Mixed Feelings on NBC Showing Cho Video Online

    by Mark Glaser
    April 27, 2007

    i-dad5f20da8136f644ff270912db78750-Cho video image.jpg
    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.

    Tagged: controversy journalism media criticism tv videos
    • Courtney

      I may be young, but I do read.
      In my opinion I believe american should be able to see the entire video, to know what happened instead of hearing people exagerate the story. People deserve to know what happened, other tan what has been reported.

    • Roxanne

      An alternate idea that could be done, is to release more quotes from the video, so that it is in text form rather than as a visual. There was a man on Oprah’s show the other day who suggested that if people had access to the content of material from Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine, that they would understand why these shootings are happening, and they would be able to stop them.

    • Jessica

      I think that this is an argument that could go on forever without an answer. Like most things in journalism, the way to handle events like this is hardly ever agreed on. Its hard to make the quick decision about whether the public should see this video or not. There are many things to think about, which have been discussed in the article, but the best way is difficult to actually come up with. One thing that is obvious is the fact that the killer wanted his video to be publicized. He wanted to get his time in the lime light with his video being nationally broadcasted, and he got exactly what he wanted. In my opinion we should have made it known that there was a video, but only quotes should have been used. Putting the video and pictures immediately online, gave him everything he had longed for. Putting it only online would have at least been a better option, because it would be the choice of the individual to decide whether to watch it. On television there isn’t a choice. Everyone wants to watch the news and find out new information and keep updated, but some may have not wanted to see the video repeated over and over. I think NBC didn’t make a terribly wrong decision, but I think if more thought had been put into the decision it might not have been as widely broadcasted.

    • Iris

      The debate over this video seems one sided when you take into consideration that it was showed for al most a 24 hour period before the it was taken off air. Even though there was a public outcry to cancel the footage, I believe the inital decision was wrong. In my opnion they should have made it public through the intenet, makeing it the viewer’s choice to watch the video or not. The decision to put a portion of the video on television was a news based decision, an attempt to give the public as much information as possible. They reacted to what their viewers wanted, but if the video was truly “news worthy” it should have been put on the internet where there is the ability to personally filter what you do and do not want to read or see as a consumer of the news. I dont understand why the video was pulled completely. By comparison, there were video tapes of the boys responcible for the colombine shootings recovered at the boy’s homes that weren’t made public until years later. The difference here I believe it their videos were not on the internet, but rather privite tapes in the homes of the shooters. Still though, the point being there is the need for a grace period where the vicitms family’s and the community affected can heal. The need to see the mind behind the crimes if natural but so is the need for respect after a time of great sorrow and mourning. The video was deffinitaly worthy for public sacrutnity, but the timing of the placement made it inappropriot here.

    • Carrie

      This is such a tough one. I consider myself a journalist and have an huge interest in the media, so I see both sides of the story.

      I understand NBC’s posistion and I think they were faced with a tough decision.

      As a journalist and an editor, you have to consider ethics in the actions you take. Is it worth hurting the victim’s family and friends by releasing such a tape? Is it worth risking a copy-cat incident from releasing the tape? And of course, is it worth glorifying the sick person who commited such a terrible act?

      I understand why NBC released the tape and I think that I agree with its release, for the most part. I think that it is the duty of the media to tell the truth. If you don’t want to watch, maybe you should turn off your TV.

      I think NBC tried to be as considerate as possible by not showing the full video. I do think that, in time, they will release the whole thing. But I don’t think it should be released on TV though. I think that people who want to watch it should be able to do so by watching it online.

      That would allow viewers to make a choice.

    • Thanks for including my comment in you post, Mark.

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