Here’s my CNN appearance on Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz today regarding the media and Virginia Tech:
Okay, you make a cogent argument for spurring the debate on mental health privacy laws…but Mary was correct, also, in suggesting a bit of restraint while the tragedy was still fresh…
So…you’re probably right, to a degree, BUT—
…and that ‘BUT’ is always going to be there, Jeff. It represents counter arguments such as…consideration of the feelings of the victim’s families…consideration of the PERPETRATOR’S family (we haven’t heard much about THEM, have we?…they’re probably horrified,) ….consideration of touching-off a dozen or more other ‘loose cannons’ just waiting for a template for their own rage to act itself out in a physical context…sensationalism exploiting tragedies such as this for ratings and money….etc., etc….
To which I would add that the public debate over mental health laws and secrecy is only ONE such debate you’ve considered as needing addressing. Beyond that I would also cite the need for an increased public debate on bullying in a school environment in which the inhabitants – children and teenagers – are in emotionally sensitive years, and later subject to a cauldron of endocrinal imbalances that can easily put one over the edge. That broadens the mental health law debate significantly. It also has a good deal to say about our culture, in which, all too often, others feel the need to make themselves feel better about themselves by heaping ridicule upon and belittling others.
Yes, what Cho did was monstrous…but evidently he seemed to think he had some reasons for doing so, however insanely-rationalized they may have been. It would be short-sighted to confine the discussion merely to whether or not information about Cho’s mental condition should have been kept secret from his family and the public. There are a good deal of other dynamics involved, here, which deserve equal time and attention.
Jeff, your point that journalism should give us a true picture rather than a pretty picture is very much one I appreciate. Any attempts to gloss over the facts indicates a feeling of guilt, and I believe it’s unworthy of the true reporter. At correntewire today I have an interview with Mary Mapes up – and her experience with the withering fire from a guilty party is very relevant to what a journalist is combating to get the truth out. If a story needs telling, often there is some one very interested in keeping it quiet.
Truth definately yes, that is very important. Whenever it might cross over into desensitization, sensationalism or morbidity, that is too far.
Overall, in regard to these issues, there are (of course) competing interests that need to be considered. That doesn’t mean that we should do nothing, but what is does mean is that if we’re going off one side of the road (or seem to be), we shouldn’t blindly oversteer and then wind going off the other side of the road instead (the “medicine being worse than the disease”, if we overreact).
News is a supply and demand business. And I think the market worked correctly in this case.
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