COMMENTS: Navel Gazing

NBC's led yesterday with Pete Williams' excerpts from the video that Cho sent to the network. After it slapped an NBC News logo on the footage it distributed the material to its competitors. NBC News' president Steve Capus explained his rationale in today's Pete Williams' report. All week people had been wondering: "What was inside the mind of this killer?" Capus felt he was obliged to supply the video to help answer. In his introduction to Mike Taibbi's report, NBC anchor Brian Williams, accurately, described the content of the video as news "by any conceivable standard."

CBS, which scaled back on its Virginia Tech coverage the most (6 min v ABC 10, NBC 10), assigned Bob Orr to its lead. He took a literal approach to the Cho video suicide note, scrutinizing it as evidence for clues as to how the crime was planned and pulled off and whether he had accomplices. He could not find much. "It only reinforces what investigators already knew," he shrugged, but he did mention two hypotheses from the video about Cho's inspiration: the date was close to the anniversary of the Columbine HS killings; and two poses may have been inspired by Oldboy, a violent Korean movie.

More attention went to the reaction to the airing of the video than to its actual contents. ABC's Dan Harris (no link) quoted Steve Flaherty, the colonel of the Commonwealth of Virginia's police force: "I just hate that a lot of folks who are not used to seeing that type of image had to see it." NBC's Mike Taibbi summarized the reaction on the campus at Blacksburg as "disappointment and anger" with some refusing "to be manipulated by a killer seeking infamy from the grave through the release of his confounding manifesto." A pair of bereaved parents canceled scheduled interviews on NBC's Today morning program to register their protest at the network's decision to air it. "What many here want is for the media to go home."

ABC's Dean Reynolds (subscription required) studied the journalistic ethics of disseminating the production of a murderer. He cited two objections to airing any part of the tape: that it might damage those already traumatized by the shooting; and that it glorified the killer, turning him into a "posthumous celebrity." However Reynolds reckoned that it was not the tape's availability that was the problem but its ubiquity. On the cable TV news channels, "the diatribe was available and practically unavoidable for hours." An ABC News executive called its repetition "almost pornographic." The upshot was that by midday most TV news executives were limiting its use.

To close ABC's newscast, ABC's anchor Charles Gibson contrasted the overexposure the airing of the tape had afforded to Cho's visage with the faces of the 32 he killed. Gibson introduced a montage of their still photographs, names, ages and hometowns, accompanied not by a reporter's voiceover but by the hymn Amazing Grace. It was interesting to notice how varied their backgrounds were. Most were not Virginians and many were not Americans. Among the dead was not just the Korean-born killer, but citizens of Canada, Egypt, Israel, India, Peru, Indonesia. "Those are the faces to remember."


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