Debate Over the Cho Video
Posted April 19, 2007
Updated April 20, 2007
There is a lot of debate and discussion today about showing the video and pictures of the suspected VT gunman, Cho Seung Hui.
Some time between the first shooting and the second shooting, Cho mailed the package to NBC News in New York. He put the wrong ZIP code on it, which delayed it.
NBC management looked at the video, pictures and lengthy printed tirade, The Washington Post reported. The network contacted Virginia State Police, who asked NBC around noon to wait before releasing the material, the paper said. Investigators wanted to look at it to make sure airing the video or showing the material on the Web would not interfere with their investigation.
They gave NBC the go-ahead around 4:30 p.m., and the network started leaking some of the images and text on MSNBC and on its Web site. They aired portions of the video on "NBC Nightly News" last night, which Drudge reports won a 7.4 rating nationally last night., easily beating the other two network evening newscasts.
NBC shared the video widely with other media, all with the requirement that any rebroadcast or republication must include that NBC logo in the upper left corner.
A couple of interesting articles (one in The Washington Post, the other in the NY Times) today describe NBC's decision to air the video. The Washington Post article summarizes both sides of the debate:
Nate Calhoun, a Blacksburg High School senior who lost a close friend in the massacre, came to the campus last night to pay respects to the victims. He blasted the network. "NBC really ticked my last nerves," he said. "The way this university is already struggling with pain, I object to them putting these pictures out like that. It's just not fair."
Kerry Redican, president of the Virginia Tech Faculty Senate, said he was not surprised by what he saw in the video. "This is a cold, calculating sociopath," he said. "He must have had a narcissistic core to him."
Redican said he approved of the NBC decision to air the material: "People are trying to make some sense of this. This showed the whole thing was really planned out."
NBC News President Steve Capus responded to the controversy by saying -- and I'm paraphrasing -- it's news, and there's an obligation to report it.
A great Web site, TVNewser, has all kinds of insider reports on cable and network news. It says that NBC management has limited use of the Cho material to 10 percent of network airtime -- or 6 minutes an hour.
UPDATE: Many networks are announcing that they're cutting back on use of the video. Fox News won't air it any more. ABC says it will "severely limit" use of the video. At CBS and CNN, producers will need management's approval before airing it.
UPDATE 2: WSLS-TV in Roanoke says it will not air the video. Blacksburg and VT are in their viewing area, so they are being especially sensitive to their viewers' reactions. Still, WSLS is an NBC affiliate, and they can't control what the network airs. You can read the station's statement here.
What do you think? I've seen a couple of interesting questions posed:
- What if Cho has posted this on YouTube? Would it have been pulled down?
- If he sent this to a blogger, what would be appropriate?
- Whether you think it's responsible journalism or pure sensationalism to release excerpts of Cho's video and writing, do you think it's possible in today's technological environment to keep something like this under wraps? If Cho had sent it directly to the FBI, how long would it be before someone leaked it onto the Web?