Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE CHO VIDEOS REVISITED....Early Friday morning I defended NBC's decision to air the now infamous Cho videos. A short 12 hours later I complained that it was "well past time to dial down the Virgina Tech coverage." Over at Shakesville, Waveflux wants to know if I can reconcile these two views.

You betcha! Here's the thing: I'm not making any special argument about how NBC should have presented the Cho images. (In fact, I didn't even see the NBC newscast.) We have more options today than we did ten years ago, and I'm pretty open to the idea that NBC should have merely explained the tapes, maybe showed the images briefly, and then told their viewers that the full package was on their website for anyone who wanted to see the whole thing. No exploitation, but full disclosure.

Because it's the disclosure that's important. I may not like the fact that this story has become such a media circus, but it has — and news organizations simply shouldn't be in the business of withholding information about important stories just because they think certain people might be disturbed by it. After all, this wasn't a routine news judgment about whether a particular story was worth covering, or whether a couple of sentences should or shouldn't be added to an existing story. It was obviously blockbuster stuff, and one or two guys sitting in New York shouldn't decide for the rest of us whether we even get to see it. That's a slope I really don't want to see the media sliding down. After all, next time they might decide to withhold something you want to see.

But was it just violence porn? To Cho it probably was, but the fact is that the rest of us really did learn something from it. First, we learned — really learned — just how disturbed Cho really was. No words could possibly have the same impact as seeing it, and that makes a difference when we're asking questions like whether Cho should have been allowed to buy a gun or whether the university should have been more proactive in getting him help. Second, we learned that he apparently wasn't motivated by any particular event or belief. He wasn't doing it for Allah, as not a few people have speculated, and he wasn't doing it because of distress over global warming. He wasn't mad at George Bush or Nancy Pelosi, and he didn't do it because he thought the Columbine kids were really cool. That stuff is all worth knowing, and we'd never know it for sure if the NBC guys just assured us there was nothing there but wouldn't allow us to see it for ourselves. Again: even if this isn't something you happen to be interested in, keep in mind that next time they might be withholding something gruesome you do want to see — like, say, Abu Ghraib photographs. Wouldn't you prefer to decide that for yourself?

Moving on: does releasing stuff like this encourage copycat behanvior? People are forever making hoary claims about this, but I've seen little evidence on this score and I'm skeptical anyway on the general grounds that people are almost always suspiciously partisan in their beliefs about the power of media to influence behavior. Liberals think violence is bad but don't care about porn; conservatives think porn is bad but don't care about violence. By immense coincidence, both sides are convinced that the stuff they care about influences society (badly, natch) but the stuff other people care about doesn't. In this case, people who don't think the videos should have been released have suddenly decided that maybe it inspires copycats. Well, maybe it does, but before I buy in to this I think I'd like to see some serious supporting evidence rather than just urban legendish speculations. Cho certainly doesn't seem to have been copying anyone, for example. (Though we only know that because we've seen his video rants.....)

So that's that: Yes, the videos should have been released because they have legitimate news value, but no, that doesn't mean they have to be splashed on every newscast and front page coast to coast. That's where news judgment comes into play.

Now then: how about the Alec Baldwin tape? Should news organizations have given that the time of day? Or held it back?

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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Comments

making a buck is all we are about...

well that,

and selling soap and viagra..and...

Posted by: mainstream media on April 21, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

kd: .."copycats"..


you mean spin offs...

Posted by: cable t-v exec. on April 21, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Of course the faithful media is never going to hold anything back anymore.

Perhaps even 10 years ago, the Cho and Baldwin tapes would have stayed behind closed doors, but now, never.

The saddest thing about the Baldwin tape is who released it. Never having gone through a hostile divorce, it's easy for me to say never, but still, it seems pretty clearly an emotionally violent act to make this public. Imagine being the daughter, knowing that everyone on the planet has heard Dad's rant.

Posted by: SteveAudio on April 21, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Long time Albany NY newsman, now retired, Ed Dague had some good commentary on the NBC decision. I excerpt from his post at:

http://blogs.timesunion.com/eddague/?p=113

To quote: "This is about NBC’s decision to run some of the material sent to the network by Cho Seung-Hui. It is also about situational ethics and a question I have long believed journalists should never ask; what happens if we run the story?

