Brian Shrader's Siteseeing Blog

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?

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  • hahalosersxx3 Apr 25, 2007

    what are you people going to do about it.

    posting stuff on here isn't going to change anything.

    if you have a problem, take action.

  • tarheel1980 Apr 20, 2007

    I disagree. NBC was under no obligation to show the video. They tried to present their actions as highly responsible because they notified authorities immediately that they had it. They knew what it was, because they had "NBC Security" open it. Why did they open it? It wasn't to avoid censorship. It was to make money. They should be subjected to the same guilt assuming questions that they love to put other under.

  • buck121794 Apr 20, 2007

    If NBC said they had the video and did not show it, people would be screaming "it's our right to see it," "censorship."

  • tarheel1980 Apr 20, 2007

    If a company had done something as wrong as releasing this video, the media would have been all over it questioning the process they had used to make the decision and who was consulted. It's time to ask these same type of questions to NBC:

    Why did you decide to air the killer's video? To an outside observer, you made a quick decision based on profit. With what experts did you consult before you made such a critical decision? Do you not think that airing such a video will encourage other, copycat, killers to act out their fantasies to get their twisted message on the air? Do you, as a public service, believe that you have a responsibility for what goes out on the public airwaves beyond your own profit?

  • dogluver Apr 20, 2007

    If anyone wants to read what this is all about, go to a search engine and look up the lyrics to "Vicariously" by Tool. "We don't give pause until the blood is flowing."

    Our society has slowly demoralized to this point. It's too bad it takes something this extreme to "shock" us anymore.

  • murdock Apr 20, 2007

    Twenty years ago, we didn't have the media craze we have now. And if there was an incident, the media didn't broadcast it to everyone. Now we have all the footage from the Columbine tragedy so youth are seeing all the attention it got. Now we have the video that Cho sent, again having increasing attention. There have been over 10 threats in schools across the country in the last week presumed to be copy-cat in nature. The media has an obligation for the facts and we have seen in the past year how mis-spoken words can lead to more trouble (Duke fiasco). We also glorify trouble and crimes, just look at Cops. It would be half the world's dream to be on television, anyway they can, even if it is criminal and bad. We need more good news on the air. I will mention that the professor who sacrificed himself in this tragedy proves there is good in the world today.

  • feyerdncr Apr 20, 2007

    I whole heartedly agree mrscsetzer. I came in the door yesterday evening w/ my 7 and 4 year olds. They were taking off their shoes... Turned on the news to catch the weather and what was the first thing to pop up on WRAL after the commercial?? 2 photos of the psycho holding a gun to his head. This was at 5:30 in the evening. Someone want to answer my 4 year olds question as to why the man had a gun to his head? At 5:30 in the evening, I found that very offensive and irresponsible on WRAL's part.

  • mrscsetzer Apr 20, 2007

    "why is the 5 year old in the room while he's watching the news? I don't think a responsible adult would let him be in the room. You don't get to have things your way just because you are a parent. "

    First of all, I am a VERY responsible parent. I watch the news on a small TV IN THE KITCHEN at 6 pm, while preparing dinner. My son comes in and out of the room while dinner is being prepared. I don't lock my kid out of the kitchen, and I shouldnt have to stay up until 11 to watch the news.

    The point is, the video and disturbing things like this should be kept off of prime time. Want to see the video? Ask for a copy of it. Download it. Additionally, I shouldnt have to worry what's on the front page of a newspaper in a newsstand when we walk by. Oh, I forgot. A responsible person wouldn't ever let their child pass a news stand. Give me a break.

  • dogluver Apr 20, 2007

    I feel that showing it when it first came out..I mean those first few hours after the FBI said it was ok..was, well, alright. Yes, it was graphic, but, sad to say, so is our society today. Guns, drugs, you see it on the local news every night. I don't think parents should let their young children see it, but that is the responsibility of the parents.

    I know it's not an excuse for what he did, but it is a shame that he was picked on in high school for being shy and for the way he talked. Maybe if we taught our kids to respect everyone, including the "outcasts", we could stop some of these things from happening. Don't get me wrong, there will always be some people who will snap anyways, but maybe we'll learn a lesson this time...but then again, sadly, I doubt it.

  • Builder Apr 20, 2007

    Its pretty simple, NBC should not have shown that video. They should have been a responsible organization and turned it over to the FBI. Not showing on the air "after much concideration" it's not their place to determine that. Once again, money and ratings take over.




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WRAL's Brian Shrader blogs about cool video clips and other interesting Web sites. If you have any video you would like to share, please let us know.