NBC’s Damned If It Does, And Damned If It Doesn’t

Attacking the press for telling too much of the story.

It’s funny how critics of the mainstream media chafe at the MSM’s failures to report the full story on many issues, like, say, Iraq, but when they do go out and fully report a story, like, say, giving us the photos and videos made by that lunatic who went on a murderous rampage at Virginia Tech this week, all of a sudden the press gets it between the eyes for reporting too much.

We fully understand and sympathize with the anger and pain the families of the victims of the massacre experienced at seeing Cho’s twisted face on their TV screens in what seemed like a constant loop, but then again no one ever accused television news of showing less when it could show more.

Think back to the weeks and months after 9/11, when the nation (and the world) was blanketed with images of the second plane striking the World Trade Center, and ash-covered civilians stumbling out of lower Manhattan. Was it ugly? You bet. Was it necessary? Perhaps in terms of catharsis, it was, but not in any informational sense.

The uproar over NBC (and every other cable and network news program) releasing and showing the inane ramblings of Cho Seung-Hui has taken an odd turn. Instead of arguing over the failures of the mental health system or the educational system or how Cho managed to acquire guns and ammunition so easily, we’ve been reduced to squabbling over whether or not to show images of the killer.

What’s more, some critics are assuming much more than they can possibly know about the motivations behind releasing the tape.

Perpetual crank Mickey Kaus, for example, is disgusted by the fact that NBC released the video, writing that, “If NBC hadn’t run the video, future mass murderers might send their ratings-boosters to CBS. (I’m not saying NBC execs consciously made this calculation, but it’s built into the standard reporter-source algorithm that if you give sources what they want, more will come. And it’s true.) …”

Kaus also quotes “L.A. cop” Jack Dunphy in the National Review as saying, “None of them will ever admit this publicly, of course, but in the safety of their corner offices at Rockefeller Center sit men and women who are privately gleeful at the ratings boost they were given in the form of the box that landed in their mail room Wednesday morning.’

The great thing about op-ed writing like this is that you never have to actually prove your point. Kaus and Dunphy simply toss these charges out without having any inside track on the discussions NBC had in-house about airing the tapes. It would be na├»ve to think that ratings weren’t a consideration that weighed on NBC’s decision-making process, but Kaus and Dunphy are under no burden to either prove it, or to discount it. It’s just easy opinion.

But that’s what keeps people coming back to guys like Kaus.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.