It appears NBC news executives had a difficult time deciding whether to air any of Cho’s material. Their problem, in my view, is that they asked themselves my forbidden question and got hung up on the situation presented. It is far better to have an established ethical standard in place rather than get tied up in the peculiar circumstances of the situation.

Two questions, I have long believed, settle any such journalistic issue.

1. Is it news?

2. Is our report accurate?

The problem with allowing “What happens if ” questions is that they ask for a prediction of the future. No one can predict the future with accuracy. Even the most rational predictions are frequently wrong. It is always unsound to make decisions about journalism based on anybody’s prediction. History presents a powerful example."

Go see the rest of it, and the other posts Dague has. He has a keen appreciation of how media works after doing it for years himself.

Posted by: xaxnar on April 21, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

"First, we learned — really learned — just how disturbed Cho really was. No words could possibly have the same impact as seeing it, and that makes a difference when we're asking whether Cho should have been allowed to buy a gun or whether the university should have been more proactive in getting him help. Second, we learned that he apparently wasn't motivated by any particular event or belief...."

I'm not sure how you can assert #2 after listing #1. Youre putting faith in what he says as if he was a completely rational human being. It is impossible to ascertain any motivations from what apppears to be a deeply mentally disturbed person.

i.e. it is like trying to determine the motivations behind your favorite wingnut's writing when you already know they are totally divorced from reality and just plain nuts.

Posted by: zAmboni on April 21, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

"We have more options today than we did ten years ago, and I'm pretty open to the idea that NBC should have merely explained the tapes, maybe showed the images briefly, and then told their viewers that the full package was on their website for anyone who wanted to see the whole thing. No exploitation, but full disclosure."

What is the percent of penetration of internet access into the American homes these days? That is to say, how many families wouldn't be getting Kevin's full disclosure?

I'm not saying he's right or wrong, just pointing out a bit of poor folk marginalization.

Posted by: Robert Earle on April 21, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

First off, Seung Cho DID think the Columbine Kids were cool and he said so. He referenced them specifically. This is Columbine 2.0, really...better technology

And how could news organizations not 'splash' the largest shooting murder in US history? It's news.
So what is the argument here - against 'detail' or specificity?

There are hundreds of crimes reported in detail every week. Rapes and kidnapping and murders. They are books and magazines and TV shows related to them. They appeal to people who have no interest in committing those crimes, either.

The solution to crime - or any specific crime, for that matter - isn't a lack of detail in the media.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan on April 21, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

If public release of such a tape could protect the girl from a verbally and emotionally abusive dad, it might be worth the cost to the child. (A counterargument is that the courts, not the media, are charged with protecting the child.) Baldwin is about to release a book about his child custody experience. This could be considered a preemptive blow.

Baldwin, through his lawyers, has assumed the leaker is Kim Basinger or an attorney or agent of Ms. Basinger's (since it couldn't be him). He fails to consider that it might have been Ireland herself. (I'm not saying it is, but it's a possibility.)

Posted by: womanhattan on April 21, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

NBC could have shown a few images and let it go. The public has no need to see this. Criminologist do, psychiatric professionals, the police, but the public nah. As for Alec Baldwin, its clearly a malicious act by an ex. So Alec Baldwin is a short tempered jerk. He can be verbally abusive. I think we already knew this. He needs parenting and mom needs parenting for exposing her daughter to public humiliation and pity.

Posted by: aline on April 21, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

About the Alec Baldwin tape. That's a case of being hoisted on his own petard...

He's used the media for years talking about his divorce and his custody problems. He's been on radio, TV, in print, everywhere. He was even saying he was going to write a book. He invited the media circus to his divorce...

Posted by: Lee Stranahan on April 21, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Two questions, I have long believed, settle any such journalistic issue.

1. Is it news?

2. Is our report accurate?

Are you sure you didn't plagiarize that from the Drudge Report Mission Statement?


(I can't believe I have to do this in these parts, but [endsnark].)

Posted by: ThresherK on April 21, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what I wrote in another thread about the copycat issue:

It pisses me off to no end when people like Kevin, who make a living based on the premise that people's behavior is influenced by what they see (aka advertisements), unashamedly make the opposite argument when it comes to offering non-ad content, the sole purpose of which is to maximize the eyeballs viewing the revenue generating content ad content.

Kevin says above that there is little evidence. I say that the money in his pocket is evidence enough.

