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.
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.