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Mickey Kaus on NBC’s costly decision to run the V-Tech killer’s videos.

Friday, April 20, 2007

HH: I’m joined now by Mickey Kaus, another analyst of the situation. Mickey, welcome, Did NBC do the right thing yesterday?

MK: No, of course not, and I don’t think…everybody saying it was such a tough decision. I don’t think it was a tough decision. It seems to me it’s an easy decision, if you look at it as a moral person.

HH: And do you consider their conduct outrageous?

MK: Well, outrageous, it’s outrageous morally. You know, it’s suddenly within keeping of what you’d expect big media to do.

HH: Now what’s interesting is the statement they put out, Mickey Kaus. I know you’ve looked at it, you’ve picked at different parts of it. I have picked at this part. They wrote in their statement we did not rush the material onto the air, but instead consulted with local authorities who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter. I view that as outright deceit, because they’re attempting to suggest to the reader that their release was approved of. Today, Steve Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police said that while they appreciate NBC’s cooperation, “we’re rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images.” So they put out a statement that’s flatly contradicted by the authorities.

MK: Well, they’re trying…I’m sure they could have not shown it to the FBI, and made them get a subpoena, which would be the really jerky thing to do, so they, so I’m sure the police are happy that they didn’t have to go through that. But yes, it’s a sleazy PR press release, as you would expect. And you know, I think they did put images up on the web pretty quickly.

HH: Yes, they did. Now the question is, where is Capus? Why aren’t they taking…they are now a participant in a major story, and they’ve gone to ground. They won’t talk to anybody.

MK: Wasn’t he on Hardball last night? I think he was on Hardball last night.

HH: Well, he’s interviewed by his own guy. Does that count?

MK: No.

HH: No. And so, is it wrong for a media story like…it’s sort of like CBS again with Dan Rather, not making itself available. What ought an executive to do here, Mickey Kaus?

MK: Well, I think he should have a press conference. I think he should be grilled by the opposition and all comers. It’s…I don’t think these people are monsters. In other words, I don’t think Brian Williams said well, gee, on the one hand, some people might die, on the other hand, I’m going to get a boost in ratings, I’ll take the ratings. But it is just…they have so ingrained that they are playing a role in society which is to get out information, they forget that they’re moral actors, and that maybe they don’t have to get out the information.

HH: Mickey, I thought today of Joe McCarthy, and the Army-McCarthy hearings, when he didn’t realize he finally had crossed a line, and had gone have you no decency, sir. I think a lot of people today are saying about NBC, have they no decency.

MK: It does have the potential for being a huge blowback that really stuns them. I agree.

HH: If…you know, there’s a Yuba City guy on the loose today. Have you been following that story?

MK: No.

HH: Oh, from this morning, they had to lock down all the schools, he called up his pastor, said I’m going to make Virginia Tech look mild, he’s a crystal meth addict, he’s driving around, and they can’t find him, and they locked all the schools down, and people are scared to death, and they still haven’t found him. And if he sent a video somewhere, what’s that tell you?

MK: Well, right, and it seems to me that implicit in every reporter’s source relationship is the idea that if I treat this source well, I’m going to get more stuff in the future.

HH: Oh, that’s interesting.

MK: And that’s built in. So NBC is now the go-to site for serial killers who have videos. They know that they’re going to be treated well. Another network might be different. ABC’s consultant said it was a social catastrophe that it got put on the air. Maybe ABC wouldn’t be so hospitable.

HH: Now if Capus was here, he would say that’s outrageous. Every case will be considered on its merits. This is not an invitation to pathology on the air, 24/7.

MK: Well, I think, you know, and like I say, he’s not a monster, but it’s built into this bias that all reporters have, which is you publish, publish, publish, and don’t really ask questions later. Built into that is the self-interest that you know that if you publish, sources are going to come to you, because that’s what they want. And so NBC just by reacting blindly in that journalistic publish, publish, publish way, incorporated this self-interest that gee, I want them to come to me.

HH: How about this line in their statement. Our standards and policies chief reviewed all materials before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams, handled the reporting. Again, I think that’s more trying to cover for the people who made this decision, because they…this statement tells me they know, Mickey Kaus, that this was terrible what they did.

MK: Well, they split the difference, you know, they could have run the video 24/7, or they could have protected potential victims of future killings. Instead, they went halfway. They ran some of the videos, but that’s not something where you split the difference.

HH: The kid got what he wanted. The killer got what he wanted. Maybe he didn’t get all of his fifteen minutes of fame, but he’s certainly famous. I think you wrote that it was entirely predictable. They also include the defense that every media outlet in the world has carried it. But that was entirely predictable. That was foreseeable, wasn’t it?

MK: That was foreseeable, and once they…they could have bottled it up. You know, once they released it, then of course, everybody else is going to pick it up. It’s going to be out there. But it’s either out or it’s not out, and they had the potential to do society a huge favor by having this guy fail.

HH: Yeah, they could have done the public good. Now Mickey, you’re a lawyer, right? You don’t practice, but you’re a lawyer.

MK: Right, I can practice.

HH: I’ve been talking today with Eugene Volokh and other 1st Amendment absolutists, and they say that intentional infliction of mental distress can never be applied to broadcast media. I disagree with them. I don’t read the Falwell-Hustler decision that way. But if it could, would it be a good thing for parents or survivors to bring actions against NBC for the callousness of this moment, if they were in fact hurt?

MK: I don’t think so, because this is…you know, it really would have a chilling effect…

HH: On what?

MK: Well, on any broadcast of anything that might upset some family somewhere.

HH: Oh, that’s not…it would have a chilling effect on the broadcast of murderer’s snuff films.

MK: That too, but the point is, it’s society here, it’s the future victims that have been hurt, not the current victims that this man already killed.

HH: Oh, I think those people, the survivors have been badly hurt by this.

MK: They have been badly hurt, but not as badly as the people who are still alive, but who will be dead because NBC published this.

HH: I agree with that. Do you really believe that’s going to happen, by the way? I do, do you?

MK: It’s almost inevitable that somebody will do something, yes.

HH: Motivated by the desire to be on television?

MK: Yeah.

HH: I agree, Mickey Kaus., America. How they did not see it, I do not know. Maybe they did and they just didn’t care.

End of interview.

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