Cut the BS. This stuff does influence people. Contrary the what Kevin writes above, Cho did reference the Columbine kids. As some future nut will reference Cho.

I'm not arguing that the vids should be censored. But it is ridiculous (as well as self-serving) to suggest that there is no effect on behavior.

Posted by: Disputo on April 21, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and not to belabor the obvious, but isn't the rash of bomb threats at schools across the country evidence enough of copycat behavior?

Posted by: Disputo on April 21, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Yours is the best defense of NBC I have seen yet, but I am still not buying it. Should the information be available to researchers, police and anyone willing to put in a little bit of work to get at it, sure, but that isn't the same is a cold hard ratings driven media frenzy and NBC knows the difference. They wouldn't have shown it if it was NBC staff who had been killed, they shouldn't have shown it when it was somebody else's loved ones.

Posted by: Brett on April 21, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I want to throw on the table one other image that must be mentioned on the subject of preemptive decisionmaking, newsworthiness, and "unilaterally decid[ing] that we're not grownup enough to see this stuff":

The flag-draped coffins coming back from Iraq.

Remember how long it took for any of them to get in the paper?

Posted by: ThresherK on April 21, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

The news coverage of the Alec Baldwin matter is a national humiliation. It was sandwiched among the top stories on the Today Show in between the latest on the VA Tech shooting and the Gonzalez testimony. What sort of news judgment could possibly justify this? The Baldwin tape was a private phone call, and it is nothing but celebrity gossip.

It's hardly new for the media to insult the collective intelligence of the entire United States. But the news treatment of the Baldwin tape is surely a new low.

Posted by: Frances on April 21, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I was one of those who sent a complaint to NBC/MSNBC. Specifically, I sent it to Olbermann's Countdown program, as that was the program on which I saw the tapes.

However -- and this is in response to what I thought was somewhat of a straw-man-ish argument from Atrios and passed on in this blog -- I was not complaining about the tapes having been shown. I agree that I would not want to see things like this being unilaterally hidden from our view by the press. My disappointment was that nearly the entire hour of Countdown, all but less than 5 minutes, had devolved into a "looky here we got the exclusive!" brag-a-thon. I believe the package received by NBC was a legitimate news item and that important insights were gained from viewing some excerpts from it, so I would not have been upset had it been treated like and given the same amount of time as a typical Countdown segment, but it went on and on and on and on. Also, all the talk about the deliberating done by the NBC honchos concerning whether or not to show it or not all seemed like pretentious, melodramatic hand-wringing for good show business, in light of the final decision to spend all but the entire program on the topic. Likewise, the hopeful claims that showing the video would provide clues to help solve or prevent future horrors like this were, well, just stupid. You don't get rational clues from trying to interpret the irrational ranting of a nut-case, and that was exactly what nearly each and every expert guest seemed to be trying to convey to NBC in their segments. Also, nearly every one of them practically pleaded with Olbermann to cut it out already. We certainly learned some important insights about Cho's mental condition, but it was far from being the psychiatric public service that NBC seemed to be pretending they were providing.

And yes, as I admitted in my comments to NBC, we watched the entire program and are aware that that will cause us to be swept up into some huge demographic of folks who just can't get enough of this junk. But we watched in hopes that sooner or later the program would cover some other news as well. Finally, near the end of the program, they managed to squeeze in about 2 minutes on the victims and their families, but then went right back to the tapes, and also reminded us that if we hadn't yet had our fill, we could tune into The Today Show the next morning to see it all again.

So, in my humble opinion, like many things, it was not a simple matter of whether or not to show the contents or not, but a judgement call on a matter of degree, and in that regard I thought NBC/MSNBC blew it, entirely.

Posted by: bryrock on April 21, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Then there's the question of whether intense media coverage gives Cho exactly what he was after, and offers the promise of g(l)ory to Cho II...

Posted by: intelligent design on April 21, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

intelligent design said:

Then there's the question of whether intense media coverage gives Cho exactly what he was after, and offers the promise of g(l)ory to Cho II...

Thank you. This was exactly my thought.

Posted by: shnooky on April 21, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Although I didn't see it, Frances beat me to thge punch. Does Alec Baldwin's tape even rise to celeb show trash. So his daughter or ex manipulated media to humiliate him. I dob't know how much of an ass he is, or how his daughter and ex are. I suspect there's plenty to go around.

