Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui’s multimedia manifesto, as NBC has described it, was delivered Wednesday morning to NBC headquarters in New York. The network immediately contacted authorities and made copies of the materials, which included 43 photographs and 27 videos of Cho’s rants. The package was mailed to NBC from Blacksburg, Virginia at 9:01 a.m., in between the first and second round of murders.
NBC chose to air a small portion of Cho’s package on its nightly newscast and said it would also broadcast parts of the videos on the Today Show the following morning. On its website, NBC has also placed a slideshow, video clips, audio clips and pages of Cho’s 1,800-word manifesto.
Cho’s multimedia package and NBC’s decision to air it have both drawn outrage from the victims’ families and others who say that the network should not have devoted air time to Cho. Before airing the videos on the Today Show, anchor Matt Lauer told viewers that some of the victims’ families were scheduled to appear on the show that morning but refused once they were told the network would air images from Cho’s package.
The families’ refusal to appear on the Today Show is understandable, according to some bloggers who argue that NBC has made a serious misstep. “NBC has just fulfilled the last wishes of a mass-murderer. Cho obviously wanted this exposure on national television and the only way to do this was to make a “manifesto” before taking dozens of lives. He sent the tape knowing full well that NBC would air it just hours after they received it,” said Morgan of the Water Glass. “It appears that once again when it comes to tragedy in national news, the victims’ friends and families take second place to ratings. Yet, when this type of tragedy happens again, the news media will be the first one to ponder what could [have] motivated someone to do this.”
Lawhawk of a Blog for All agrees. Comparing the video of Cho to images of September 11th, Lawhawk wonders why the media has not displayed the same level of sensitivity towards the Virginia Tech families. “As a counterpoint to the production of these images, we’ve repeatedly been told that many of the more disturbing images from the 9/11 attacks would not be aired out of sensitivity to the victims and survivors to the attacks because of the severe emotional content of watching such images. How exactly is this situation any different?” said Lawhawk. “People were emotionally wrecked hearing about the loss of their loved ones and/or watching their loved ones being carried out of the VA Tech buildings. They’re again devastated watching the news pimp Cho’s videos and images. Where is the decency or at least restraint in what should be produced?”
But some bloggers argue that NBC has made the right decision. “NBC was correct to report the contents of the package. In most circumstances, society is served better by the free dissemination of information, unless its release would put directly put lives in danger — like, say, exposing national-security programs that had stopped terrorists from killing Americans. In this case, the crime has already been committed and the perpetrator is dead. Holding back the material would boost all sorts of rumors about Cho’s involvement in any number of conspiracies, including radical Islam, that are already the subject of much speculation,” said Ed Morrissey of Captain Quarters. “NBC made the right decision to go public, and to work with law enforcement to determine which material to release at the time, as they apparently did. They unfortunately overshadowed that correct decision with the very incorrect decision on marketing the materials. They sensationalized material that absolutely required no such effort — and degraded their credibility as a result.”
Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.
But Karl of Leaning Straight Up contends that NBC isn’t solely responsible, most of the media — even bloggers — have been fixated on the unseemly apects of this story. “We are horror and tragedy junkies. We tune in with our skin crawling, our hands over our mouths and a stifled scream, only to change channels to make sure we do not miss anything. The Media Outlets package it up, seasoned with exaggerated claims and sensational tags, and feed it out to the masses waiting for their daily dose of “the bad stuff,” said Karl. “Take the Manifesto. How quickly did they rush it to air, and how quickly have the blogs and news media jumped on it. The pictures of this guy stare back at me from all sides. Not a single one will grace the pages of this blog. I may link to them but I will not display them.”