Cho Tapes: Does Sports TV Have Higher Standards Than TV News?

April 19th, 2007 11:57 AM
(Be sure and read the updates at the bottom of this story.)

Since NBC complied with the Virginia Tech killer's desires to have himself splashed all over national television, the question arises: Did NBC act unethically by promoting Cho Seung-hui's videos?

Jack M. makes a good, if somewhat profane, case in the affirmative:

These guys are idiots.

I can't believe they aired all this crap the shooter sent.

I can't believe they are giving his "manifesto" serious air time.

Lemme make an analogy here:

Ever watched a baseball game on say, WTBS or WGN, when some asshat jumps on the field?

What happens?

The producers of the game pull their cameras off the field. They focus on the broadcast booth. They focus on the dugouts. They focus on the bullpen.

They keep attention on everything but the idiot running around in the outfield, to deny him the attention he so obviously craves.


Game on, brother! They might as well be inviting the rest of the idiots in the stands to take a lap around the basepaths.

I'm inclined to mostly agree. If I were running NBC, I would have done some still shots and no videos.

I also can't help but wonder: How does whether or not NBC should promote Cho tapes relate to whether or not 9/11 videos showing airliners crashing into the World Trade Center? Is it hypocritical to be in favor of showing one and not the other?

Update 12:40. It could be that NBC Sports and NBC News are being consistent in refusing to show game-interrupting morons but broadcasting a killer.

What if it's all about the money?

Showing streakers and assorted morons probably does inspire others to do the same, which is bad for NBC Sports's bottom line. But showing the self-glorifying video of a killer gets NBC ratings which equal money.

That doesn't explain their decision not to show the 9/11 tapes, however.

Update 12:50. Some faultlines in the all-Cho-all-the-time television foundation. ABC News releasing the following statement to TVNewser:

We are planning to severely limit the use of the video. Obviously in the first news cycle there's some breaking news value to that video. But once that first news cycle has passed, the repetition of it is little more than pornography.

Going forward for us on the existing video you might see a still or you might see a brief clip of the video without the audio attached to it.

Obviously there is new video that somehow broke new ground on the story, we would have a discussion about that.

NBC, by the way does have a policy of "limiting" the videos' use. Not much more than fig leaf in my estimation:

We will limit the use of the video to 10 percent of our airtime -- translating to no more than 6 minutes per hour on MSNBC.

Update 12:59. Canadian broadcaster says NBC should not have aired the videos at all:

"I have long admired NBC News and I am sure my admiration of their journalists will endure," says CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman . "But I think their handling of these tapes was a mistake. As I watched them last night, sickened as I'm sure most viewers were, I imagined what kind of impact this broadcast would have on similarly deranged people. ... I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts."

L.A. Times TV reporter Matea Gold, meanwhile, provides a look into the process of how NBC got the tapes and dealt with them once they arrived.

Update 1:10. Fox News Channel says it will not use the videos.

Update 1:14. After a backlash from the public and competitors, NBC has released this statement:

The pain suffered by the Virginia Tech community and indeed the entire country is immeasurable.

Upon receiving the materials from Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed. We did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities, who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter. Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime.

Our Standards and Policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams handled the reporting. We believe it provides some answers to the critical question, "why did this man carry out these awful murders?" The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on websites and in newspapers. We have covered this story -- and our unique role in it--with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less.