Thursday, April 19, 2007

News Worthiness

Since releasing the excerpts from the package sent by Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News has received more than just a little criticism. Indeed, this story is so big that every little nuance… anything remotely connected to the story is being put under a microscope and reported on ad nauseam. Ironically enough, the decision to air the material delivered to NBC News has become itself a news story.

If not for the “gift” left by Cho, the media would be filling all of that airtime and every available inch with anything and everything it could discover about this “seriously disturbed individual.” Cho saved the media a huge amount of legwork and opened insights about what drove him. Did he get what he wanted? Some are saying that by airing this “manifesto,” Cho has ultimately won.

But think about how ridiculous that sounds. Cho is dead - and he’s not getting any better. Last I checked, to get any enjoyment or satisfaction from an act, one must be alive to experience it. Furthermore, even if Cho could somehow relish his media spotlight from the grave, he would soon realize that no one agrees that he was any kind of victim. He would be crestfallen in the discovery that he is being regarded - at best - as “a seriously disturbed young man.” Mostly he’s being viewed as some kind of homicidal whacko.

For those with a religious leaning, I’m guessing that Cho’s last act earned him a one-way ticket straight to Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Yet he is somehow enjoying the last laugh? I don’t think so. Does this coverage intensify the pain of the community, the survivors and the victims’ families? Undoubtedly, but surely they would understand that news of this magnitude must be reported. Even without Cho’s help, there would be extensive coverage of Cho - a disproportionate amount.

But even without considering the civic responsibility of the news business, let us remember that it is a business. If no one tuned into this stuff, no one would report it. People want to know, despite how much they say they don’t. The numbers don’t lie. Did NBC and others overdo it? Was there more coverage of Cho’s package than “necessary?” That’s a matter of opinion and judgment. But to say that NBC had a responsibility to quash this information is nonsense. They have a responsibility to report it.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.


Anonymous said...

I can tell you first hand that the continuous coverage, especially of the murderer & his manifesto is VERY hurtful to the survivors, a co-worker lost a very close friend, he came into work crying & sat down to start work, we have tvs on pillars above us on either side & he went into a co-workers desk for their remote control & turned the tv on his side off so he wasn't watching the continuous parade of that monster waving his guns around. My co-worker lasted about 35 minutes on the phone listening to people voice their petty complaints of lost satellite signal & missing hockey games & logged out of his computer & told me he couldn't do it left the building.
My heart aches for all the people who've lost someone. With my company being in very close proximity to VT There is no more than 3 degrees of seperation (& Often much less)between most everyone in my workplace & everyone who lost their lives on Monday.

Michael K. Althouse said...

Becky ~

I'm sorry for your co-worker and everyone else who is either directly or indirectly affected by the massacre OR the coverage of it. My point is that the news media had a job to do - it's a responsibility. One can agree or disagree as to the quantity and prominence of some coverage versus other, but the perpetrator is Cho, not the news.

Karen said...

Way too much coverage on the murderer. MSM has struck again!

kenju said...

After the initial 30+ minutes of reporting, I turned it off. everytime I turn on the TV and the news has it on, I turn it off. When they started showing the videos he sent, I turned it off.

All the reportage is too much. Ad nauseum is right! I WILL NOT watch it.

Pat said...

I can only send sincere regrets at such a catastrophe. Although guns aren't so readily available here in the UK we are having a spate of knife killings which are shocking and awful.
It would be wrong, I'm sure' to sweep such events under the carpet but one does worry as to whether the constant coverage attracts like minded individuals to do a 'copy cat'.
One thing I am sure about is that here in the UK there is inadequate treatment for the mentally ill. Treating 'in the community'is often unhelpful and dangerous.
Michele sent me.

awareness said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you Mike, and was thinking of writing about this as well.

