Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NBC Gives VTech Killer the Last Word?

I'm no fan of self censorship but NBC's decision to air Virginia Tech mass murder Cho Seung-Hui's video "manifesto" is difficult to understand.

What is the news value in this pathetic, meaningless, juvenile rant mailed to NBC in New York by Cho? This student, who according to fellow students and faculty said almost nothing in life is permitted to veritably spit venom in death.

"NBC News has indeed received what I would call a "multimedia manifesto" from the gunman," Brian Williams says in his blog, the Daily Nightly. "We received it today, and immediately handed it over to Federal law enforcement authorities. We are still going over our own copy -- its a lot of material -- we are talking with law enforcement, our own standards people -- and Pete Williams, our Justice Correspondent, will join me live on the broadcast to go through the material."
Well, maybe not so immediately.

Coming up on Today -- More from the Mass Killer

What is the news value in this pathetic, meaningless, juvenile rant mailed to NBC in New York by Cho? This student, who according to fellow students and faculty said almost nothing in life is permitted to veritably spit venom in death.


"We are sensitive to how all of this well be seen by those affected and know we are airing the words of a murder," Williams intoned at the top of his newscast, saying nothing about why the decision was made. Hand-wringing aside (it continued on MSNBC), he closed the newscast with a promise that more video would be shown on -- Today.

We'll see what happens in the next few hours and whether there is any taste for this during breakfast.

Self-censorship is the worst kind because you do the bidding of your detractors without a fight. But not every piece of video that comes into your possession is appropriate to air. The networks did not show all of the Saddam hanging nor all of the Daniel Pearl beheading. Both were available and I presume remain so online. So, standards do apply.

Under what exception does the incoherent blather of a unredemptive mass killer fall? If the video had been discovered a year from now, would the decision have been the same? If it had been sent first to law enforcement, would NBC or any news organization have tried to obtain it for airing? What if it had been proffered by a hostage-holding Cho with a demand that it be aired?

Keith Olbermann continued to use the video on MSNBC's Countdown but seemed less sure it was a good idea. The video purports "to provide answers to his motives," he said, "and in the end, no answers at all."

Can the news organization that silenced Don Imus truly be proud of giving Cho Seung-Hui a soap box?

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