I haven't watched the Cho tape or watched beheadings by choice. My imagination is quite graphic enough.

Should media print and broadcast all this stuff. Sure!

Beat it 'til it's dead? Personally I tune out all those things they repeat over and over, and infill with uninformed, no present-facts-available experts they get in.

"We'll update you when new facts are available of we have something cogent to say" would work fine for me.

Thresherk, exactly! And how about some coverage of the destruction visited on innocents in Iraq and Lebanon. We're not strong enough for that either.

Media just is not doing a very good job at anything these days because they're not there to actually bring us news and to inform, or to investigate honestly.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well said, Kevin. I agree with you totally on this.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on April 21, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Well, released, yes, but cnn ran these photos on a loop on the right side of the screen for hours.

It was just abusive. It was giving this nitwit exactly the exposure he wanted.

In an environment of mainstream torture pornography can you say this will have a deterrant effect?

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Up until now, I had been able to claim with pride that none of the blogs I read had even mentioned the Baldwin tape. I'm breaking my own standards by even acknowledging the issue enough to say it's none of our damn business what's said between family members, even when they're public figures. The less attention this receives, the better.

Anyone who hasn't said regrettable things to family members, things that would embarrass the hell out of them if they were made public, doesn't have a family.

Posted by: Charley on April 21, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

mainstream: "making a buck is all we're about."

do you get paid at work, or do you donate your services to your employer? do you care about how you do your job or just the size of your pay check? and further more, how many news meetings have you sat in on? please tell me, since you seem to have special insight into the minds of editors.

so nbc's airing of the video is exactly what cho wanted? maybe. does that change anything? it's not like he's going to do it again. does it encourage others? perhaps, but i doubt it. cho didn't exactly need any video inspiration to do what he did. the video does make it clear that cho was one sick dude, not motivated by anything other than his delusions, which is important to know. and it also opens up debate about what to do to prevent something like this from happening again.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on April 21, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that he did what he did was ample evidence that he was disturbed. The videos kind of underscore it, but was it a point that needed underscoring in the first place? I have no problem with NBC airing the tapes, as I'm something of a free speech zealot, but they did it, I'm quite certain -- regardless of their pious claims to the contrary -- because they wanted a ratings winner out of it. And they expected a ratings winner out of it because they -- like everyone else except Kevin, it seems -- know how fascinated with stories like these the public is, know that stories like these won't die until people are thoroughly sick of them.

Posted by: Martin Gale on April 21, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Most people are more interested in people than in more impersonal events that may be far more important. That's human nature. News television is trash because its low intellectual bandwidth is forced to cater to that lowest common human denominator. Newspapers have enough bandwidth to do a little of each. The NYT can have both MoDo and Paul Krugman writing columns.

Alec Baldwin had a "parents behaving badly" moment which became extremely public because he was dumb and unlucky enough to do it in a way that could become extremely public. Essentially all parents have such moments - and so enjoy seeing some rich, famous, and famously sanctimoniously look worse than them.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 21, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I stopped watching the MSM a few months ago, for the same reason i stopped brushing my teeth with powdered sugar.

Maybe self-control is the elegant solution.

Posted by: absent observer on April 21, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

No, the Alec Baldwin tape should not have been released. This is really an invasion of privacy. And it sounds just like a mad Dad. Verbally abusive my ass. "Abusive" is a word that is way overused. Sounds like he had to jump through hoops to get a specific time to call her -- a telephone date -- and that she repeatedly stood him up on these. Or not. Who knows. But it's not news and it IS voyeuristic to release it.

The Cho tapes are fascinating. Like not being able to turn away from a terrible car accident. A view into the head of a madman. But showing them does increase the risk of copycats, I think, so I am really torn on that question.

Posted by: Cal Gal on April 21, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

This whole Cho thing is more than some madman run amok. It gives us an insight into some of the failings of the community and our society as a whole.

In some ways he was failed, but at the same time we failed in protecting ourselves and each other by marginalizing a member of our society and not paying attention or having reasonable safeguards.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

bomb bomb bomb...
bomb bomb Iran.......

Kill the fuckers!!!

Kill!!!!!

Posted by: Troll named Cho or a Repug for President? on April 21, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

So...

Why did YouTube take down the McCain tape?

