It was late Wednesday afternoon, April eighteenth, when a Virginia police officer told the world that NBC had received a so-called manifesto from the Virginia Tech gunman. We were told that the tape and the ramblings would help in the investigation. Within minutes of the news conference, some of the sick pictures that the gunman took of himself were released on an NBC Web site. Pretty soon, all the media had the images. Many newspapers decided to publish them on their front pages.
I cannot for the life of me understand what benefit this served, either to the police investigation, or to the public. It seems to me that broadcasting this material did little more than to secure NBC’s position as an active participant in the culture of death. The killer didn’t have to put a gun to NBC’s head to force them to broadcast his handiwork. The only gun to the temple was the desire to get high ratings. NBC allowed itself to share the moral low ground with the killer. He wanted to put more points on the board than the Columbine creeps and NBC wanted to score higher ratings than it’s competitors. NBC cared not a lick that these visuals provided plankton for the sharks of the universe always on the hunt for fresh kill.
It was sadly ironic to me that this was the same network that wrapped itself in the garments of moral righteousness when it came to the recent firing of Don Imus after he disparaged the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. This same network was now congratulating itself for being on the receiving end of sick messages from a mass murderer, and displaying his glamour shots on its Website and its evening broadcast. In doing so they tried to wash their hands of any social responsibility by wringing their hands and claiming that this was an agonizing decison for them. Professional spinners know that if you make a self interested decision that will be seen as controversial, always make sure the public is told that the decision was a difficult one and ultimately one which made in the public interest. Brian Williams, the earnest face of NBC toed the company line by telling them on his evening broadcast and on other shows which he appeared that the network acted responsibly because they didn’t put everything the killer sent them on the airwaves. I suppose we should be grateful to NBC for not releasing every single rat in Cho’s sewer. While the airwaves never were and clearly never will be a vermine free zone, we are instructed by Brian Williams to give thanks to the NBC suits for maintaining a certain level of decorum.
Do any of the legions of serious consumers buy the NBC spin? Criminal profilers and Mental health professionals who don’t have contracts with NBC aren’t buying it. What about the parents and grandparents of the students whose lives were extinguished They are now able to see the very last thing their kids saw before their lives were stolen. NBC has now helped to define these young lives by the only visual that will never be forgotten, that of Cho wearing his butcher garb?
Emptying rounds of tape on the public is not journalism. It is turning the public airwaves into a cesspool. If Imus offended university students by turning his poorly aimed comedic guns on them, can you imagine how much offence NBC delivered by enabling the real guns of a mad man to live on in the infamy of cyberspace and mass media.
I don’t know if other media networks would have handled this differently if they’d received the tapes. But I do remember that last week, when NBC was pretending they were the moral arbiters of taste, saying to myself it’s getting a little thick in here, and one of these days these suits will really be up to their eyeballs in sewage. That’s now happened. The suits had a choice — to air or not to air the eye pollution created by the Virginia Tech mass murderer. NBC made the wrong call, and all their rationalizations about the public interest being served and the criminal investigation being enhanced are nonsense.
Don Imus, the radio deejay made a joke that went over like a lead balloon and was fired. His bosses took something deadly serious and turned it into a very bad joke. Whose joke has done more damage? Whose joke was more offensive to university students? Can anyone make the case that what NBC did in releasing homicide porn will some day save lives? Can any suit at NBC gives us confidence that no twisted indvidual anywhere in the country or any other country will be motivated to hero worship Cho because of the incredible platform that NBC gave him? When networks suits poison the well by putting ratings above responsibility, we all pay a price. At the moment the only question is, "How high will the price be?" Brian Williams assured us that he has some extra feeling for the story because his daughter attends college. We have a right to wonder whether his daughter feels any safer today because of NBC’s generous contribution to the culture of death.