What would've happened had the news leaked out that NBC had this "package" and decided not to use it? They would've been accused of censoring.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, I hate to disagree with you Mike, but I think it was irresponsible, insensitive, and just down right terrible that NBC decided to show this less than 48 hours after the terrible carnage and before many people have even been buried. And the continuous, continuous ad naseum--INDEED--repeating of these images is all about "selling soap". I personally think this was a terrible miscalculation on the part of NBC and it was wrong to the max! They did not have to do anything, except send it on to the FBI...But no. That is not how the News "business" works. It is all about ratings and other really important (NOT) stuff like that. There was nothing to be learned from all this garbage except that NBC's priorities are screwed up! It is sickening, and deeply deeply insensitive.

Anonymous said...

We didn't get alot of coverage down here in Australia but it was dreadful to hear nonetheless.
Here via Michele today but I might read along a bit more before heading out.

Kathy said...

Nicely stated. I'm not a huge media fan, myself, and tend to think they have a lot more responsibility than they probably should have, considering that it is a business.

Oh...hi from Michele's site!

Ellen said...

I'm in agreement with you and Awareness... and feel Awareness brought up a good point. If the news media didn't report what they had been mailed, we would have accused them of much worse.

This subject is a sensative one especially while many people are just trying to deal with the grief they were handed Monday. Perhaps the "shame on you" finger to the media was enough for them to stop airing it all day, for when I got home yesterday afternoon, coverage had slowed down a bit, and the tapes Cho sent were shown at a complete minimum. The point was made.... this was too soon for this to be digested when the wounds were so fresh.

As the curious species, we want to understand why a person would go on a shooting rampage, especially at a place of learning. It goes against everything we know, and we want answers. We received our confirmation that Cho was a few pickles short of a Big Mac... that should hold us till the healing has had a chance to work. For now, the families and friends need our prayers of comfort.

Not to get off subject, but.... did you ever get my e-mail?

Anonymous said...

you're right, if people want it, they are going to report it. I think maybe the reasoning behind not airing his manifesto could be, not to do with him personally, but to discourage others who would be thinking along the same lines, as in...if they see the attention he is getting, they might be spurred toward the same behaviours.

Anna said...

I can understand the intial reporting I just think that it is overdone...replayed and replayed. I watched them on Fox News here in London interviewing people...they were grasping with trying to ask questions, hoping that they might get a provacative or tearful answer that they might be able to dig deeper.

I appreciate the news and how I get it....but I think that there is a line that crossed and it becomes about the bottom dollar not responsible journalism. I mean how many times and different ways can you ask the same question in hopes of getting a news worthy answer?

scrappintwinmom said...

There's a difference between fulfilling their responsibility to bring the news, and showing it for shock value. I really think it was over-shown. And after I scoffed at folks complaining about it, I can see how families or folks who were touched by this event being disturbed. Michele says hi!

Snaggle Tooth said...

I agree the news has to be reported and all information released.
In this case, however, I chose not to watch it yet, guess I need more decompress time- I feel sick to my stomache everytime I see the pics of his face-
Perhaps a bit more time to digest it all-

Carli N. Wendell said...

I'm torn. I know that the video and the images would have been released regardless of NBC's actions, and that it is newsworthy. But the extent to which they were shown seems inappropriate.

It send a message. It says, "Kill yourself, and no one will remember you. Kill 32 other people, and you will have your own page on Wikipedia."

Peg said...

I totally get your point. And I agree, this character himself did not 'win', he did not get the glory he sought.

My issue is with the other crankshafts out there, who see the unending coverage, the consumption/regurgitation/reconsumption of the story, and it encourages them to try to outdo him.

Cover it? Yes, I think it should be covered. But when I think of all that isn't covered, just so the major TV outfits can cover the most 'googled' stories, I get kind of irked. We don't see the kind of outrage over loss of life overseas--even with our own Americans paying the price.

I wish to hell that NBC, ABC and CBS would cover more of the war, more of world issues, more about our government. And if I were the news programming manager, I'd not necessarily play down stuff like this, but I'd certainly not give it the excessive play time--report it, and be done with it...leave it on the network website for those that wish to revisit it.