On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and injured 23, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA, before taking his own life. It was the deadliest shooting incident in the country’s history.
Media coverage was unrelenting in the days after the massacre, prompting debates over the privacy of victims’ families, the treatment of mental health issues in the press, and the ethics of potentially inciting copycat homicides.
The biggest media controversy was incited by NBC’s airing of video and pictures that Cho had sent to the network. NBC News president Steve Capus preemptively defended broadcasting portions of the killer’s “multimedia manifesto,” as anchor Brian Williams referred to it, as a matter of journalistic necessity in better understanding Cho’s mindset. But that failed to forestall criticism from victims’ families, Virginia law enforcement, and the American Psychiatric Association. Due to public outcry, many news outlets either stopped airing Cho’s tapes or never broadcast them at all.
Ends today: If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of
10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.