On Thursday night I saw some of the footage of Cho Seung-Hui’s gruesome death video. It had been aired by the NBC network in the USA and, of course, picked up and screened right around the world.
There was not any type of warning on the network news I saw and it was right in the middle of so-called “family viewing” time. Was it necessary to air so much of the tape in which Cho makes it clear he’s going to do something violent, reads his crazed prose and poetry and poses with the handguns he’d recently purchased.
The language of the reporter covering the story was just as violent, it’s what I have begun to call “forensic pornography”. It’s the type of stuff you see in the fictional cop shows, particularly those that feature sexual violence against women as the “crime” that’s being “solved”.
This is exactly how NBC and its affiliated website , MSNBC is covering the story. Here’s an image from their cover piece on the tape and the massacre, a profile of the killer that glorifies what he did in a very sick way.
There are nine clips and a “slide show” of still images from the video uploaded onto the MSNBC website.
This is making Cho out to be some kind of psychopathic hero.
Where’s the empathy for the victims, families and friends. Do they need to have this grisly reminder and “trophy” gloat tape pushed in their faces?
What were the ethical thinking and decision-making principles in the NBC newsroom that led them to think it was a good idea to use this tape in this way?
Perhaps some of the comments posted on the MSNBC viewer/reader pages are an indication.
The overwhelming line is that banning hand guns won’t work, the old “guns don’t kill people, people do” line and some weird religious shit about the fact that “God” won’t tolerate this -“the end is nigh” doomsdayism. So perhaps the audience isn’t very capable of discerning judgment and NBC is pandering to some awful voyeuristic tendencies in its key market demographic.
Interestingly NBC has defended its decision in a statement sent to the Poynter Institute, which is also hosting an extended discussion of this topic: to show or not show the footage. One TV network, affiliated to NBC decided to not show the footage or stills from the tape, or to play the audio.
In my view there are ways to deal with this story that do not involve glorifying a mass murderer who was obviously psychotic. I’m very worried that there could be possible copycat killers out there who are getting off on this material and could become just as unstable.
I also think that in terms of grief reporting that it is just adding to the pain of the survivors, friends and families of the deceased.