Mark Steyn on NBC’s outrageous decision to air the Virginia Tech murderer’s video yesterday.
HH: I begin with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, always a pleasure.
MS: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: By the way, for your edification, if you get the L.A. Magazine, there’s a big profile of Phil Spector. You really have to be assigned to that trial, Mark.
MS: Oh, well, Dominick Dunne passed through Chicago and stopped in to see me, and he was on his way to the Phil Spector trial. So I should imagine Dominick’s pretty much on top of things there.
HH: Okay, and are we getting closer to the end of the Lord Black trial?
MS: No, I think I’m going to be pretty much here through the summer, as far as I can tell.
HH: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. That means the guest hosting gig for me isn’t going to happen, is it?
MS: I’ll probably have my own Chicago radio show in a couple more weeks.
HH: Probably. We could get you over to WIND at night. Mark, let’s get to the serious stuff. I’m repulsed by what NBC did. Howard Kurtz agreed with me, before it went on the air yesterday. But I don’t know what you think. Should NBC have shown that video?
MS: Well, I think there’s a difference between something that just happens to turn up, and something that is in fact mailed to the media as the final act in the killer’s drama. So in other words, 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.
HH: Last night, as I drove home from a book signing, I was listening to a psychiatrist at NYU, Dr. Welner, who will be on Larry King tonight, and we hope to have him on tomorrow, he was apoplectic, saying that this is playing right into this fevered, crazy, insane mind of which there are many in America, by giving them a blueprint on how to get to their glorification. And I immediately thought of the rule of law firm compensation, that which gets rewarded, gets repeated, Mark Steyn.
MS: Yes, and I think we have to understand the one reason why mass murder, random mass murder by crazy guys is a phenomenon of our time, is because mass media gives you the opportunity to enlarge the act. You know, there will always be people who go crazy and kill a couple of people around them. But one reason why a guy like this decides he’s going to go somewhere and kill dozens of people is because he knows that he can then access a national stage, and an international stage. He’s on the front page of newspapers all over the world. And I think in a sense, to make a crazy guy, to upgrade him from kind of small town burlesque to planetary wide superstar, which is what NBC is colluding in here, I think is terrible. I mean, in a sense, they’ve upgraded the show business aspect of the crime, and that is disgraceful.
HH: Now at this very hour, California police are on the lookout for a Yuba City man who called his pastor and said he was going to make this week really memorable and referred to the Virginia shooting. There’s lots of copycats out there, Virginia Tech shooting, and I think that the media’s playing right into this, Mark.
MS: Yes, I think that’s true, and you know, I think the media coverage is actually disgraceful, because it does seem designed to in effect provide a conduit for these crazy guys. You know, the media are the first to say guns are to blame. They’re less quick to actually look at their own role in providing the oxygen of publicity to these fellows, because if you are just a nobody, and you kill somebody, and nobody but your local paper gets to hear about it, that’s a very different thing from staging an act of mass slaughter, and then getting a major network, in effect, to cooperate in the network premiere of your deathbed video. I mean, I think that is a totally different scale of things.
HH: I want to get to the particulars of NBC’s statement this afternoon, but first, to ask the lawyers in the audience, if you have brought a successful intentional infliction of emotional or mental distress claim, a successful intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, to call me, and the screeners are going to talk to you about where you went to law school, and what the claim was, because I think, actually, NBC is vulnerable here, from the parents and survivors and children and spouses of the shooting victims for what they did yesterday, and I’ll tell you about that after the break. Mark, under intense criticism, that crosses from left to right, beginning with Howard Kurtz yesterday before it came out through everything I’ve heard from reasonable people today, NBC is now begun to a) Steve Capus isn’t talking to anybody, the president of NBC News, who I debated on Monday about the quality of Katrina coverage, which he called one of the media’s finest hours. They put out this statement, which includes this line, Upon receiving the materials from Cho, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed. 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. First of all, there’s a bald lie in there, Mark Steyn. They did not acknowledge their appropriate handling of the matter when it came to publication, but in terms of turning it over. What does that tell you?
