With Howie

I’ll be on Howie Kurtz’ Reliable Sources this morning between 10:30 and 11 about, of course, Virginia Tech.

: I’m in the CNN New York newsroom now watching the earlier segments of the show. Hugh Hewitt, Bill Press, and Gail Schister are discussing ABC’s decision and Hewitt and Press are attacking NBC for releasing the killer’s material. I disagree strongly (see this post below). Hugh’s show called the other night to have me on to discuss this but I didn’t get the message until after they had aired. It’s an important and fundamental discussion: Is is the job of journalism to protect us or to tell us uncomfortable truth? Steve Capus of NBC News says via phone that he made the right decision. He says that some of the same news organizations that are criticizing NBC now for releasing anything had yelled at NBC when the package arrived demanding that they release it all. But then the PR tide turned. “It’s just shameful for someone like Hugh Hewitt to say that we are going to have blood on our hands,” Capus says. At the end, Capus raises the real issue: “Now there needs to be appropriate discussion about the months leading up to this. Where were the people who blew through the warning signs.”

: My earlier posts on Virginia Tech: On the tapes here and here; on ubiquitous live news here and here, and the initial coverage here.

  • Wayne Martin

    I completely disagree with your statement this morning, paraphrasing, “It’s a journalist job to give us the uncomfortable truth.” That is definitely true BUT there needs to be some discretion as to WHEN to reveal that truth. NBC’s handling of the Cho tape was too soon. Certainly, they can show what they have but PLEASE give the Blacksburg/Virginia Tech community (and the country) and little time to grieve before airing it. There was a tremendous amount of respect given to the families of the Columbine shootings. The video was seen by the police, then the families, then the school, then the community, etc.

    Your statement is nothing more than an excuse to be insensitive and fill much needed air time on television…and it’s ridiculous!

  • Michael Webster

    It’s apparent that Wayne Martin has difficulty in dealing with the “uncomfortable truth.” Would it be better to refer to the massacre as “a shooting incident” (as VA Tech did after the first two killings)?

    It’s extremely important for the public to have a better understanding of Cho and his mental state, sooner rather than later, so that we can ask why VA Tech persistently ignored and suppressed the warning signs.

  • Tobe

    It’s the B-roll stupid. I watched “Reliable Sources” today and have been following the media analysis of the coverage of the VT massacre on-line and in the MSM. What receives the least discussion is the obsessive running, and rerunning ad infinitum of B-roll as the talking heads talk and talk.

  • Andy Freeman

    Does NBC run video of folks running on to playing fields during baseball or football games?

    I’m guessing not.

    If we look at the actual decisions, the rule appears to be “if it makes money, we’ll run it”. It’s not any of the “public’s right to know” or any of the other excuses that they trot out as part of their “we’re good people so what we do is good” argument.

    “Make money” is not an objectionable principle, but denying that it’s their motivation is why folks see MSM as a bunch of lying crap-weasels.

  • When the networks start airing tape of US forces in Iraq being blown up in their Humvees, courtesy of enemy videographers, I will start believing this is about telling uncomfortable truths.

    They won’t tell that story despite the availability of those multimedia manifestos, though. They somehow find effective ways to tell that story in other ways. And the nation “gets it” and is still overwhelmingly against the war. Interesting.

    The truth is that in neither case is the video itself especially appropriate for the nightly newscast and cable wallpaper because in neither case does it particularly advance the story (and if network news executive are holding back on the Iraq stuff because of fear or favor, shame on them for having a double standard and, case closed).

    Why can’t we agree that all the Cho material should be made available to whomever wants to see it, but on the Internet, where I can bathe in it and people who don’t want to don’t have to?

    Is this discussion really about doing good journalism or whether networks should be at a competitive disadvantage with YouTube?

  • Suzanne

    I appreciated your appearance and straightforward comments. I knew you were for real when you said that it could be made available on-line. As difficult as it is due to the few that will use these materials to feed their own psychoses it is important that people see what mental illness looks and sounds like. The problem with what they’re currently doing is how they’re doing it – rushing it to run ad nauseum as entertainment. They would never admit it but I imagine their ethics discussions or lack thereof were similar to a Hard Copy production meeting.

  • Christopher Fotos

    Showing the murderer’s press kit (that’s what it is, folks) is offensive in its own right. NBC and other networks are under no professional obligation to cooperate in publicizing and distributing his victory dance from the grave.

    Aside from that, if it is empirically true that broadcasting that material substantially increases the probability of other self-dramatized copycat massacres, then I’d like to suggest the bar is raised pretty high here before you start flooding the airwaves with his movie posters.

  • …and as you can see, per my comment on your post on this issue prior to this one (‘It is not journalism’s job to be safe’ –April 21st, 2007), the safety net of public support for your take on this is still largely missing.

    Now, I don’t doubt, for a moment Jeff, that your intentions here are basically good. Being able to see it all, up front, warts and all, is what Edward R. Murrow was all about. However…like anything else, this can be a two-edged sword, and the lee side of this argument is that regardless of the fact that it’s posthumous, coverage of this nature does, technically, consitute empowerment of the perpetrator. This is why we’ve cut off profiteering for murderers who sell the options on their stories to the film industry, or publish books about their careers. And I have to agree with a number of the people commenting here: regardless of your wish to keep the discussion simply to the covering of the story, the media circus in this era revolves almost entirely around money. This does quite a bit to eviscerate your case for full coverage…kind of makes the whole thing a bit tawdry, in fact.

    The problem here is distinguishing between what constitutes ‘reportage’ and what constitutes ‘entertainment,’ and if you think you’re going to plot THAT line with any precision, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Distinguishing between ‘gratuitous’ and ‘the whole story’ is fare for higher minds than mine.

    If I were to add a line to my comment on your last post on this issue, it would be ‘Don’t look down…’

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