National Rifle Association – shoot [the polar bear] first, ask no questions

July 10, 2007

I’ve followed the US National Rifle Association’s antics since the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007. I couldn’t resit alerting Martini lovers to Martha Rosenberg‘s column today. She’s very clever in her critique of the NRA’s attempts to get around American gun laws:

Besides being armed to return a library book, the NRA wants the right to bring weapons on public parks and school yards, often in defiance of home rule laws.

And speaking of bravery, the NRA has also found time since the Cho shootings to help Safari Club International (SCI), the group former President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. belonged to when they were outed hunting in Africa and asking the Botswana government to keep trophy lion hunts available.

In June it helped SCI defeat an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House of Representatives that would have banned the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.

Who kills polar bears for fun?

Eight hundred Americans imported polar bear trophies from guided hunts in Arctic Canada since 1997! And SCI offers a “Bears of the World” award, a kind of National Geographic for the bloodthirsty, in which hunters have to kill four of the world’s eight bear species which include imperiled polar bears.

The NRA also worked to defeat wolf protection laws and spay and neuter legislation for dogs.

No, Seung-Hui Cho’s bullets have not stopped the NRA’s fast track agenda–or the politicians in its back pocket: the ultimate concealed weapon.


Kuwait Times carries story on Blacksburg video backlash

April 22, 2007

Cho pics spark debate, backlash on TV, print » Kuwait Times Website

Well, this is interesting, in a nation that has no real free press and where women wear the burqa, the “Cho” video is getting some news time. OK, so it’s only agency copy, but it’s a start.


NRA silence still deafening

April 21, 2007

I have been keeping an eye on the National Rifle Association’s reaction to the Blacksburg shootings. Over the past few days I’ve been regularly visiting the NRA website expecting that the organisation that claims to speak for America’s gun-owners would have some measured response to the murder of 32 people by a deranged shooter with several powerful handguns and a sh!tload of ammo.
Here’s the statement that they first posted four days ago.

The National Rifle Association joins the entire country in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech and everyone else affected by this horrible tragedy.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

We will not have further comment until all the facts are known.

Excuse me, but we know the facts. A mentally-ill young man armed with legally purchased weapons killed 32 people and then shot himself. What have the powerful representative’s of America’s gun-owning public got to say about this. It seems, to use an Antipodean colloquialism “Bugger All!”
Hiding behind “until all the facts are known” is cowardice in the extreme. As of today the NRA’s ridiculous non-statement has not been updated in any way.
These bloodthirsty nutters should shut themselves down and apologise to the world for their despicable silence.

Guns don’t kill people, gun-owners do!

My challenge to NRA President Sandra S. Froman is for her to use her President’s Column to respond to this incident in the measured tones she’s so apparently fond of. This is a small grab from what’s live on Froman’s column at the NRA site as of today (Saturday 21 April 2007):

The challenge is getting the message out. The mainstream media doesn’t give us a fair shake, and it costs a great deal of money to go on television or radio. Every dollar we spend on those media outlets is one less dollar available for our members’ shooting, hunting and gun safety programs. NRA has always been able to do a lot with a little and wise use of our resources is always part of the equation.

How can she say that the mainstream media isn’t interested in the NRA’s views, what crap. The whole world wants to know what you think about this Sandra. Hell, you can come here and have a whole page to yourself, uncensored. For the sake of the victims, say something.
And I really like the priorities expressed here:
shooting, hunting and gun safety
Nice one Prez! Not!!


Blacksburg Massacre – the techno-legal time gap and new media

April 21, 2007

In an interesting article by Joe Garofoli at SFGate we are beginning to see a discussion about the many ethical and lego-technical dilemmas thrown up by the way that NBC chose to use the Cho Seung-Hui suicide video.
The basic question is should the news media use everything it can get – such as the “eyewitness” cameraphone footage and the Cho tape, just because it can? There are also issues of verification, authority and authenticity around this. Not to mention the traditional ethical issues, such as grief intrusion, the coverage of violent crimes and suicide and the rights of victims.
I have written (see link to my books below) about what I call the ethico-legal paradox (that there is a contradiction sometimes between the law and ethics in media decision-making) and the techno-legal time gap (that there is a disconnect between what the technology can be used for and any form of legitimate regulatory regime to govern its use).
We see both of these issues being played out in the raging debate about the use of the Cho video in NBC (and other) newscasts and on the web.
Garofoli wrote that in the Blacksburg situation we see the visible interdependence between old and new media for the first time. Well not quite. I have written and lectured on this over the past year to my colleagues and students. I call this phenomenon “Journalism in the Age of YouTube”.
It first came to my notice in July 2005 during the London bombings. The BBC and other media were running loads of amateur footage shot on cameraphones and many stills of the underground explosions. But the real tragedy of this was the shooting of Brazilian tourist, Jean Charles de Menezes by the police a couple of days later. Eyewitnesses told the BBC that they had seen “wires” poking out of his jacket when police tackled him to the ground and shot him between five and seven times in the head. The news that Mr de Menezes was a “terrorist” led the frontpage news the next day. It took the British police more than 24 hours to correct the wrong information from eyewitnesses. This is the real danger in this unmediated and uncorroborated fast-media world.
The second time I noticed this, and what sparked my interest even more was inNovember 2006 when a student at UC-Berkeley was tazered by over-zealous security guards. With in hours footage shot by eyewitness cameraphone was posted on YouTube and within 48 hours it was a big international story. I saw it for the first time on a commercial network bulletin in Perth, Australia.
What was interesting about this event was that it set up a referential feedback loop between YouTube and the mass media. YouTube hosted the phone footage, then it was picked up by the campus student press, then by local (San Francisco) news organisations, then it made it onto CNN and Fox and went global. But almost immediately, YouTubers were cross-posting the Fox and CNN clips back into their networks. When I last checked on 21 April 2007 there had been over one million hits on one version of the phone video, but there are several others that have similar hit rates.
I agree that there is a growing interconnection between traditional media and the digital natives, such as YouTubers. My interest in pursuing this is to know how far it’s going and where it might lead.
I am currently writing a book about this and would love to hear from EM readers about their own experiences, thoughts and incidents. If you come across more writing on this, pls let me know about it.
Here’s another thoughtful news report that really nails some of the ethical issues. The AP television writer, David Bauder, had this to say, and it’s a comment I agree with:

The pictures alone _ 11 showed a gun pointed at a camera lens _ were repulsive. Many who saw them viewed it as a second attack, an invitation to copycats and a fulfillment of Cho’s demented wish for attention.

There’s also some good coverage over at the UK Press Gazette blog.
Meanwhile, this is what the good burgher’s of Blacksburg have had to put up with. Would you like to have dinner with this sh!t blaring away from the widescreen TV over the bar?


Networks react to public anger over Cho video. Do we have the first copycat?

April 21, 2007

Now that NBC and MSNBC have made their point – “we’re first”, etc, they’ve pulled back from large scale use of the Cho Seung-Hui suicide video.
I think this is a victory for commonsense (maybe) over commercial imperatives. No doubt NBC has made a lot of money from this video – their stories on it have been syndicated globally. But there’s been a strong public reaction against it from academics, grief counsellors and from news consumers.
But, on the downside, have we seen the first directly-linked copycat event at the Johnston Space Center. Thankfully, only one “victim” and the “shooter” were killed here. I don’t think any link has been confirmed yet, but the suspicion must be there. [My apologies for linking to Fox News on this]
I certainly thought we’d get some reaction like this as soon as I saw the way NBC had treated the Cho Blacksburg tape.


Blacksburg Massacre footage – should it be shown

April 20, 2007

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.