In light of the massacre in Omaha, Nebraska, the exchange I had with Tom Brokaw on violence, Virginia Tech and NBC, is sadly relevant today. The transcript of the entire interview is here. This is the relevant portion of the discussion:
HH: All right, last question, and I’ll let you go as long as you want on this. I’m not trying to ambush you.
TB: Of course you are.
HH: No, I’m not. It’s a very interesting question. NBC ran the Virginia Tech killer tape on the day they obtained it. Steve Capus, Brian Williams made that decision. Did they make the right decision?
TB: Yeah, they did.
HH: Do you not think it’s going to incite other people to try to do the same thing?
TB: No, I don’t. I think…to get back to something we were talking about earlier in general thematic terms, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job about talking about violence in this country, either. You know, Virginia Tech went away. We didn’t have any ongoing dialogue in our communities or on the air about the corrosive effect of violence. It was not what he, what people saw of him on the air that will drive them, it’s what they read in blog sites, and what they see in video games. It’s that kind of stuff that I think is cancerous. And I’m a free speech absolutist, but I think that at the same time, we have to have free speech in some kind of a context. And part of that context is a discussion of the possible effects of it. [# More #]
HH: Would it have been better for NBC to talk to someone outside of NBC before they made that decision?
TB: Oh, we talked…
HH: Did they have to rush to the air that day?
TB: We talked to a lot of people.
HH: Were you a part of the decision?
TB: I was not part of the decision, because I was out of town, and I got in here late, and learned what they were going to do, and I thought that they, I thought they handled it very well.
HH: Well, on that note of disagreement…
TB: And I was going to defend it.
HH: On that note of disagreement, I want to once again tell people Boom!: Voices Of The 60’s, a wonderful book…
TB: Wait a minute. Why would you disagree with me? You’re…I mean, don’t you want to know, aren’t you a free speech absolutist? Don’t you want to know what’s going on?
HH: Oh, I absolutely do. I just think that to allow someone to manipulate the news that way incentivizes…
TB: But we did it in context. We didn’t put him up there and say this was a great heroic figure.
HH: He won. And in fact…
TB: We showed how dark he was, and what the reality is. And it put a lot of campuses in this country on alert. And it’s changed…one of the things that I agree with the NRA is that if people have mental health records that are out there, people who sell guns should have access to them.
HH: The Times of London noted just a couple of weeks ago after the berserk shooting in, I think it was Norway, that the pictures the man left of himself were eerily reminiscent of the Virginia Tech shooter, and raised the possibility that the NBC decision had incentivized him.
TB: Now that’s their speculation.
HH: Of course it’s speculation. We’ll never know.
TB: But I can pick anything that goes on, and say that was a copycat crime of some kind.
HH: But if people send videotapes to a network in the future, won’t NBC be culpable for that?
TB: Oh, come on, Paul, you’re trying too hard.
HH: It’s Hugh, not Paul.
TB: You really are. You’re really reaching, and frankly, I think what has been a lively and informative discussion now has reached a kind of point of absurdity. I really do. You’re really indicting a network and saying if there’s some kind of a mass murder, NBC’s going to be responsible.
HH: Yes. Not any murder…
TB: Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t have to participate in it.
HH: Okay, okay. I want to conclude and thank you. I do however…well, no, I don’t want to conclude and thank you. I want to thank you for the time, but I’m just curious. You’re not open to that argument at all, that there are copycats who are influenced by that tape?
TB: Well, you’re going to have to prove it to me. I think that there are copycats that are probably open to what happened in Aruba, or the policeman in Chicago.
TB: Or anywhere else as well.
HH: Does what appears on television influence people, is what we’re asking, and I think it does, quite decidedly.
TB: I think it’s not just television. What I said earlier is what we ought to be addressing, the whole fabric of the place of violence in our society. And, by the way, the tone of a lot of talk radio about trying to force conflict.
HH: Well, you talked with Laura Ingraham a lot about this, so let’s conclude there.
TB: I did.
HH: I think talk radio has the best conversations, and the longest form…I mean, who else in media have you talked to for an hour and five minutes?
TB: Listen, I love most talk radio. It’s the wannabes I don’t like. I think Rush is an original. I think that you worked very hard on this interview. But there are a lot of people out there, as you know, as well as I do, who get up in the morning, open the microphone, and unpin the grenade. That’s what I resent.
HH: And I agree with you on that. I actually do. I talk about the pot and pan bangers all the time.
TB: Right, yeah, yeah.
HH: But talk radio, when you refer to talk radio, it’s like my saying all network news executives are liberals.
TB: Well, you’re the one who just gave me 55 and 12, you know, and tilted heavily to the left.
HH: (laughing) I really gotcha on that one.
TB: No, it’s all right for you to make sweeping…my point is (laughing), my point is whenever I appear on these radio programs, it’s okay for you to make sweeping conclusions, but not me.
HH: No, make any you want. I love sweeping…but it’s not a sweeping conclusion to count names in the table of contents.
TB: I’ve got…but you’re doing it quantitatively, not qualitatively. That’s the issue. I’ve got to run.
HH: If we had time…One more question?
TB: No, I’ve got to go, Paul.
HH: All right, Tom Brokaw, thanks.
TB: Bye. You had your fair share.
HH: (laughing) Okay, bye. My fair share? Tom Brokaw, take care. The book is Boom!: Voices Of The 60’s.