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Should The Media Have Shown Cho's "Multimedia Manifesto?"

(AP Photo/NBC)
By now, you've probably seen the disturbing pictures and video that Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho sent to NBC News. The debate has already begun as to whether NBC News, as well as the rest of the media, should have broadcast the killer's final message.

"[W]hat is the possible journalistic explanation for splashing Cho's self-dramatizing poses and self-justifying b------t over network and cable air?," wrote Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post, adding: "Cho's pathetic outpourings deserved to be put back where they came from--in a small room, with FBI guys sentenced to read/see and parse them. Instead, a hundred thousand self-pitying mentally ill young men (and women?) have just been shown the road to glory one more time."

An emailer to TVNewser, menwhile, defends the NBC decision.

"NBC News is taking enormous heat for airing and sharing the video and photos tonight," wrote the emailer. "People do not understand the journalistic obligation to do so. The business has itself to blame for people's lack of understanding because it has blurred the line between news and sensational news/entertainment. All of us who are serious about journalism need to defend a news organization's right and obligation to do what NBC did."

Soon after NBC News aired the video, some commenters denounced the decision to do so on the network's Web site. Wrote one: "I am totally appalled that NBC News has chosen to broadcast the videos of a psychopath according to his wishes and thereby possibly encourage other disturbed individuals to attempt to gain infamy through similar or copycat acts. I find this to be irresponsible and particularly disrespectful to the families of the victims."

NBC News reportedly spent "hours" debating whether or not to release the materials, which included a rambling, 1,800-word letter, and how much to release if they did. "We tried to be sensitive to the families involved and to the investigation," NBC News President Steve Capus told Howard Kurtz. Capus said that while some may be troubled by the network's decision to give Cho the platform he sought, "they also may say, 'We want to know why. We need to know what was in his head, what drove him to do this.' This is a portrait of a killer."

The network turned the materials over to authorities, and did not air them until Virginia State Police said that doing so would not hinder their investigation. The network is not releasing everything in the package. "There are some things we haven't shown and words we haven't released that are more appropriate to hold back," Capus told Kurtz. "Journalists have a responsibility. We're not just here to pass on in direct form raw video and complete documents."

As Matea Gold notes in the Los Angeles Times, NBC "news executives decided Wednesday night to limit the use of the video to no more than 10% of airtime, or no more than six minutes per hour on MSNBC."

Even if one feels that NBC did the right thing by airing the materials, as I do, it is troubling that the decision to do so means giving Cho what he wanted.

Gold notes what FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt told MSNBC's Tucker Carlson: "He wants to be able to reach his hand out of the grave and grab us by the throat and make us listen to him one more time." He got his wish.

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