Thursday, April 19, 2007

Beholding and becoming

What could I possibly say that hasn't already been said about the killings at Virginia Tech?

That the police and the administration screwed up? Now that we're being told about the bad lead the police were following, it's clear they were confused. I might have made the same decision... But I believe I would have at least sent out a message to the students. If they had, lives might have been saved.


That this act was senseless, was horrific, is a definite. Easy availability of handguns didn't help the situation. On the other hand, a determined killer will do his evil no matter what.

One thing that I do know is that in airing Cho's tape and photos, NBC screwed up.

Their rationale: We aired it because we thought it would provide insight into why he did it.

So... their contention is that for that "insight" to be passed on to the police, the FBI, even the public, the only possible thing to do was to air the tape?

This, of course, is absurd.

NBC claims they carefully weighed the pros and cons of airing the "manifesto."

They could have passed the package on to law enforcement to allow analysis. They could have given copies of the tape to psychologists and counselors, who might have learned more about what to look for in a troubled human being. They could have verbally summarized the content in a telecast, so that the public might have learned about what to look for in family and friends.

But instead, NBC aired the tape.

NBC News said, "We have covered this story — and our unique role in it — with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less."

This is, of course, a complete crock.

Airing the rantings of this sadly deranged young man was a way of honoring the victims?

On what planet?

NBC is "committed to nothing less" than the almighty ratings-driven dollar.

To paraphrase one Virginia Tech student, "They showed him pointing guns at the camera. There are a lot of people here who didn't need to see that."

All NBC has managed to do is to pander to the basest of human urges; by feeding the urge to see destruction, the execs at NBC have fed their urge to drive Hummers — apparently programmed into them by a complete lack of self-esteem, resulting from a crappier-than-average upbringing.

Listen up, network executives: By airing tapes like this, you not only re-traumatize the victims of this tragedy, you encourage others to duplicate the act by offering them the gift of a last-words bully pulpit that they never would have had in an otherwise-normal life. Emphasis on bully.

By airing the tape, NBC has contributed to the escalation of violence. They may not have shot anyone themselves, they may not have raised a hand or even spoken a violent word of their own.

But it's a certainty that by exposing more people to the mind of violence, by adding melodrama to a tragic situation, by painting Cho with a brush of romance -- yes, "romance"... the romance inherent in international media coverage, no matter the serious/analytical/public service frame they might try to place on it -- NBC has planted seeds in the backs of minds, or watered seeds that are already there.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

ABC News president David Westin decided before the second hour of "Good Morning America" to air only a brief clip of the video without audio, in part after seeing a "GMA" interview with forensic psychiatrist Michael Wellner, who appealed to NBC News and other networks to stop running the video.

"This a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character," Wellner said. "This is precisely why this should not be released."

But air it they did. Until there was something of a backlash, and then they stopped, or cut back, along with other networks. And as the networks withdrew the tape, they explained how very wise and how very sensitive they were to do so.

In stock market parlance, they "timed the market." They'd already made their ratings profits. But the market started to tank, so they shorted their stock in that tape, and dumped it.

To say that NBC's behavior is cynical would be the understatement of the millennium.

Maybe we all need to be reminded from time to time...

We become that which we behold.

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