Patterico's Pontifications


On the Propriety of Airing the Cho Video

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:37 pm

I listened all the way home to Hugh Hewitt, Mark Steyn, and Dennis Miller ranting about how it was irresponsible for NBC to air the Cho video. Hugh Hewitt had some crazy theory about how NBC should be sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is just silly. Jack Dunphy says it more sensibly and memorably: “The killer’s tape is pornography; it’s okay to watch it, just don’t tell me you’re interested in the plot.”

I understand the arguments made by these men (except for Hugh’s ridiculous call for lawsuits). But I don’t agree.

To the extent that the massacre is news — and I think it is legitimate news — I think a video by the guy who did it is also unquestionably news. How could it not be? If it’s not, then you’re gonna have to redefine “news.” It’s not watching “Faces of Death,” for crying out loud. It’s highly relevant to a current and raging news story.

The most persuasive point of Hewitt & Co. is that airing the tape may encourage other crazies to mass-murder people and become famous. But I’m not convinced. Without the video, was this guy not going to be famous? Gimme a break — he already was.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold made videos, which I bet you haven’t seen. But when I said “Dylan Klebold” you didn’t say “Dylan who?” — did you?

Now, I understand the argument (although I don’t hear it much) that the entire story is overblown as a news story. To a certain extent, all of this concentration on Cho and the massacre is a bit of overkill, and smacks of rubbernecking. Car bombs killed at least 172 people in Baghdad Wednesday — 172. Yet the Alberto Gonzales hearing was replete with statements about how horrible the tragedy in Blacksburg was, with less than one-fifth the number of fatalities. There’s something off-kilter about that. I don’t mean to minimize the tragedy, but it ain’t the only tragedy in the news.

But if the massacre is news, then so is the video.

Let’s hear from my favorite blogger, Allah:

Would you have aired it? It’s a major exclusive about a huge mystery that’s attracted intense public interest. The news networks all aired Osama’s videos after 9/11 as evidence of his motive, notwithstanding what it might do to the victims’ families. They all aired and re-aired video of the planes crashing into the buildings, too. As awful as the Cho tapes must be for the VTech victims’ families, I can’t imagine that watching the towers crumble was any easier for spouses of people who were trapped inside. The counterargument is that 9/11 was a matter of national interest with enormous policy and electoral implications; the public simply had to know as much as possible to respond intelligently to it. There are policy implications to what happened with Cho too (i.e., gun control), of course, but none that will likely be affected by video of him jabbering incoherently about trust-fund babies. Thus, the proper analog is to that O.J. “If I Did It” interview that got cancelled, not to 9/11. If we’re unwilling to let O.J. profit from his crime, however tangibly or intangibly, why let Psy-Cho?

Tough call. I tip slightly in favor of airing it because (a) I hate when the media plays paterfamilias in deciding what is and isn’t “appropriate news” for the public to see, and (b) I was honestly curious. Spruiell’s been grasping for some grander justification, like bringing the power of collective intelligence to bear on the evidence, but I think he’s just dressing up natural curiosity about the psychology of a mass murderer in some nobler utilitarian faux purpose. Which is not to say the media should be showing us crime-scene photos and pornography, etc., pursuant to point (a); obviously the feelings of the victims’ families do matter and just as obviously there are experiences so mortal and private that we recoil instinctively from images that exploit them in the interest of news. As unsatisfying an answer as this may be, I think ultimately it’s just a gut reaction about where to draw the line of decency, and so long as NBC didn’t/doesn’t show any crime scenes, I’m willing to cut them a break.

The one argument I don’t find especially compelling is that they shouldn’t have “rewarded” him by running it. How did they “reward” him by exposing him as a complete, yammering lunatic? If he had had some sort of political message and wanted to get it out this way, a la the Unabomber manifesto, that would be one thing. As it is, the only thing we’ve learned is that the voices in his head weren’t big fans of people who drive Mercedes Benzes.

Well said.

Allah says he (sort of) understands Hewitt’s call for lawsuits, though he disagrees. I don’t even understand Hugh’s argument. I think Hugh is just out to lunch on this one.

Allah invites readers to tell him why he’s wrong, and I invite you to do the same.

P.S. I’ll go further. I think the whole thing should be on the Web — not just edited parts.

But then, I never understood why CNN got yelled at for airing footage of snipers taking out our soldiers. I mean no disrespect to our soldiers, but that was also news, and evidence of what we’re fighting against.

