Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Airing the Cho Video

I was listening to Hugh Hewitt's show yesterday afternoon as he discussed NBC's decision to air the Cho videos. Hewitt was in a tizzy that the network gave Cho more publicity (he called it "favorable") and stated that the coverage should focus solely on the victims.

I couldn't disagree more.

As an old school news junkie and former journalist, I couldn't imagine NBC not showing the video. NBC did the responsible thing when they turned over the originals to the FBI. But that doesn't mean that showing the video on that network is irresponsible.

The massacre at Virginia Tech was news in the most basic sense of an event being news. It was highly unusual, it had human interest, and it demanded attention. Given those elements, no news organization could legitimately ignore the event.

Why air Cho's video? Because the public is still trying to make sense of what happened. Whether stuffed shirts on talk radio (yes, Mike Gallagher, I'm talking about you) think it is giving Cho the attention he craved is beside the point. Cho is dead, and regardless of how much or little attention we pay him, it won't change that fact. It is unimportant now whether he wanted to be a media star or not.

What is important is that we recognize in the most blunt way possible that this man was sick, that his problems were long-term, and that there wasn't a damn thing anyone could have done ahead of time to prevent him from exploding (we don't lock people up for being weird). Seeing Cho's video satisfies some need or curiosity in people to understand why someone would do something like this.

And from a news producer's standpoint, the video was news. Whether individual talk show hosts choose to play the video or not, it shouldn't be an indictment of NBC that they considered the video newsworthy.

It's rare that I defend the shallow, opportunistic media that has become the profession I loved. But in this case, I think NBC did the right thing.

Patterico agrees with me and has his own take on the video at his site.