MS: No, and I think there was an element of trying to have their cake and eat it about it. If you notice, when they aired a lot of this footage, the anchors would sometimes sort of tut tut, and say they felt bad even showing it. Well, that’s the most kind of weasely evasion, because in a sense, they’re trying to get all the kind of ratings benefit from showing it while morally distancing themselves from it, and I think it is particularly contemptible. They haven’t, they’ve gone out of their way to avoid showing any of the real horror, even with September 11th, with the snuff videos that the jihadists use in Iraq, and elsewhere. But with this, with this, they seemed…they just couldn’t resist actually exploiting it, and actually colluding, posthumously colluding with the killer.
HH: And now lying about it. Do you believe, when they say, and this is NBC’s words, that they acted with extreme sensitivity, and that they did not rush the material onto air…
MS: No, and this is what I find so odd. I mean, we live in a sensitivity crazed culture. So if you make one line, if you put together six words in the wrong order, like Don Imus did on this very network, on NBC, you’re over, you’re finished, you’re history, you’re done. And yet, something like this, the same guy who makes the decision to fire Don Imus, apparently, this is far less of a scandal to him. There’s far fewer moral questions about this than there are about Don Imus’ one-liner.
HH: And I’m going to get to that, because it indeed is Steve Capus who made both decisions. Here’s his other line, the statement. We believe the video provides some answers to the critical question why did this man carry out these awful murders. No, it doesn’t, Mark Steyn, but do you think…
MS: No, it doesn’t. And the reason it doesn’t is because there will always be mentally ill people in society who do crazy things. And so all you can really do is attempt to constrain the size of the event, the scale of the craziness. There is nothing that can be gained from millions of people seeing this, seeing this video about this particularly disturbed individual that will provide any worthwhile insight into why he did what he did. The damage it does do, though, is that it actually establishes a format for every other crazy, misfit loser sitting in his bedroom, and thinking my way to become famous is to kill lots of people.
HH: The only way I’ve got open to me to become famous.
MS: Yes, the only way I’ve got to be…if you’re a nothing, if you’re a nobody, if nobody likes you, if you’re not good at anything, then you can kill a bunch of people and become a big star at NBC.
HH: At NBC, and that takes me to their last argument. The decision to run this video, NBC’s statement says, was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by the coverage on television, on websites, and in newspapers. Mark Steyn, they put the poison in the system, and now they’re claiming that because a bunch of people fell dead, they’re not guilty. They’re the pusher, but they’re blaming the addicts.
MS: Yes, and in fact, there’s a difference, though, that when you’re a foreign network, you are showing that video as an indictment of America, and not just as an indictment of gun-crazy psycho America, but also of an America where the media feast on the killing as well. So in effect, the fact that the BBC and the CBC and the ABC in Australia are, and France and Italy and a bunch of them are having fun with it, does not excuse what NBC did, because their rationale is very different.
HH: So if you come to the conclusion as I have, you have, Howard Kurtz has, that it was wrong, and as I have, that it was depraved and indecent, why do networks act this way?
MS: Well, I think networks are in a difficult position, because in effect, they’re flailing, dying institutions. And so they depend on big events, you know, Hurricane Katrina and so forth, to actually pump a little bit of juice, a little bit of gas, into an almost totally empty tank. And so for them, this is a big event, and their interest in it is keeping it as big as possible for as long as possible. And so in a sense, a network like NBC doesn’t understand that in the long term, the devaluing of its brand will be more harmful than any temporary ratings blip.
HH: My last question, and it will be played out in the next segment, it’s a legal question. But just your opinion, Mark, would you say their conduct was outrageous?
MS: I would say their conduct was outrageous, and I do think there are potentially legal aspects to this, that they ought to be very cautious about this.
HH: That’s what I’m going to explore in the next segment. Mark Steyn, Columnist to the World, thank you.
End of interview.