As long as media is not airing our classified counterterror programs and such, I’m generally for the free exchange of information. That’s the prejudice I have, and you may as well know it.

35 Responses to “On the Propriety of Airing the Cho Video”

  1. First of all I’m speaking from a moral POV, not a legal one. NBC of course, had every legal right to play the video…in full looped 24/7 if they wished.

    The question remains, were they acting morally when they did it?

    Methinks they, too, realize they went beyond the pale … their “explanation” is clearly self-serving and actually LIES when they try to say it had the backing of law enforcement.

    They had full control of the package. Was airing it done in attempt to help people protect themselves? No, Cho is dead. Help people understand?…No, a transcript would have sufficed and a promise to release the tapes after the police finish their investigation ..say a month or two down the road, would have satisfied curiousity

    But NBC timed their release to generate ratings, even saving tidbits for fresh release on “Today”.

    They could have at least been honest in their cravenness. They didn’t give a flying **** about the families that haven’t even had time to BURY their slain members. Their decision was an amoral one.

    I make my living off the evening news
    Just give me something-something I can use
    People love it when you lose,
    They love dirty laundry …

    We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
    Comes on at five
    She can tell you bout the plane crash with a gleam
    In her eye
    Its interesting when people die-
    Give us dirty laundry

    Can we film the operation?
    Is the head dead yet?
    You know, the boys in the newsroom got a
    Running bet
    Get the widow on the set!
    We need dirty laundry

    Darleen (187edc)

  2. But news of deaths never waits on the burial. I don’t believe in “getting the widow on the set” — but that’s not what this was.

    What news is OK to air before the burial, and what news needs to wait?

    Is quoting his raving writings news that has to wait?

    Are issues about whether the guns were lawfully bought news that has to wait?

    What about observations that the school was a gun-free zone? Wait for the burial?

    Patterico (5b0b7f)

  3. The only thing I disagree with about Allah’s statement is that I don’t think 9/11 footage gets anything close to proportionate airtime it deserves. It might of at the time, but after that it seems like head in the sand time.

    Which is the same thing I feel about the criticism of releasing the video excerpts. Let me say first that I believe the coverage is overdone on this story overall. But I think the video was a good thing to release.

    Despite his brandishing weapons, that video drives home the point that people kill people. And not just in the pro-gun cliche sense.

    It made the killer not an abstraction but a real person. One that is a really disturbed person. But also someone you could have waited in line with at the store or someone that’s a coworker. I think that disturbed people most. To make the killer a real person and not an abstraction.

    It also makes it harder for people to project their world view of who he was and why he did it.

    jpm100 (a99bf7)

  4. Right. It’s the truth. It’s reality.

    I’m for it.

    Patterico (5b0b7f)

  5. What news is OK to air before the burial, and what news needs to wait?

    Ah..and that’s where moral judgement is supposed to step in.

    “Do no harm” is a good start … then to seriously think on “what will creat the smallest harm?”

    Is the public HARMED if Cho porn is delayed for a month? Or restricted by not putting it on the airways but releasing it via the net? Or is the public HARMED more/less by the glorification of giving Cho what he wanted, maybe pushing others on the abyss to imitate him?

    See, Pat, I don’t see Cho as “mentally ill.” He has played NBC and every talking head or rush-to-print analyst for chumps. His stances on the video, his so-called “incoherent” rantings about the Columbine murderers, Jesus and “rich kids” … all calculated button pushers to keep us all pointing fingers and squabbling to lay blame everywhere but on Cho.

    He wasn’t ill, he was evil.

    Newscasts are limited so everything that goes on the air is a choice. Is the news about informing people or is it just a ratings generator? Why is Cho’s image of holding two guns, scowling becoming almost iconic while the name Liviu Librescu slips away?

    Darleen (187edc)

  6. If NBC was adacous enogh to air a faked truck explosion a few years back then they would air this WRING THE PEACOCKS NECK

    krazy kagu (f085bf)

  7. I’ve long wished that the media would exercise better judgment in broadcasting communications (like this one) from criminals. This goes back to the Symbionese Liberation Army in the ’70s (the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst), who issued written ‘communiques,’ they were called. Really nothing more than notes, their broadcast under this terminology gave this early terrorist group an aura of legitimacy, like an underground army or government.

    And I imagine that the recent videos will indeed stimulate some copycat somewhere.

