by Rick Rockwell
Many people compare the media to vultures, picking through the aftermath of tragedy like the bones of a carcass. This week, NBC News gave that view credence when that news organization broadcast excerpts from a multimedia package sent by Cho Seung Hui, the mass murderer responsible for the killings at Virginia Tech.
And, of course, as is typical in the age of sensation, the rest of the media pack fell into place by repeating and replaying the quotes from the killer. The theory here must be nothing sells like excess.
Cho sent NBC an exclusive by taking time in the midst of his bloody spree to mail them the package. NBC told its viewers the contents supposedly gave some insight into the carnage Cho had left behind.
NBC was faced with a dilemma. Hand the material over to law enforcement and the news organization essentially gives away an exclusive to its competitors. Law enforcement is under no restraint from releasing the material to others. Keep the material to evaluate and release later and the organization would run into a public relations buzzsaw about how they may have impeded the investigation. (Although what really is there to do now but debate whether the university responded appropriately and to keep asking why madness erupts into violence?)
But NBC must have enough lawyers and experienced journalists to know there were other options. The organization could have chosen not to broadcast or repeat a word that the killer had sent to them. NBC could have chosen not to broadcast his pictures or his macabre ramblings. Instead, when they broadcast the multimedia excerpts, they became complicit in Cho’s death dance.
In the material sent to NBC, Cho expounds on how he was influenced by the Columbine killers. The cult of mass murder that has grown up in this culture is a sick cancer and the way the media play the sensation game just feeds that illness. Cho would not be admiring the deranged Columbine killers if their tapes and quotes hadn't been glorified by the media.
Some day another mass murderer will inevitably be quoting and honoring Cho in the same way. And the cycle will repeat itself anew. NBC gets the credit for propelling Cho's hate into the media maelstrom.
Yes, NBC merely showed us the evil truth. Some would say that's the job of the media while covering such stories. And The Washington Post and National Public Radio (NPR), among many others, followed NBC, trying to have it both ways, by repeating the story and then questioning the judgment of how NBC decided to release the material.
Make up your own mind about NBC’s decision by chasing this link, if you must, but you won’t see Cho’s picture or his video ramblings posted here. There is no good reason that sane adults need to listen to the last words of a mass killer, especially when all they do is advance his cause and infamy. Some argue such broadcasts give closure to the families of the victims and those who survived, but the reports from Blacksburg are mixed. Some media outlets, such as FOX News, are leading the way against further glorification.
What is certain is that a madman hypnotized NBC News with an exclusive and the result was America’s most popular news network became a showplace for his sick ramblings. Or maybe the network wasn’t hypnotized at all. Maybe some in the media really are happy to reap what a murderer may sow.
(The graphic is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)
(For another take on the Virginia Tech massacre, please see: "Bang, Bang We're Dead.")
Cho Seung Hui
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by Rick Rockwell