Should NBC Have Aired the Va Tech Killer’s Video?
Hugh Hewitt strenuously objects to NBC’s decision to air the video made by Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-Hi, implying in his title that it may have been “The Single Worst Editorial Decision In The History Of Broadcast News.”
Soon after the press conference at which it was disclosed that NBC had received a package of print, photos and video materials from the Virginia Tech murderer, I interviewed Howard Kurtz about how NBC should handle it. (The transcript will be here later this evening.) We quickly agreed that any video should not be shown, and while I think that Howard thought perhaps a picture could be aired, I and the live audience I was broadcasting in front of disagreed. I would have published –instantly– the text of the killer’s statement’s for the public to read, but I would have denied the killer the instant video glorification he so obviously desired, an immortalization which other deranged killers of the future will almost certainly seek to emulate. NBC decided differently.
He’s got a point. Then again, one could argue that about any footage of terrorist attacks and coverage of still-on-the-loose serial killers. Should the networks have not aired the collapse of the World Trade Center so as to deny the terrorists an undeniable propaganda victory?
I’d say not. While Cho obviously wanted the video run, it’s not NBC’s job to spite him; rather, it is to report the news to their audience. Undeniably, the content of the video is news.
Further, while there’s such a thing as copycat crimes, I’m skeptical of the claim that people who would otherwise have led peaceful lives are going to be inspired to mass murder by the lure of 15 minutes of fame.
UPDATE: Here’s the video in question via YouTube.
Kurtz describes how NBC agonized over the decision and cooperated with authorities:
After turning over the original documents to federal authorities, NBC News President Steve Capus said last night, he faced a “tough call” in deciding how much to air, if any, of the Virginia Tech gunman’s expletive-filled video and 1,800-word letter, along with photos of Cho and his guns and bullets.
“We tried to be sensitive to the families involved and to the investigation,” Capus said in an interview. While it is “possible” that some relatives of the 32 students shot to death Monday may say that the network is giving the killer the platform he wanted, “they also may say, ‘We want to know why. We need to know what was in his head, what drove him to do this.’ This is a portrait of a killer.”
Capus said Virginia State Police officials, in a conversation about noon, asked NBC to “hold off” on releasing the material until they had a chance to review the material. The state authorities gave NBC the green light about 4:30, saying it would not jeopardize the probe. The network aired portions of the video and note on “NBC Nightly News” at 6:30.
Anchor Brian Williams told viewers: “We are sensitive to how all of this will be seen by those affected, and we know we are, in effect, airing the words of a murderer here tonight. . . . So much of it is so profane, so downright gross and incomprehensible. We tried to edit carefully for broadcast tonight.” The segment was posted on http://msnbc.com.
Carter focuses on the mechanics of the process more so than the ethics, noting “NBC executives had no explanation for why the network was singled out to receive the package, and nothing in the materials explained the action. Nothing on the envelope or in the package cited a specific individual at NBC.”