Dr. Michael Welner, Schizophrenia, Rampage Killers and NBC’s Decision
Dr. Michael Welner is a psychiatrist experienced in the diagnosis and study of the awful psychosis of rampage killers.
He is one of the experts behind the development of The Depravity Scale, and has just published an article on schizophrenia for ABCNews.com.
The transcript of my lengthy interview with him from today is posted here, and the audio here. You should read the whole thing, but a couple of key excerpts are here:
HH: Had Steve Capus, president of NBC News called you yesterday, or two days ago, and asked you what to do with these video and photos, what would you have told him?
MW: I would have told him about the Tager story, and I would have told him, you know, you can inspire someone who is seeking fame and immorality from NBC, but keep in mind, there’s no greater way to find fame and immortality than somebody who comes after you, because you are the network. And how soon you forget a lesson like that. Don’t forget the lesson of Tager.
HH: Would you advise him not to broadcast them?
MW: Oh, absolutely. But not just the tapes, the pictures.
MW: And for reasons, for other reasons. The notion of parents and loved ones who contemplate what the last thing somebody that they cared about might have been going through, or the last image that that person might have seen, opening up their computer to see Cho Seung Hui pointing a gun at them is unfathomable, and I’m saying this as someone who has board certification in disaster medicine. I’m saying this as a clinician. You cannot do that to people who have been exposed to an emotional trauma, to essentially stick it in their face in the fashion of flooding without any kind of emotional resources to provide them with sanctuary, that it, emotionally, nobody can stomach that.
HH: But what kind of an impact can that have on parents or siblings or spouses or…we saw today buried a professor with three children, 11, 12, and 13, who will forever have these images around. What does that do to them?
MW: I think it traumatizes them. I mean, I don’t want to, I want to be very careful about this, because I don’t want to encourage litigation. And frankly, I think from having worked within the system, and I want to point out to your listeners this is also in civil litigation matters as well, I completely respect the need for many people to sue and to charge emotional distress, and all of this thing, but I do not know that that necessarily, necessarily is the answer, if people need help, they get them the help they need. That said, and financial compensation doesn’t solve the world’s problems necessarily. But that said, it’s traumatic, and I can understand how something like that would be traumatizing….
HH: [W]hat would you advise the media generally, and perhaps the Forensic Panel can come up with something, to do concerning rampage killers and their desire to be known in the aftermath of their violence.
MW: You know what? I appreciate your attitude in not even mentioning his name, or if perhaps you can adopt my suggestion of encouraging people to refer to this as perverted…and first of all, I think that this kind of crime, and the people who carry it out, have to be referred to as perverts specifically because it’s a copycat crime. No one copies a pervert. Nobody copies a sex offender or a rapist. And this is why it sends out a message that even if people feel disaffected, they would be ashamed to entertain these notions, because society reacts to these kinds of crimes the way it would a rape or other kind of sexual assault. I would liken what NBC did to the release of a toxic cloud. Once you release it, if you continue to release it, it compounds the problem. If you allow it to spread and to be accessible, it compounds the problem in access to it. And so what you have to do once the mistake has been made is to simply shut it off in order to contain fallout. And so the answer to a news organization receiving a package is, I would say well, what would you do if somebody mailed you anthrax? Would you open it because of the media’s right to know? Or would you send it to law enforcement authorities, because they have appropriately skilled people who can handle these things. Well, the answer is fairly obvious. This is exactly what this is. It is a psychological warfare that has societal, catastrophic ramifications of some kind of biological agent or radioactive agent. And responsible individuals should recognize what their skills are, and what their skills aren’t.
My Wednesday and Thursday posts on NBC’s decision are here, here, here and here. Dean’s post from yesterday ,”NBC’s Gravest Sin,” is here. My first post this morning, “NBC’s Shame: Out Out Damn Spot”:
Howard Kurtz rounds up the reactions and concludes that “[i]n all the years I’ve been chronicling the media, I have rarely seen the tidal wave of resentment that has washed over television organizations that showed the now-infamous Cho video. In the minds of many Americans, this was a horribly offensive act, and no amount of explanation about the obligations of journalism is going to change that view.”
All of the disgust has its origins in the decision of NBC to air the video and the photos, a decision it made without consulting anyone outside its inbred cloister of media bigs.
“I’m not going to say we’re oblivious to the comments coming out of the Virginia Tech community,” NBC News President Steve Capus told Kurtz in a tone almost tsarist in its arrogance. “We understand, we appreciate and we respect their concerns. I’m steadfast in my belief that we did the right thing and we handled it appropriately.”
Capus dismisses all of his many and credential critics from within journalism: Everyone else is wrong. For the record, that includes these six long-time journalists, and they are just the ones whose interviews I conducted. Tiny samples from the interviews, the transcripts of which are all linked (the audio for all of them is here):
Howard Kurtz: “I know I’m going to be very, very angry when I see these pictures, if they play any of this video, because in effect, it’s granting Cho’s final death wish.”
Tim Rutten: “[NBC’s] statement is bovine excrement. Look, the only thing this does is to demonstrate that he was insane. Well, none of us had any doubt about that.”
Mark Steyn: “NBC is fulfilling the killer’s last request. That’s disgusting. That’s disgusting, because in effect, you have colluded in this kind of show of slaughter that he’s concocted, and I think that’s disgusting for NBC.”
James Lileks: “What they did was guarantee that the next one will film himself as he’s doing it. And then he’ll upload the video to NBC or some other news organization, and then they’re going to have to explain to themselves why they won’t show that.”
John Podhoretz: “I don’t see how one can view their decision making or their choice as anything but strictly craven.”
Mickey Kaus: “NBC is now the go-to site for serial killers who have videos.”
From the left, the right, and the center, the verdict is the same: NBC acted outrageously, and contrary to the public interest without even a thin cover for its ratings-driven behavior.
If someone does a comprehensive round-up of the posts detailing the disgust with the moral newts at NBC, send me a link, but there is no real debate, no real question about the reprehendsibility of the network’s decision. Ina country of 300 million, NBC will find some defenders, but the deep and wide disgust will not shift in the weeks and months ahead, but only harden. When in a few months, or a year or two the next maniac sends the next video of his mayhem, see if Steve Capus is still going to be defending the decision he and his colleagues made to inject poison into the information pipes. Their shame is not only in the fact that are they the most exploitative and callous businessmen in the history of broadcast news. Far worse, they are accomplices to murder, for as Mickey Kaus said yesterday, it “is almost inevitable” that there will be future victims “who will be dead because NBC published this.”
Will the flagship of the news division at NBC, Brian Williams’ nightly broadcast, suffer as a result of the taint of having injected the poison? The Today Show? Time will tell, but time won’t ever alter the instant and almost universal reaction of contempt for the Capus team.