Posted by: anon on April 21, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Answer:

Because McCain is a Psycho.

Posted by: anon on April 21, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

First, the question is, does showing the video make someone *more* likely to commit a copycat act. After all, Cho didn't need to see a Columbine manifesto to be "inspired" to do something similar. The act itself is the inspiration. Unless you want the news to not report any mass shootings at all. I doubt showing the video makes it more likely


Then there's the question of whether intense media coverage gives Cho exactly what he was after

I've heard this argument, but it's really a ridiculous point. Someone who seeks infamy through a heinous act will get it, by definition. You can make a similar argument by asking why do we remember 9/11? Isn't that what the terrorists wanted? We're remembering a day of the terrorists choosing. They picked the day that we remember. Why do we remember December 7th, 1941, instead of VJ day? But after the event has occured, it's natural to go back and to memorialize what happened, or for the public to ask more questions. If there is an ongoing crime, for instance, a hostage situation where the criminals are trying to get the media to print their manifesto, I would agree that the media should't accede to those demands, but after the crime has happened, it's a childish argument to say we shouldn't show the video "because that's what he wanted." It was a heinous crime - if you don't want to know about the rationale, that's fine, but you have no right to deny that to others.

aline writes:

The public has no need to see this.

So you decide what I can or can't see? Sorry, you're wrong.

Posted by: Andy on April 21, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Of course tapes like this influence people, the question is how. Does it in fact, make them more likely to go off the deep end and murder 33 student? Do you have evidence to support that claim? Do you have evidence to the contrary?

I think it's a mistake to think that all people will be influenced in the same way, even, or will have the same reaction.

When you watch it, what's your reaction? Are you repulsed, or attracted?

Posted by: Doctor Jay on April 21, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Liberals think violence is bad but don't care about porn; conservatives think porn is bad but don't care about violence. By immense coincidence, both sides are convinced that the stuff they care about influences society (badly, natch) but the stuff other people care about doesn't.

I disagree, Kevin. The liberal/conservative difference on this issue is not that liberals think media violence leads to violence and media porn doesn't lead to real sex, and vice versa with conservatives.

It's that liberals view any real violence caused by media violence as wrong, but feel that if porn leads people to have sex, then that's fine. While conservatives don't seem to mind living in a violent world, but they want people to be virgins until they marry, and avoid gay sex and other forms of sex they regard as perverted.

Posted by: RT on April 21, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

...it's a childish argument to say we shouldn't show the video "because that's what he wanted." It was a heinous crime - if you don't want to know about the rationale, that's fine, but you have no right to deny that to others.

We watch the video in order to "know about the rationale" of murdering 32 people?

The fucking rationale?

Posted by: pms on April 21, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

It's that liberals view any real violence caused by media violence as wrong, but feel that if porn leads people to have sex, then that's fine.

Well, no foolin'! As long as the sex is consensual, why shouldn't it be fine? But who ever heard of consensual violence?

Posted by: thersites on April 21, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

thersites, that would come at the extreme end of the SM crowd, I think.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

pms -

Amazingly enough, even psycho killers are usually acting on some rationale. That's true even if their names are Wolfowitz, Bush, or Mohammed the suicide bomber.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 21, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

You think that the vaste majority of "sane" people viewing this video will draw conclusions that lead to different behavior from themselves or supporting actions that might avoid similar events in the future.

The world sleeps.

Posted by: nothere on April 21, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Boxing. Wrestling. Rugby. I'll stop now.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan on April 21, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

pms writes:

The fucking rationale?

Yes. It may be a senseless rationale, and maybe I didn't phrase it exactly right, but you knew what I meant. The way you ignored the thrust of my argument and the profane way you picked a sentence that I didn't phrase exactly right shows your immaturity.

Posted by: Andy on April 21, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Certainly events stimulate mimicry, but it is questionable whether broadcasting news about those events causes more of it. Columbine did happen, whether it was discussed endlessly in mass media or not, the event was going to be a reference for other discontents. The Cho event will also be referenced by other discontents. Much of behavior is derived from mimesis, blaming the media for causing it is scapegoating. The only way to prevent mimicry of such horrible events would be to suppress all news of them. Even that would be difficult to do and would give rise to a verbal culture of rumor that would probably be much worse than the wall to wall coverage of events we have now as far as motivating others to imitate them. Rumor is not subject to open discussion and fact finding. If the Columbine or VT events had been kept from the public, I think the rumors about what happened would far exceed the horror that did happen and have an even greater affect on the susceptible mind.

