CBS ombuds-blogger Brian Montopoli advises "Taking a Step Back In the Cho Debate" in an April 23 post, as he takes issue with conservatives like Hugh Hewitt who objected to NBC News (and other media outlets) airing the videotaped "manifesto" of the Virginia Tech mass murderer. Montopoli concludes on this note:
If, as a culture, we want to suppress the Cho manifesto, than we have to ask ourselves what else we are willing to suppress. After all, the Cho materials at least had some value beyond entertainment; it's harder to say the same for cultural products like "Grand Theft Auto" or "300." It seems to me that anyone criticizing NBC News for releasing the materials – and CBS News and its counterparts for airing them – should be thinking long and hard about how far down that path they are willing to go.
The analogy is fundamentally flawed, of course. "300" and "Grand Theft Auto" are fictional entertainment products that are designed and marketed to specific audiences. Some conservatives argue that violent movies and/or video games should be discouraged by the marketplace and marketed only narrowly to mature audiences, but the notion that conservatives do or logically must favor "suppression" of fictional violence is ludicrous.
What's more, there was nothing graphically violent in Cho's tapes per se. The objection to airing Cho's rantings is centered on the responsibility a news organization has to not encourage copycats of real-life violence. Journalists can, should, and every day do exercise editorial restraint in sensitive stories.
There's no reason other arrangements could not have been made at NBC News, such as relegating the video to the MSNBC Web site or transcribing the video and reading select portions of it on air while depriving Cho the chance to speak from the grave to a grieving nation.