bei Bastei-Lübbe. Natürlich geht es um Corona. [12]

[The biologist and vaccine critic Clemens Arvay is a classic Corona freeloader. Corona criticism is also a business model. German Corona stars generate hundreds of thousands of clicks with their videos, the organizers of demonstrations by Covid sceptics solicit donations and offer subscription and payment models. Arvay reaches up to 50,000 viewers on Youtube, and this week his new book is being published by Bastei-Lübbe. Of course it’s about Corona.]

There was therefore no scarcity of ad-hominem attacks against Arvay in the mainstream press on top of being the target of very personal attacks by online ‘fact-checkers’ [13][14] and other slanders attempting to discredit his expertise [15]. On Wikipedia as well as on social media, he was frequently ridiculed and derided, something he admitted to suffering from enormously [16]. When Arvay took his life on February 18, 2023, considering this background, there would have been reason enough to revisit the archives and assume that such constant accusations and attacks against him could potentially have contributed to his decision to end his life. However, the media adopted a different strategy: they stayed largely silent.

A Google search for the name Clemens Arvay in the four newspapers analyzed in this article revealed 2 articles on the Kleine Zeitung website (NOT their print edition), 1 article in Der Standard and none in the Kurier and Presse newspapers. The Austrian broadcasting corporation (ORF) also ran a single short article on their website. Seeing that he had been frequently called a ‘prominent’ critic in the media (e.g. in this obituary article by the Kleine Zeitung: “Die Betroffenheit über den Tod des prominenten Grazer Impfkritikers, Wissenschaftlers und Autors Clemens G. Arvay” [The shock over the death of the prominent Graz-based vaccination critic, scientist and author Clemens G. Arvay], but also in the article by Der Standard: “Clemens Arvay war einer der prominentesten Kritiker der Corona-Politik und -Impfung in Österreich” [Clemens Arvay was one of the most prominent critics of Covid policy and vaccination in Austria]) and that his name had frequently appeared in articles trying to debunk Covid sceptics’ claims, this is surprising.

The articles were mostly sober in tone, with very neutral headlines focusing on what happened:

  • Biologe Clemens G. Arvay ist tot – Kleine Zeitung [Biologist Clemens G. Arvay is dead]
  • Biologe und Autor Clemens Arvay ist tot – ORF [Biologist and author Clemens Arvay is dead]
  • Biologe und Corona-Impfkritiker Clemens Arvay gestorben – Der Standard [Biologist and Covid-vaccine critic Clemens Arvay has died]

This was quite different for the articles that broke the news of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr’s death:

  • Von Corona-Leugnern bedrohte Landärztin verstorben – Der Standard [Country doctor threatened by Covid-deniers dead]
  • Bedrohte Ärztin begeht Suizid – Die Presse [Threatened doctor commits suicide]
  • Bedrohte Ärztin lag tot in ihrer Praxis – Kleine Zeitung [Threatened doctor lay dead in her practice]
  • Bedroht und belächelt: Ärztin wurde tot in ihrer Praxis gefunden – Kurier [Threatened and belittled: doctor found dead in her practice]

These already included insinuations regarding why she took her life as well as – in Der Standard – an explicit allocation of blame. Not only was the matter of blame not really discussed in the case of Arvay, but the articles even played down the idea that his suicide might have been related to his treatment by the media or by supporters of the Covid-vaccines.

  • In sozialen Medien kam es nach Bekanntwerden von Arvays Tod zu teils heftigen Reaktionen. Viele Anhängerinnen und Anhänger des umstrittenen Buchautors gaben Medien, der Pharmaindustrie, aber auch Befürwortern der Impfung die Schuld. Sie orteten Kampagnen gegen Arvay, wegen derer er viel Hass und Hetze habe einstecken müssen. Auch der nicht minder umstrittene Psychiater Raphael Bonelli, der während der Pandemie zu einem der reichweitenstärksten Kritiker der Corona-Maßnahmen wurde, brachte Arvays Tod in ersten und inzwischen wieder gelöschten Reaktionen auf Youtube mit angeblichen Kampagnen von Medien und Druck aus der Pharmaindustrie in Verbindung. – Der Standard [After Arvay’s death became known, there were some fierce reactions on social media. Many supporters of the controversial book author blamed the media, the pharmaceutical industry, but also supporters of vaccination. They saw campaigns against Arvay, because of which he had to put up with a lot of hatred and agitation. The no less controversial psychiatrist Raphael Bonelli, who during the pandemic became one of the widest-ranging critics of the Corona measures, also linked Arvay’s death to alleged campaigns by the media and pressure from the pharmaceutical industry in initial reactions on YouTube, which have since been deleted.]

