NBC Broadcasts Gunman's Video, Writings

Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik about NBC's decision to show on-air video and writings by Virginia Tech gunman Heung-sui Cho.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

More now on the debate over whether it was proper to air those videos. Here last night is NBC anchor Brian Williams unveiling the videos.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Mr. BRIAN WILLIAMS (News Anchor, NBC News): Tonight, NBC News has received a multimedia manifesto from the gunman at Virginia Tech, including his last recorded words.

Mr. SEUNG-HUI CHO (Virginia Tech Gunman): I didn't have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run.

BRAND: This morning, police involved in the investigation of the Virginia Tech shootings were disappointed by the network's decision. They said that it contributed little to their efforts to uncover the truth. Here with us now is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Hey, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, it seems that even the people at NBC were ambivalent about airing it, and let's listen to a little bit more of Brian Williams. This is him after his nightly news broadcast on Hardball.

Mr. WILLIAMS: This was a sick business tonight. I admit, going on the air with the stuff, we felt compelled as journalists. But I'll tell you, we showed restraint because all of us are also humans, parents and spouses.

BRAND: He says they showed restraint. Was NBC right in airing that tape?

FOLKENFLIK: Well that's going to be something that a lot of journalists are going to really weigh and consider both in the immediacy of this moment. And in looking back on this in the weeks and months to come, you know. NBC News president Steve Capus on also on MSNBC said look, this is as close as we will ever come to being inside the mind of a killer. And he said that he felt that really needed to be released.

When you think about it - and this is, sort of, going with Brian Williams said - you know, their argument is they're journalists. Their information is to acquire and convey information to the public. And, you know, to be sitting on information about the insights into the mind of the person responsible for the death of 32 others and not to share that with the public would, in some ways, be taken very amiss by, I think, their viewers.

People would - I think they argue - clamor and say why haven't they released it(ph)? In the story we just heard, there's a gentleman who said, you know, why is NBC only showing us limited excerpts? Why have they not shared all of the material in the manifesto?

BRAND: Right, right. Others, though, decrying it, saying showing it over and over and over again has crossed the line into voyeurism.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and - it's very, very unsettling material. I remember being quite struck yesterday when watching it myself yesterday evening and seeing, for example, the picture of Cho literally pointing a gun, the hollow barrel of a gun, into the center of the camera. It looked like he was, you know, shooting at every single one of us, which, of course, was his aim.

BRAND: And there are some who argue well, look, you're giving this guy a forum from beyond the grave and glorifying him.

FOLKENFLIK: There's no question you're giving him access to, you know, one of the biggest mass audiences that American media outlet can provide. NBC News, the top news outlet in the country for broadcast, is doing that. Question of glorification, it can be taken that way. If you think about Cho himself, he invoked a number of other killers, for example those at Littleton.

BRAND: Right, and some people worrying that this could inspire others now in copycat killings.

FOLKENFLIK: It's very much a concern, and you saw some of that this morning -family members pulling out of interviews that have been scheduled with "Today Show" on NBC, citing this very broadcast as the reason why.

BRAND: All right. NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik, thank you very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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