All three newscasts led last night with a note about the growing controversy over the media's choice to run materials from Seung-hui Cho's self-glorifying manifesto. On the "Evening News," anchor Katie Couric opened the show by saying this: "A lot of reaction today to that video message from the Virginia Tech shooter – angry reaction aimed at news outlets, including this one, for airing portions of it. CBS News plans to use this video only on a limited basis, and only when we feel it's necessary to tell the story."
The vast majority of the emails I've received have condemned CBS and other media outlets for showing the video, and today brings a fresh round of stories on criticism of media outlets for doing so. One typical missive in the Public Eye inbox begins like this: "Airing Cho's video was inappropriate, unnecessary and malevolent. Sometimes network news staffs need to think less with their wallets and more with their heads."
One aspect of the debate that's been largely lost in all this is the fact that we're not seeing a large portion of the materials Cho sent to NBC News. As Jack Shafer noted in Slate, "Cho mailed NBC News about two dozen QuickTime videos, of which the network has aired only a handful." The network has also held back some of Cho's photos and writings. Shafer characterizes this decision as "odd restraint," stopping just short of calling on NBC to release the whole shebang. "If you're interested in knowing why Cho did what he did, you want to see the videos and photos and read from the transcripts," wrote Shafer. "If you're not interested, you should feel free to avert your eyes."
Another side of this debate that's gone missing – and I say this with nothing but respect and sadness for the Virginia Tech victims and their loved ones – is a sense of perspective. In the neighborhood of 200 people were killed in a single day this week in Iraq, a fact that has been treated as little more than a footnote in the flood of Virginia Tech coverage.
On the "Daily Show" Wednesday night, the following exchange took place:
Jon Stewart: I don't even know it it's appropriate to broach it, but we, in this country, we've just had a very tragic situation occur at one of our universities. And it really has taken the country aback, and there's a real grieving process that we're going through. And going through it, mourning by learning about the victims, and learning about it and showing our support. You know, I hesitate to say – how does your country handle what is that type of carnage on a daily basis? Is there a way to grieve, is there a numbness that sets in?The fact that we are, mercifully, not numb to such violence – and that the media's decision to broadcast a video can cause such outrage – is a potent reminder of the wide gulf between daily life in America and daily life in Iraq.
Ali A. Allawi: Well, I think the scale of violence in Iraq is really inconceivable in your terms. We have, on a daily basis, what you had the other day at Virginia Tech – I mean, massacres of that scale. Practically on a daily basis. And it's very hard to grieve…the scale of violence and its continuity is such it really numbs you.