Posted by: Brojo on April 21, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Lee Stranahan, if you're going to include any sport with any hurt in it, then there's not one with physical contact you can leave out.

It's kind of hard to leave out pro ice-hockey with enforcers and gloves-off punch-ups. And if you're going to include Rugby you'b better include US Football; it's about 25 times more damaging, the vaste majority of it from physical contact. Believe it or believe it not.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

I know those interested in this crime due to nationality wanted to see everything about it, including the Cho videos. We cannot understand what happened based on just the information this boy was killer crazy. The media coverage is the only thing available to those trying to understand the circumstances that led to this outrage and helps some who have guilt by association, cope with it.

Posted by: Lee on April 21, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

...it's a childish argument to say we shouldn't show the video "because that's what he wanted."


Glad you enjoyed your vicarious thrill, but it is exactly what he wanted. He was able to continue his abuse from beyond the grave. He's immortalized.

The people responsible for 9/11 had an ideological agenda beyond that one act, as did the people who attacked Pearl Harbor. Cho had no intention or interest beyond his one act, except the hope of it's continuance through his press kit.

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

How more obvious can you get? Defending Alec Baldwin now? I suppose if he was a Reagan supporter you'd be all over it, huh?

And this kid who commited this travesty at Viginia Tech. Yes, his act was deplorable. But if you want to blame someone, don't blame the school. Blame the parents. I was reading an article this morning that said that the kid was quiet and obviously troubled as a youth, but he was doing ok in school so the parents turned the other cheek.

If your a parent, you've got to have the guts to seek psyche help for your kid if they need it.

These parents are failures. They are the scum of the earth. Unfortunately, the law is such that they'll get off scott free and possibly be free to breed more monstrosities.

Posted by: egbert on April 21, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps this was said above already, but Kevin did not address what seems the most important question: Will the airing of Cho's video manifestos on TV increase the attractiveness of murder and mayhem for similarly disturbed and self-obsessed future Chos? I think we just sent them all a message that a reliable way to fame (and in our society big fame still means TV) is to commit a shocking crime and send your fantasy videos and wild-eyed messages to NBC beforehand. Yes, he could have posted his videos online instead, but then we'd still get to choose whether they are broadcast on TV or not.

We could have found out how disturbed he was by sensible, unsensational verbal description of the content of his written and video messages. (As if the crime was not enough!)

Posted by: David Marshall on April 21, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

'The' Baldwin tape? WTF? Am I living in a cave?

I've got $20 that says the Cho image is in a vid game before the end of summer. Extra points for buying weapons even though you're crazy.

Posted by: bobbywally on April 21, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

'The' Baldwin tape? WTF? Am I living in a cave?

Amen to that. I hadn't heard about it until Kevin told me. With WaMo I no longer need to read the mags at the grocery checkout counter.

Posted by: Disputo on April 21, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I agree with you vis a vis the coverage and the tapes. It was overblown, but I think we get into very dangerous territory when we have news organizations hiding stuff from viewers for "the good of the people". It's too easily abused, and news organizations are just too untrustworthy for that kind of thing.

But I do think you overstate the case against the influence incidents like this have. Sure, the causes for these things are very complex, and there's very little objective data, so any theories on why these things happen are little more than speculation. But school shootings have risen over the last decade, and I think one element that should be considered is that these incidents definitely get more coverage than they used to (especially with the move toward sensationalism in the media and the advent of 24 hour cable news networks.) And while it's impossible to prove, I think it's not unreasonable to consider that this could be one of the factors driving the behavior.

Now, I think copycat is a misnomer. I doubt emulating other high profile shooters is, in itself, the reason behind most of these shootings. But the emotional narrative of these things, what attention they receive and how they play out and how people react to them, has become pretty firmly established in our society. I don't think anyone is shooting people just because they saw it on TV, and I don't think seeing the coverage is driving anyone crazy, but I do think that having this type of incident established in our culture gives disturbed people a clear roadmap of what to do with these disturbing feelings. In effect, they're playing a defined role in our society. And I think that's why each of these incidents have such similarity.

Again, I'll admit that's speculation on my part, because all we really have is speculation, but I don't think it's unreasonable speculation.

