The folks at NBC News debated for hours what to do with the video they had received from Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus. Eventually, they decided it was prudent to show some of the video on TV and post some snippets online. After an outcry against glorifying the killer, MSNBC decided to stop showing the footage wall-to-wall, and there still hasn’t been a full release of the contents of that package.
So I decided to put the question to you, MediaShift readers: Do you think NBC should release the entire video online to let people decide on their own whether to watch it? Most journalism experts believe that the video is newsworthy and should have been shown on TV and online. “The job of the journalist is not to protect us from the truth; it’s to tell us the truth, no matter how repugnant it is,” Poynter Institute ethicist Al Thompkins told the Los Angeles Times.
Be that as it may, you were largely split over the idea of airing the video in its entirety online, with six people saying the video should be posted, four people saying it shouldn’t be posted, and three not taking sides. Many people took strong stands against showing the video as it would just glorify the killer and open the door to copycat crimes. “By putting anything about the killer on the news glorifies him and gives him what he wanted — a sick memorial,” wrote Randy Allen.
Jim equated the release of the video with the infamous book project by O.J. Simpson:
Police always fear copycat crimes when tragedies like these occur. Why give motive to a host of lonely, desperate souls searching for a way to stand out? Everyone was aghast at the possibility of O.J. Simpson releasing a book about how he might (wink, wink) have done it. Why should we show any less outrage over a taped confession?
Journalism student Yolanda Ortiz also picked up the theme of not letting Cho get the glory as he had planned. She did defend NBC, but doesn’t think airing the video will help people understand a madman:
NBC did their job as best they could given the circumstances at hand. The bottom line is people want answers and coverage. They want to know that it is not being overlooked, but it doesn’t matter how many times officials and psychological experts review the material. No one will ever know exactly why he did what he did and no matter how many times people watch the video, it does not give anyone absolute answers and it won’t prevent something else horrible from happening.
The Case for Showing the Video
A slight majority of people feel that NBC should not limit the video shown and should post it all online for people to see. Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon believes that “NBC should have been more of a passthrough for the material, but it should be out there. It’s up to us to decide how much of it to ‘consume.’ (We can make anybody’s problems our problems.)”
Many people thought NBC should not take on the old-school role of media gatekeeper, and should release all or nothing. Mich Nom was one of those folks, saying:
NBC should not simply pick and choose what [should] be released. They already made the decision to air the footage, so they should release it in fullness so that people can get more answers. If they felt people were only deserving of partial answers or none at all, why did they release it? The media has already lost any integrity in ethics; this facade of pretending to care is sickening.
That’s especially so after the TV networks showed so much of the video and played up the story with the graphics and sensationalism up until the point of angering the victims’ families. To turn around suddenly and try to look sensitive seems two-faced. As Vanni pointed out, at least the CBC in Canada took the high road and ran no photos or video from Cho.
Perhaps the most salient point of all was made by ZapBoom blogger Mary:
In this age of radical transparency, it is very hard to keep a famous skeleton in the closet. There is so much interest in the full contents of the Cho video that sooner or later it will find its way online. The choice NBC has to make is how the video will become public. Will an intern or mailroom attendant sneak out a copy and post it on his/her MySpace page for some quick publicity or will NBC present the video in its proper sober context, as evidence made public to help Americans understand the troubled mind behind the catastrophe at Virginia Tech?
That’s the question right now. My guess is that NBC, after some time passes, will release the full contents of the video online in some way that does provide context. Otherwise it goes against the grain of transparency and openness that are hallmarks of online media today.
What do you think? Did NBC make a wise decision by only showing some of the video or should it post all the videos online? How should a news organization make these types of decisions in a more transparent age? Share your thoughts in the comments below.