There are several issues here when compared to the treatment of Kellermayr’s suicide. First of all, Arvay is called ‘contested’ or ‘controversial’ because of his criticism of the vaccines, and so is another psychiatrist who supported him. This is a label that was never applied to Kellermayr, despite her clearly creating as much controversy in certain circles as Arvay. ‘Controversial’ in this context seems to suggest that the person described is untrustworthy as they mix ‘solid’ officially licensed information – which is assumed not to cause controversy – with unsanctioned information that is provocative and lacking evidence – and thus would raise controversy within “the science”.

Another issue is the use of tentative language (“habe einstecken müssen”/subjunctive form of “had to endure”), of hedging (“angeblich”/”alleged”) as well as of other phrases meant to cast doubt (“Sie orteten Kampagnen gegen Arvay”/synonymous to “identify campaigns against Arvay” but suggesting a lack of evidence; “reactions on Youtube, which have since been deleted”) in order to insert the greatest possible distance between the journalist and the motives suggested by Arvay’s supporters. By applying these linguistic devices, any discussion of possible motives beyond personal reasons thus becomes associated with conspiratorial thinking as well as evidence-free hearsay, something which was constructed as being a hallmark of Covid critics.

In the same article, the deceased is also criticized for his critique of the vaccine authorization process:

  • In seinen – teils millionenfach angeklickten – Videos, die von Youtube immer wieder gelöscht wurden, berichtete er mit Bezugnahme auf Studien meist verzerrend und teils irreführend über die Risiken von Covid-Schutzimpfungen […] In seinem 2021 veröffentlichten Buch “Corona-Impfstoffe – Rettung oder Risiko?” kritisierte Arvay die beschleunigten Zulassungsverfahrens der Covid-Schutzimpfungen. Das umstrittene Buch, das die Risiko-Aspekte der Impfstoffe betont, schaffte es sogar auf Platz 1 der Spiegel-Bestsellerliste. In diesem Buch und seinen Videos bediente er indirekt auch Verschwörungsmythen, indem er etwa andeutete, dass Bill Gates und die Pharmaindustrie die Impfstoffe rasch und ohne Rücksicht auf das Patientenwohl durchsetzen wollten. – Der Standard [In his videos – some of which were clicked on millions of times and repeatedly deleted by Youtube – he reported on the risks of Covid vaccinations in a mostly distorting and partly misleading manner with reference to studies […] In his book “Corona vaccines – salvation or risk?” published in 2021, Arvay criticized the accelerated approval process of Covid vaccinations. The controversial book, which emphasizes the risk aspects of vaccines, even made it to No. 1 on the Spiegel bestseller list. In this book and his videos, he also indirectly served conspiracy myths, suggesting, for example, that Bill Gates and the pharmaceutical industry wanted to push vaccines through quickly and without regard for patient welfare.]

