Thursday, April 19, 2007

Should NBC have aired the video they received from the Virginia Tech killer?

Who's asking: Everyone, especially the Virginia Tech community

No. Not yesterday, not this week, and maybe not at all.

Psychologists and sociologists can debate the existence of a "Werther effect," a theory based on the observation that the suicide rate spikes after a highly-publicized suicide.

But it's just common sense that this young man -- I am not giving him his name, for reasons that will be clear -- was unnoticed even by his suite-mates last week. A couple of his suite-mates weren't even sure he spoke English fluently, he was so quiet and so consumed with his inner world. This week, everyone knows his name and his rage, and almost everyone has now seen him as he wanted to be seen.

The message here is obvious. By killing 32 people, this young man gave himself a world-wide platform. He is finally getting the attention he wanted. We want to understand him, when we ignored him before.

What's hard about the decision to say NO to this? He doesn't deserve our attention or our understanding or our sympathy. News reports now suggest that many people made efforts to help him while he was alive, many people offered him understanding. He lost his right to that when he drew the first gun.

Let's forget his name. Let's stop talking about him, and let's continue to refer to him as a creepy loser.

Let the news media instead spend the next month profiling each of the victims of the massacre, who will never have the opportunity to make one last speech to the public.

The other thing that airing this young man's video has done is turn the media themselves into the story. It's too late to roll back this tide, but it's time for someone to say this again: the reporters are not the story. The TV producer's decision is not the story. They should have sealed up the package, handed it off to the police, and let the police decide whether and how to publicize any of it.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Bravo, well said.

Jennifer Jordan said...

I agree. They're giving that twisted young man just what he longed for and killed to get: attention.

Anonymous said...

I add my agreement and appreciation for what you wrote. The video of the shooter, while good TV, is not good news reporting. Everyone at NBC should be ashamed.


steve said...

I absolutely agree. And I feel for the heartbroken families who can't turn on the television without hearing his droning nonsense.

However...I think there is a scrap of unintended good that can come from the publicity they've given him. I am certain that without the visual evidence, many people would have would have filled in the blanks with sympathetic or even romantic notions about him and his motives. As it is, there can be no doubt that he was, in fact, nothing more than a "creepy loser". Good riddance.


Anna said...

Well said, Elle.

JIM LAMB said...

I delivered my vote on the mass media a few months ago when I cancelled the cable TV. I can get the content I want from the internet and if I want to watch a game I can always go to the Sports Bar.

What I find hard to believe is that so many people are missing the situation that permitted this to happen. The total loss of control of the student body by the administration. The co-ed dorms, toleration of aberant behavior, drugs, alcohol and sexual harrassment is something that is new in the last twenty years.

He had already been guilty of conduct that would have gotten him expelled and banned from campus in the day.

Disruption of classes, stalking, failure to submit work would have gotten him expelled after the second incident anyway.

Just be careful kids! It's a jungle out there.

Love, Dad

Anonymous said...

Well said!
Now we can enjoy "?" the misguided copycats. Bartrum Trail HS is a mile down the road. An upper middle class school with poor unhappy children -four of them anyway- want to outdo with 100 children!

John Schramm said...


My sentiments exactly! It troubles me deeply when I see more and more examples of how fame and notoriety are no different in today's society.