    BUT I’m not at all comfortable granting the media the sole power to determine what’s newsworthy to ME and what is not. Eventually (hey, it happens today!) they will exercise editorial discretion to push an ideology–make some look good & some look bad–sway public opinion.

    Copycats will find encouragement outside of the news, like the North Hollywood Bank of America robbers (1977) copied the movie “Heat,” and numerous copys were reported after the showing of Natural Born Killers (pure violence porn).

    Dunphy is right–this is all porn. Like all porn, it will wax or wane according to the marketplace.

    ManlyDad (d62cf6)

  8. Awww the slippery slope

    Air the Video, God Bless the Families

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  9. Patterico,
    I agree there is probably no legal recourse to the airing. But as to whether it was moral or generally a good idea: Will you reconsider your position if and when other people engage in massacres and get their videos shown on TV? (Note that they won’t necessarily have to die, or even get caught — just to kill a bunch of people and make a masked manifesto. Of course, they could use the internet, in the absence of TV coverage.) As far as Columbine is concerned, don’t you think there might be more school massacres if the killers had popular videos floating around?

    DWPittelli (87ad39)

  10. Having been a program director of a radio station, I ‘d play it — once! — and beg forgiveness, both in my afternoon air slot, and later in my evening prayers. It is news, and that’s why airing all of it, once, is a good neccessary thing. It’s pandering to the mob, may inspire a copycat, and glorifys a murderer, which is why it gets aired only once.

    htom (412a17)

  11. Just a quick correction: The North Hollywood Shoutout was in 1997, not 1977. There is an interesting documentary called “44 Minutes” about it that is well worth watching.

    Knowing that there were attempts at copycat Columbine gives me enough pause to say that NBC should have held on to the footage. Put out a transcript, release the video a few weeks later, let the family mourn and begin to cope with their loss.

    But most of all, starve Cho of the attention he so desperately wanted. Not for him, really, but for the next friendless loser who sees what Cho did and decides that killing people and ranting on video is the only way to get the attention they feel they deserve. In a month, the release of the video would be a blip on the news and those who are really interested could hunt the video down and watch it (much like the Columbine videos). As it is… Cho’s homemade videos are fuel on a fire, calling to the next loser who wants to be famous but can’t make the cut on American Idol.

    Darkmage (be2d37)

  12. Nuts. Have to correct myself. “44 minutes” is not a documentary, but more of a dramatic re-enactment. It’s mostly based on the actual events.

    Darkmage (be2d37)

  13. The media should keep references to Cho to a minimum. Talk about what happened, the victims, etc… but not about Cho. Personal glorification was one of his primary goals, and boy the media sure have come through in predictable fashion.

    Plus, he isn’t interesting. It’s the same nonsense all the other nuts that have gone on rampages have spouted when they didn’t have to deal with the consequences. It’s an act, an outburst, and shows us nothing about who they really were. They were cowards without the courage to speak up when it could have actually done them any good.

    Perhaps if these lunatics were ignored, rather than put in the spotlight, they would try to find some other outlet for their self-loathing.

    What good came from airing his videos and publicizing everything the media could get their hands on? Do the victims and their families feel better? It seems quite the contrary, in fact. I see no gain, and only potential harm; oh, except for ratings, of course.

    I end this with a quote from Cho himself:

    “martyrs like Eric and Dylan”

    That doesn’t have the same ring as “martyrs like those guys that shot up Columbine, for whatever reason, whatever their names were” does it?

    Justin (747191)

  14. Strange, I put the good in strikeout, and it shows that way in preview, but not in my post?

    htom (412a17)

  15. Not only air the video but lets see the text of all those writings are so disturbing over the last couple of years, especially before Michael Moore gets a hold of them!

    Face it, there is no pending trials, (that we know of), though I’m sure some will pursue such anyway and grief and outrage will be the catalyst for such actions. Logic and current law will be ignored and yes it will be for the money.

    TC (b48fdd)

  16. I’m waiting for the Cho-as-Che posters and t-shirts

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  17. So, we’re supposed to broadcast every jihadist “martyrdom video” now? Arguing that Cho’s video should be broadcast is equivalent to arguing that every stinking suicide bomber video should be broadcast.

    I say, burn the tape and every remnant that this creature ever existed.

    dubya (753723)

  18. An argument could be made that, if there were useful information to be gained from the tape(s), it would be better to view them with as much additional information and perspective as possible. So then why the rush to show them?

    That wasn’t a journalistic decision, that was a buisiness decision.