The contrast to Kellermayr, in whom the media saw a kind of martyr figure of anti-vaxxer hate and whose actions they praised and eulogized, could not be starker. While her death was reported on for several weeks, in the case of Arvay the coverage is limited to just one article (with the exception of one follow-up article by the Kleine Zeitung), in which not even the common practice of “de morituis nihil nisi bene” (“Of the dead, [say] nothing but good”) – in the case of the Standard article – is observed. In the only article to be published after the obituary on February 25, 2023, the Kleine Zeitung calls for rapprochement between vaccine-critics and vaccine-supporters by decrying the new divisions that the discussions on his death have created: “Wie Clemens G. Arvays Tod alte Wunden und Gräben wieder aufreißt” [How Clemens G. Arvay’s death opens up old wounds and divisons]. The tone is generally conciliatory, acknowledging – different from Der Standard – that he had indeed been a target of personal attacks:

“[F]ür seine Follower [ist] glasklar: Der Druck seiner Gegner sei einfach zu groß gewesen. Er sei von Medien ins Schwurbler-Eck gestellt worden, ihm sei – auch von anonymen Internet-Hatern – seine wissenschaftliche Reputation abgesprochen worden, er sei enormen Anfeindungen und Abqualifizierungen ausgesetzt gewesen. Das ist nicht aus der Luft gegriffen. Es ist ein über Monate – auch im Netz – vielfach dokumentiertes Faktum.” [17]

[For his followers, it is crystal-clear: The pressure from his opponents was simply too great. He had been put in the Covidiot corner by the media, his scientific reputation had been denied – also by anonymous Internet haters – and he had been subjected to enormous hostility and disqualification. This is not just a figment of their imagination. It is a fact that has been documented many times over the months – also on the Internet.]

Essentially, the author admits that the smears and defamation were real. He even critically acknowledges at a later point that in Kellermayr’s case, the media reported and reflected on the anonymous haters on the internet, adding that politicians including the Austrian President lamented the situation; for Arvay, on the other hand, he criticizes that the reflection is ceded to his followers only. However, the author’s intention is not to criticize this lack of reporting and call for a more detailed coverage of Arvay’s suicide and its possible motives, but rather to urge a disarmament of words and actions between the two sides:

Die einen sehen sich als letzte Kämpfer für die vermeintlich eingeschränkte Meinungsfreiheit in unserem Land. Sie orten ein von Politik und Behörden, aber auch der Pharmaindustrie und hörigen Forschern verordnetes Mainstream-Meinungsdiktat und stellen teils gar die Demokratie infrage. […]

Die andere Seite desavouiert wiederum rasch alle Impf- und Coronamaßnahmen-Skeptiker als unsolidarische Schwurbler und Verschwörungstheoretiker. Auch diese Seite sieht sich als Bewahrer der Meinungsfreiheit und natürlich einer liberalen Demokratie. Außer Gegenmeinungen gefährden das Ziel der Herdenimmunität. [17]

[People on the one side see themselves as the last fighters for the supposedly restricted freedom of speech in our country. They see a mainstream dictate of opinion imposed by politics and authorities, but also by the pharmaceutical industry and subservient researchers, and in some cases even question democracy. […]

People on the other side quickly disavow all skeptics of Covid-vaccines and Covid measures as unsolidary crackpots and conspiracy theorists. This side, too, sees itself as the guardian of freedom of speech and, of course, of a liberal democracy. Except when contrary opinions endanger the goal of herd immunity.]

The only way to start reconciling the two camps, he argues, is to “take a step back from sweeping assignments of guilt and let the dead rest in peace.” What is interesting about this proposed course of action is several things:

