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James Lileks on NBC’s immoral decision to show the V-Tech killer’s video.

Thursday, April 19, 2007
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HH: Joined now by James Lileks, columnist extraordinaire, proprietor of www.lileks.com. James, we haven’t talked, I don’t know what you think, should NBC have shown the video?

JL: No. 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. And maybe if they do, they’ll edit out the faces of the screaming victims for the sake of being kind to the viewers, but they’ll find themselves in the same dilemma. Gosh, it’s news, isn’t it? And can’t we learn from this? What they did granted this miscreant the power he lacked in life, and validated his reasons for doing it, and it is stunning. Our paper this morning, and I love my paper, but when I picked it up off the stoop today, above the fold, banner, was a picture of this idiot with his guns outstretched and a fearsome look on his face, the exact same thing that about 30 people saw before they died, which meant that everybody sort of had to put themselves into that horrible moment. And for a half a second there, I felt a small portion of what they must have felt, and it was, it felt like a violation, and there was no reason to put it there, except, of course, it’s news. And everyone’s talking about it, and well others are, and all the other usual litany of excuses. The man was mad. The man was a sociopath, narcissistic personality disorder, whatever sort of therapeutic term you want to put on it, he was daft, and there’s really very little we can learn from his rationale. You can talk about this and move forward, and figure out ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but of course, the pragmatic and practical ways of it we’ll never talk about. We’ll go back and sift through his words, sift through his oration, and try to figure out which particular trigger we can craft a careful policy to stop the next time. But the next time will be worse, because somebody has realized that they’re going to be validated if they do this, and they’re going to have to figure out a better multimedia way to do it. A simple DVD isn’t going to be enough. If you can instantly post to Youtube nowadays, and given the ratings of NBC, which are pretty much in the toilet, I’m not surprised that the next guy won’t just cut directly, eliminate the middleman, and start broadcasting himself as it happens.

HH: What about the argument from NBC? “We believe it provides some answers to the critical question why did this man carry out these awful murders.”

JL: Well, you know, if the critical answer was that he was mad that birds chirped outside his door in the morning, would that really be helpful? Would anybody be able to say you know, I’ve a sudden, new window into the human psyche? I understand evil now? I understand madness? He was nuts about the birds? No. There’s nothing in there to learn.

HH: Agreed.

JL: He’s going to have a reason. He’s going to have some bad, crazy rationale. But it’s just that. It’s crazy talk. And I mean, so he was mad at rich people. Are we therefore to assume that it’s time to raise the estate tax and increase the marginal tax rates? Please.

HH: How about their argument, we did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter? That’s a lie, by the way. They intend, because of their first clause, we did not rush the material onto air, to get you to think that the authorities approved of their putting the material on the air. The authorities have done nothing of that. In fact, they have expressed disappointment that it went on the air. But as to the statement we did not rush, what do you think?

JL: Nonsense. Of course…it was on how soon after they got it? Did they wait a week? Did they wait two weeks, a fortnight for people to calm down so we could see this through different eyes? No.

HH: Four hours, six hours.

JL: Four hours, right. The whole machinery went into work. I was flipping through last night, and Nightline had some poor reporter standing outside the post office where it was mailed. The place was closed, but we’re looking at the door handle that Cho may have touched on his way in to deliver the fateful package. It’s catnip to them, this nonsense, and they can’t wean themselves off of it. So no, this careful, and they edited it, too, because our sensibilities might be abraded somehow by the whole, big thing. We’re strong enough to get it, but we’re not strong enough to get what they can see. Now every single one of their biases, their presumptions and their arrogance is on display here.

HH: You know, James, I was a panel with Steve Capus, the guy who made the decision on Monday, and we got into it, we mixed it up, I’m trying to get a tape of it to play for people, over Katrina, because he was going on about how Katrina was wonderful. And I said are you guys crazy? There were no bodies in the freezer, there were no suicides in the Superdome. You guys built hysteria. But he was genuinely offended that I was not, along with his colleagues, applauding Katrina. I think that the cloister in which they live has turned them into malfunctioning, indecent people.

JL: It’s as though sometimes, they’re incapable of realizing the distinction between the truth and the media narrative. Since they presume themselves to be working objectively for the sake of uncovering truth, and therefore, what they put out must be truth. And often, it isn’t. Often, the first impressions are wrong, and that’s the impression that sticks, however, and therefore, everybody believes that the chaos that enveloped Katrina is actually what happened, regardless of what we learned afterward. If the media narrative says it, then they believe it has to be true, because if they don’t, then their own profession and their ability to do it is somewhat in question, isn’t it?

HH: Yeah. At the hour, police in Yuba City are looking for a methamphetamine addict, this was posted at 1:59 my time, who has threatened to make, to kill at a school in a way that would make Virginia Tech campus massacre look mild. That’s the first paragraph. I don’t even…

JL: We had bomb threats here at the University of Minnesota that took about six buildings off line.

HH: So what’s it say if he’s off making a movie right now?

JL: Well, just like I said, what are they going to do when the tape is presented to them? I mean, is there something we’re going to learn about here? Are we going to learn the dangers of meth?

HH: But if we do get another tape of another killer, what’s NBC’s culpability? Not obviously primary, killers are primarily responsible.

JL: Right.

HH: But what’s their culpability?

JL: You know, I hate to answer the question, because anything that removes culpability from the killer himself diminishes the evil of his act, so I’m just not going to answer that, except to say that the idea that they’re somehow spiritually or morally liable is not exactly off the table. Let’s put it that way.

HH: And I think they’re accomplices, accomplices after the fact, and not primary accomplices, but they are accomplices, and I hope the justice system finds a way to make them accountable to these victims. James Lileks, thank you. www.lileks.com, America.

End of interview.

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