    Maybe the tapes do have some value, but by showing them so soon, without all of the information (and time to digest the information) leaves the viewer without context. Making their display an exercise in sensationalism, or as others have termed it pornography.

    NBC, and everyone else who joined on the bandwagon, let themselves be used by an evil individual in search of an audience.

    Enemy propaganda, whether the enemy is a foreign nation, international terrorist, or domestic madman, is often newsworthy, so it can and should be viewed. But unless proper context is established the broadcaster is nothing more than a tool of the propagandist.

    I have no problem with video showing enemy snipers targeting US soldiers, but lets see the videos of those soldiers rebuilding the country and protecting civilians. Better yet, show what happens to those civilians in the hands of the jihadists, and lets see more of what happens to jihadists when they end up in a soldier’s sights.

    ThomasD (9714e1)

  19. You toss out the conclusion “the tape is news” as if its self-evident, but do nothing to support that assertion.

    How – SPECIFICALLY – is it news? What actual information was revealed by that tape that had some news value to the public?

    Other than prurient interest in what is clearly death porn, I can’t think of a thing. Declaring it to be “news” doesn’t make it so.

    I’d argue its a question of timing. The raw footage, released before the burials had ever started, was NOT news – it was sensationalism. There is no information in the tape.

    However – I don’t think I’d have had a problem with it if NBC had waited a few weeks, then released the tapes as part of an intensive, exhaustive, and serious investigation into the mental health aspects of the case, with professionals commenting on aspects of Cho’s behavior.

    THAT would have at least arguably been “news.” That would have been defensible.

    But there was no news here. None.

    And frankly, I’m not convinced a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress (rather than intentional) is quite as silly as you’re declaring (again, without supporting that assertion either).

    I challenge you: what did I learn, specifically, watching that tape, that had news value, that superceded the obvious concerns about the emotional harm those tapes would do?

    Professor Blather (c65bfa)

  20. P. Blather,

    It told us what was going through the mind of the killer just before committing the biggest mass killing in American history.


    And the news value, and the obvious lack of any intent to cause emotional distress, means no IIED claim.

    I mean, it’s not even close.

    Patterico (3f150b)

  21. It seems to me that they could have had the decency not to air it immediately the same night that they received it. And putting the big ‘nbc news’ logo on the copies they disseminated was just despicable death-pimping. Yes, you ‘got the story’ – good for you.

    carlitos (b38ae1)

  22. hey, strike out didn’t work for me either

    carlitos (b38ae1)

  23. Wow, I’m stunned at the fairness this question is being given. And glad.

    I clearly remember post 9-11 – and not all that post – about how “the media” was being overly-protective in not airing people jumping out of the towers (deep breath, even the memory, jeez).

    I clearly remember it because it was an exact flip of everyhing I had heard before – that “the media” sensationalizes everything. I didn’t think the extra footage of that was useful, and was stunned at the seeming need to see it. Judgment.

    JPM100 says it well up thread. I would add that, yes the video deserves to be aired because it does give some insight to the person. It’s valuable for the millions of people who are asking the WWWWW&H questions. It may help to answer some of those questions. (I’ve read about it, I haven’t watched it. Most “event” TV news disgusts me, with the movie trailer voice overs etc. etc.)

    How about the Unabomber? His manifesto was spread all over the place at the time. He killed, what 16 or so people over a period of months (years?)

    I think what NBC News meant as “backing” from the police – and I didn’t watch so I’m taking that phrasing at face value – is that before airing they first told police they had it, said they were going to air but did the police want them to delay it? The police DID want them to delay it, and they did. The police didn’t say they couldn’t air it.

    Finally, I think the victims family’s are going to be far more offended and hurt by someone like John Derbyshire saying their sons and daughters, husbands and wives were weak and weak-minded for not taking down the gunman (I paraphrase, but accurately). It’s chaos and nobody knows quite how it went down, but his implication was and is, just nasty.

