The Single Worst Editorial Decision In The History Of Broadcast News?
Soon after the press conference at which it was disclosed that NBC had received a package of print, photos and video materials from the Virginia Tech murderer, I interviewed Howard Kurtz about how NBC should handle it. (The transcript will be here later this evening.) We quickly agreed that any video should not be shown, and while I think that Howard thought perhaps a picture could be aired, I and the live audience I was broadcasting in front of disagreed. I would have published –instantly– the text of the killer’s statement’s for the public to read, but I would have denied the killer the instant video glorification he so obviously desired, an immortalization which other deranged killers of the future will almost certainly seek to emulate. NBC decided differently.
Two days ago I shared a stage with NBC News president Steve Capus. Earlier today I commented on what I considered to be his cluelessness about the contempt in which MSM is held as well as my amazement at Capus’ pride in MSM’s Katrina coverage. Tonight I am dumbfounded by his –and his colleagues’– decision-making in this matter. Instantly their decision to air the video and publish the pictures revolted vast numbers of ordinary Americans of all political opinions. (My sister-in-law, a very, very liberal individual, just said to me that “I don’t recall ever hearing of anything so irresponsible.”) I heard an outraged clinical psychiatrist from NYU University denouncing the decision in the harshest terms on Los Angeles radio station KNX.The airing of the pictures and video is obviously a hurtful and destructive act, one that will prime many killing pumps in the years ahead, and one obviously made on the fly by individuals of almost no experience with or curiosity about the deranged mind. Would it have killed Capus et al to ask around a bit about what to do? Of course not, but their decision could indeed kill others down the road. They acted as their own guides, because that is the way the business works. In their very, very closed world, it made sense. To the vast majority of Americans it was an appalling, horrific decision, far worse than what Don Imus had to say last week. As my producer asked this afternoon: Will Capus fire himself for the offense he has given the families of the victims and the rest of the country as well?
Other print stories may have harmed the country more –the New York Times’ and Los Angeles Times’ cavalier dismissal of national security in their stories that published national security secrets about our efforts to capture or kill terrorists come to mind.
But Dan Rather’s and Mary Mapes’ previous high-water mark in broadcast news’ indifference to the public good has been trumped. NBC now stands for Nothing But Contempt for its audience. It was a shameful thing that the network did, and I doubt I will ever willingly watch NBC news again. Will even one “journalist” have the spine to quit?