  • It is very much congruent to an overall approach we have been seeing with regard to processing the social impacts and divisions of the pandemic. An Atlantic article from October 31, 2022, for instance, called for a “Pandemic Amnesty”, for people to forgive and forget [18]. The Austrian government, too, proposed a reconciliation process to overcome existing divisions [19]. Such proposals attempt to treat two things as equal that are not. To first mistreat someone and then pontificate over their reactions is quite simply bigotry. To tell any victim that they need to forgive, but that you also forgive them would surely be seen as pure cynicism in any other case.
  • During the pandemic, unvaccinated people were subject to increasingly harsh sanctions for not being vaccinated – from being forbidden to enter certain public places to being sidelined or stigmatized in their jobs to being constantly verbally abused by parts of the public and the media as the main drivers of the pandemic, called out as responsible for people dying or occupying hospital beds. To then call for amnesty without addressing and amending the injustices committed is entirely asymmetric. By the same token, when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr committed suicide, weeks of squarely and narrowly assigning blame and motive for her death to the heterogeneous camp of vaccine sceptics ensued. Simultaneously, other possible explanations – such as a previous suicide attempt and enormous debts – were ignored. Media and politics called out hate speech and reframed that as a particularity of the dangerous intolerance of vaccine critics. However, when Clemens Arvay – prominent member of the vaccine sceptics camp – committed suicide, the few outlets that covered his death either offered no exegesis of his motives or called on people to just forgive and forget. What makes this noteworthy is two things: first, his suicide occurred under similar circumstances to Kellermayr’s in many ways: he was attacked and slandered by an internet mob; he struggled personally, not from debt, but from being – in his words – in “a toxic relationship”; and different from Kellermayr, he was also subject of media campaigns calling him out and casting doubt on his credibility and professionalism. And second, the difference in treatment that Kellermayr’s death had received and how it had been instrumentalized to polemicize against vaccine sceptics was still fresh in memory, so any appeal to vaccine sceptics to “go on with their lives” without first addressing their ailments can be seen as equally asymmetric.
  • While reconciliation is called for, the real point the article is ultimately trying to make is that, yes, we should hear out vaccine sceptics, but we should call them out for their conspiracy theories, their fake news and their hostility towards ‘the system’. No calls are made to revise or revisit claims made by the pro-vaccine camp many of which have been shown to be wrong or to rethink the dichotic labelling of people into followers of ‘the science’ or conspiratorial crackpots that fall for false prophets.
  • Reconciliation would seem to be difficult to achieve when two tragic events that share so many similarities are treated so glaringly differently, solely on the basis of the camp that they represented. There is no convincing reason to highlight, emotionalize and push one suicide story while barely even mentioning the other – all talk of the ‘prominent vaccine critic’ to the contrary. This – more than almost anything else – epitomizes the division into what Chomsky and Herman called ‘worthy and unworthy victims’ [20].

What the comparison of the news coverage of the suicides of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr and Clemens G. Arvay suggests is that the rule of not reporting on suicides to avoid motivating other possibly suicidal people was broken for purely political reasons. The story was expanded and instrumentalized by media outlets at a time when the tide had begun to turn against the proponents of mandatory vaccinations as well as Covid policies in general with the pandemic incrementally becoming endemic. The tragic story of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr was used to flatly discredit vaccine sceptics by blaming radical elements for driving Kellermayr into her early death. The story was emotionalized and hyped not just by the media, but also by politicians and certain segments of the public via social media. Any nuance was missing, as were any references to other potential reasons and motivations behind the doctor’s suicide. Any attempts to even talk about other motives was seen as impious and harshly criticized. When the story of her large debt broke – only a fraction of which she had incurred due to security concerns after receiving death threats – no connection, however tentative, was made to her decision to end her life.

On the other hand, the suicide of Clemens Arvay found little if any media echo. While it is not known if he received death threats, it is well established that he had been a target of the mainstream media and a propagandized and incited public. His reputation as a scientist was destroyed, he was ridiculed, fact-checked and slandered. His videos were taken down on Youtube for ‘misinformation’ and he became the target of Wikipedia editors who worked overtime to undermine his credibility. In that sense, his suicide should have been equally newsworthy as it might have been motivated by similar factors as Kellermayr’s. The fact that most of the media chose to completely ignore his death or – to the extent they did cover it – to cover it very matter-of-factly seems to suggest that the purpose of reporting on Kellermayr’s suicide was not so much to show the brutal consequences of personal and unwarranted attacks; rather it seems, the goal was to discredit an entire group of people at a point in time when they were beginning to reclaim their rights and raise accusations for the treatment received during the pandemic. Given that at least one newspaper attempted to use Arvay’s suicide in order to call for a toning down of the rhetoric and of assigning guilt shows that they must have been aware of the consequences that dwelling on a suicide story could have for them as part of the camp that relentlessly called out and criticized Arvay.