    Temple Stark (3df8f7)

  24. from the original post:

    Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold made videos, which I bet you haven’t seen. But when I said “Dylan Klebold” you didn’t say “Dylan who?” — did you?

    um, I stopped reading at this point since I have no idea who Erick Harris or Dylan Klebold were. So I guess the point P was trying to make is going to be lost on me.

    seePea (38fcb2)

  25. Hewitt had a forensic psychiatrist on tonight who thought it was a big mistake, FWIW.

    I think they could/should have shown a minimal amount to give a “sample” of what he was like. Maybe still clips and reading quotes of what he said. Could have informes the public without giving such “glamourous” attention.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  26. MSM ‘validates’ Virignia Tech shooter…

    I mentioned in this post that it was a bad idea for NBC News to release the last words, videotapes and photographs of mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui. I don’t think NBC had a second thought about putting that stuff in…

    Cop The Truth (72c8fd)

  27. I didn’t really disagree with you until the end. You had no problem with the CNN sniper video? So if the Nazi’s were mailing propaganda films to American news networks of them firing mortars into the allied lines during the battle of the bulge, or torturing troops in camps, you would have been ok with that? Even if it had been the first step in eroding public support for our campaign in WWII? CNN gave voice-a service-to a group that is killing our own nation’s troops.

    I think newsworthiness must be balanced with some measure of responsibility (with the scale tilting towards newsworthiness). When you support facts not with more facts, but with emotion, you’re not informing people anymore. I think we all knew there were snipers in Iraq before CNN hit us over the head with it. Actually seeing them shoot our troops didn’t satiate any “curiosity” or inform me in any way.

    The VT video is a lot closer to straddling that line. It is informing about something that we, as sane individuals, are by definition ignorant about – the psyche of someone who is genuinely insane (if not evil). I think you give the copycat argument too little credit(just look what’s happened over the past couple of days with security threats and now this hostage thing in the space center), but can’t disagree with you on the broader point. You could argue very persuasively that the video is not the thing that pushed these other people over the edge in committing to their actions, but nor can you say with certainty that they’re unrelated.

    thelinyguy (2122e5)

  28. I agree that NBC has an absolute right to air the video.

    But I think it’s a bad idea. Our local paper, like a lot of papers, I’m sure, had a lead photo of Mr. Loser with his guns. I think it’s quite likely that more publicity leads to more shootings by losers.

    I’m not saying to suppress the videos – internet access for those looking for it ought to be available. But glorifying the guy in this way seems likely to lead to murders, without sufficient countervailing interest in public knowledge.

    Of course, I think that newspapers shouldn’t use actual gang names, leaving those on a website somewhere rather than on the front page, so take my views for what they are worth.

    And again, for clarity: They have an absolute legal right to do so, and a lawsuit against them would be stupid. Journalism will always filter truth; I would much rather have seen a front page photo of Librescu than the wretched loser.

    It’s news. They can run it. It’s just unwise to do so.


    JRM (355c21)

  29. I disagree with you, Pat, about putting it on the web. It might give me ideas.

    Dan Collins (1e2e08)

  30. How about the Unabomber? His manifesto was spread all over the place at the time. He killed, what 16 or so people over a period of months (years?)

    UNABOMBER [UNiversity and Airline BOMBER] (Ted Kaczynski) killed 3 and wounded 23. Late ’70s to early ’90s.


    dubya (c16726)

  31. Publishing and broadcasting these miscreants’ screeds is stupid. Only serves to give ideas to other miscreants and morons.


    There’s a lot to be said for ostracizing persons for antisocial behaviors.

    dubya (c16726)

  32. um, I stopped reading at this point since I have no idea who Erick Harris or Dylan Klebold were. So I guess the point P was trying to make is going to be lost on me

    The Columbine shooters.

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  33. […] News is getting much more support from the general public than I would have thought. It’s a journalistic decision, but also […] » Blog Archive » Cho: The NBC News Morality Question (22ef8f)

  34. We believe that the news media have a responsibility to the public to report the news. We also believe that the media have made grave errors by airing the senseless propaganda of Cho Seung-hui. By airing his videos, pictures, and written manifesto the media have caused unnecessary trauma to his many victims and their survivors. They have also endangered our society by rewarding this heinous criminal activity, which already has and will likely continue to spur copycat activities in communities across the United States and the world. If you agree with our opinions, please sign our petition requesting a public apology and admission of error from NBC News.

    You can make a difference, please sign our online petition asking NBC News to stop and apologize for its reckless behavior.

    Newsboycott (5c1f42)

  35. Pat:

    It told us what was going through the mind of the killer just before committing the biggest mass killing in American history.

    For accuracy’s sake-

    The largest school killing in American history was in Bath, MI in the 1920’s. I don’t recall the exact date. If my memory serves, 45 people died.

    The largest mass killings of any type (outside of military action) were the 9/11 attacks, followed by the Oklahoma City bombing.

    Teflon Don (949b69)

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