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NBC Rationalizes

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I wrote last night about the repulsive decision of NBC to put its ratings ahead of the public good and run the video and pictures of the Virginia Tech murderer. That they should not have done so was obvious to many, many people, so obvious in fact that NBC’s rush to get its ratings boom had to have been motivated at least in part by a recognition that if they delayed, the discussion about the potential appalling consequences of airing the material would have deterred them. Less than two hours passed after the public learned that NBC had the materials and NBC’s airing of them. There is no evidence that the network consulted anyone outside of their cloister. Had the Steve Capus-led gang of exploiters of the dead, the wounded and their families had a shred of decency or professional skill, they would have asked around a bit. Here are a couple of bits of pre-publication opinion.

Last night at 6:13 PM, NRO’s Stephen Spruiell urged NBC to be cautious:

Think hard, NBC News. You only get one chance to do this right. Maybe the right decision is eventually to show parts of the tape. But perhaps this is something you should sleep on.

On my program, at exactly the same time, the WaPo’s Howard Kurtz and I were agreeing that NBC should not show the video:

HH: You know, Howard, I’m really troubled by this. I’m glad they turned it over to the [police]. But I wish they would simply…my thinking about for the last hour since I heard the press conference, is they ought to redact the documents, put the documents out there, never show the pictures. I don’t want this kid to get any attention, because it encourages copycats. But I do want to see what was going on in his fevered mind, and I think that could have been out in a matter of minutes. But they’re working this for ratings. They’re working a national tragedy for ratings. Hasn’t that come up in…

HK: Well, I’m not going to jump to that conclusion, Hugh, only because I haven’t had a chance to talk to NBC. I have tried. It may well be that they didn’t want to do anything until they got a green light from authorities. You know, you might be right, but I don’t see that big a timeline between when they were available to put this out or not. And I share…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.

HH: Yes.

HK: I don’t want to see him getting attention, either. At the same time, it’s this huge national tragedy, huge national story, and we do want to get some insight into what motivated this sick, twisted individual.


HH: And if Leonard Downie calls you up this evening, and says Howard, I’ve got these pictures that NBC released, what do you think I should do with them, what would your advice be to him?

HK: Well, I think I’d have a hard time arguing against the using of at least a single still photo, because basically, Hugh, it’s already on TV, and it’s going to be in every newspaper in America. It’s hard to sort of unilaterally decide on that point. I wouldn’t run, like, a full page spread of the pictures of the video, and necessarily put the video on I’m sort of with you in that. Why give this killer what he wants?

HH: It’s also, it seems to me that if people want to see them, and you posted them on the web, they can go there, but that you’re going to dramatically increase the reach of these pictures to people who don’t want to see them. I also want to…

HK: That is true. It’s like these beheading tapes.

HH: Yup.

HK: You know, if somebody wants to affirmatively click on it, then I suppose it should be made available. But do we want to thrust this in the faces of people at newsstands, people who are just channel surfing? It’s a very serious concern.

The Today Show spent part of the morning rationalizing this destructive behavior, with Matt Lauer saying there were “some big differences of opinion right here in this news division as to whether we should be airing this stuff at alll,” while assserting “we’ve made the decision, because by showing some of this material, perhaps it’ll help us understand or answer the question ‘Why? Why did it happen.'” (HT: Newsbusters.)

What complete and utter foolishness. And also, I believe, an epic lie. If anyone at NBC sat in a room and said “maybe it will help is understand” then he or she should be fired. The debate, if there was a debate, had to be over “we’re a news organization and we have news” versus “we’ll get creamed by the critics” versus. “the ratings will be sky high.”

And it was a debate conducted among an inbred group of elites who, quite obviously, are callous and self-serving far beyond even what their harshest critics had believed. Meredith Viera announce that some family members of the victims have canceled their appointments to appear NBC “because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images,” the clearest bit of analysis we have of the decision.

But of course NBC isn’t going to give us those names, or the details of those reactions, or even allow themselves to be closely questioned about their decision. It was a decision that will define a low point in media “ethics,” but the MSMers will quickly circle the wagons and persuade themselves that despite all the fury, they were just doing their job. For Brian Williams to say on MSNBC last night that “This was a sick business tonight, going on the air with this,” is just more moral posturing, an attempt to say “We have a conscience” when in fact the record quite clearly shows they don’t.


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