The pre-emptive silencing of the story speaks volumes about a media whose self-defined purpose during the pandemic was “not [to be] a corrective, but mediators” for the official narrative [21]. As such it seems they saw in the suicide of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr an epitome of the nefariousness of the kind of people and ideology that had fought the very narrative they had committed to mediating, while the suicide of Clemens Arvay threatened to challenge the benevolence that had been so sweepingly awarded to every member of the camp that supported Covid measures just by virtue of being a member of said camp. Perhaps this helps explain why the deaths of two similarly prominent and representative people received such starkly different coverage: It was not so much the quality of their respective stories that determined media response, but that the one supported the dominant narrative while the other threatened to unbalance it.

[1] Niederkrotenthaler, T., Herberth, A., & Sonneck, G. (2007). Der “Werther-Effekt”: Mythos oder Realität? [The “Werther-effect”: legend or reality?]. Neuropsychiatrie: Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation: Organ der Gesellschaft Österreichischer Nervenärzte und Psychiater, 21(4), 284–290.

[2] Tomandl, G., Sonneck, G., Stein, C. & Niederkrothentaler, T. (2014). Leitfaden zur Berichterstattung über Suizid. Wien: Kriseninterventionszentrum.

[3] KZ Leitartikel 30.7.

[4] Marboe, G. Warum wir über Suizide reden sollten. Die Presse. August 5, 2022.

[5] Budin, Ch. Die letzte Abrechnung von Frau Dr. Kellermayr. Die Krone. July 31, 2022.

[6] Schmidt, C.M. Landärztin schließt nach Morddrohungen aus Impfgegnerszene Ordination. Der Standard. June 28, 2022.

[7] Schmidt, C.M. Äußere Dämonen. Der Standard. August 2, 2022.

[8] Kleine Zeitung. Kellermayr: Jetzt Konkurs. Kleine Zeitung. October 26, 2022.

[9] Cik, T. “Leitlinien sehen in so einem Fall Einweisung vor.” Kleine Zeitung. Juli 31, 2022.

[10] Jelincic, S. Soziale Medien: Geld und Hilfe bei Mobbing. Die Krone. March 5, 2023.

[11] Taschwer, K. Clemens Arvay & Co: Die Impfangstmacher. Der Standard. August 28, 2021.

[12] Tóth, B. Aluhut, Globuli und Judenstern. Der Falter. September 15, 2020.

[13] Die Volksverpetzer. Arvay hat in 33 Minuten vergessen, uns plausibel zu widerlegen: maiLab & Impfstoffe. Februar 25, 2021.

[14] Bau, M. „Reprogrammierung“ des Immunsystems? Clemens Arvay führt mit Video über angebliche Impfstoff-Langzeitfolgen in die Irre. June 30, 2021.

[15] Schmidt, F. Impf-Kontroverse: Biologe Arvay beklagt Diffamierungskampagne gegen Kritiker. Deutsche Welle. October 14, 2020.

[16] Reitschuster, B. Impfkritiker Clemens G. Arvay (42) tot. February 23, 2023.

[17] Hecke, B. Wie Clemens G. Arvays Tod alte Wunden und Gräben wieder aufreißt. Kleine Zeitung. February 25, 2023.

[18] Oster, E. Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty. The Atlantic. October 31, 2022.

[19] ORF. Regierung will die „Hand ausstrecken“. February 15, 2023.

[20] Herman, E. and N. Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Pantheon Books. 2002.

[21] Patterer, H. Demokratie unter Quarantäne. Kleine Zeitung. March 22, 2020.

  1. The ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) is the public broadcasting corporation in Austria.

    “Featured Image: File:Clemens Arvay.jpg” by Lukas Beck is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


  • Johannes Scherling

    Johannes Scherling is a researcher and lecturer in English Linguistics and British Cultural Studies at the Karl-Franzens-University of Graz, Austria. His research and teaching focus is on issues of neocolonialism as well as on critical media studies and propaganda studies. In particular, his interest revolves around the textual and contextual analysis of bias in news reporting of conflicts and crises and on ‘censorship by omission’. Recently, he has also started a collaboration in forensic linguistics focusing on authorship analysis of incriminating texts.