I doubt the videos themselves would be that crucial to influencing people -- there's been plenty of coverage all week to solidify the narrative of a school shooting. But I do think coverage has an influence.

I don't think coverage should be altered specifically to reduce the influence on disturbed people, and I certainly don't think information should be withheld. But I also don't think it's especially reasonable to believe these things happen in isolation either.

Posted by: Royko on April 21, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

...He's immortalized....

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Immortalized might be a little strong. So far from the last century are Charles Manson, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Dillinger, Capone, and endless list.

Perhaps it's more important for us to draw lessons from this/these memory/ies because surely, at this point, Cho doesn't know if it was shown or not. The refernece to him is aimless.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Boxing. Wrestling. Rugby. I'll stop now.

Well, if we're going to play that game, I'll be more explicit.

If watching a video of two people fucking leads to more fucking, and it's not rape, no problem. If watching a video of someone shooting people leads to be more shooting, there's a problem. That was my point.

Posted by: thersites on April 21, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, "they" are still withholding most of the Abu Ghraib material despite three court decisions that decided for release.

Isn't contempt of court a misdemeanor, at least??

Posted by: Scorpio on April 21, 2007 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

How about contempt for the whole nation?

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

One thing this particular blog demonstrates is that most folks don't have a factual basis to reply to Kevin's Drum's statement -- but they reply anyway, willing in some instance to lace their inane replies with a f**k or two in order to lend it some good-ol'-boy, look-at-how-special-I-am-and-you-re-not authority.

Proves the point: People want to feel special; it's what drives life, especially when actually BEING special is just too arduous to achieve.

(Exempt from this little critique, of course, are the many who regularly blog here as a condition of their employment).

Posted by: TruthTeller on April 21, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I should more clearly have put it that, in broadcasting his press kit, and broadcasting it in such an insistent way as to leave a general public impact, was to give Cho exactly the memorial he thought should be his, and that, from his point of view, was a realistic and true achievement, immortality. He's forever 'that guy'.

Is this a deterrent? Does it help us? None of his victims will ever be known, he has obscured them forever, and cnn and nbc helped him in broadcasting and re-broadcasting on a loop for hours his gibberish.

I don't think I'd have needed to see this to have recognized him as a dangerous nut if I'd met him, he cleared 63 people out of class at one go, after all.

Freedom ends at the point where it causes injury to another, and I think this is what the manner of this broadcast achieved, willful and inconsiderate damage to the public interest and respect due to the dead and their survivors.

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo. Do you ever read your own posts? Seriously. I have never read such utter nonsense presented in a more affected writing style.

Posted by: Steve on April 21, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "Now then: how about the Alec Baldwin tape? Should news organizations have given that the time of day? Or held it back?"

That particular tape should never have been aired. Its entire context clearly shows that this was a very personal disagreement between two family members, the likes of which are no different from what happens in countless homes across the world.

Alec Baldwin's volatile relationship with his ex-wife is well-known, thanks in no small part to his own actions and the public's prurient interest in such trivial matters. So fucking what? That otherwise useless piece of Hollywood gossip is not relevant to the issue at hand.

That someone is a "celebrity" -- regardless of whether or not his or her publicly designated status as such was attained by prior plan or conferred through mere circumstance -- should never be offered or accepted as a rationale for the unwarranted intrusion by government, media, businesses, organizations or other individuals into that person's private affairs.

I daresay none of us here would ever willingly suffer for even one nanosecond such an obscene level of unwelcome scrutiny of our personal communications -- excepting, of course, Kevin's resident constitutional surrender monkeys, Al and egbert, et al.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 21, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

I call bullshit on this one.

We really learned that Cho was a wacko when he blew away 32 bystanders and then himself. We didn't need to see any tapes to get the idea.

Posted by: mac on April 21, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

...Freedom ends at the point where it causes injury to another....

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

You can't honestly believe or substantiate this, can you, as media having to self-censure?

Isn't that why we have laws and courts?

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops. self-censure = self-censor

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

You can't honestly believe or substantiate this, can you, as media having to self-censure?

Why? Don't you censor yourself all the time, just in the natural course of conversation?

What if these photos and videos had documented Cho taking massive craps on the floor and rolling around in it, would they have shown that?

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

mudwall jackson: how many news meetings have you sat in on?

enough...

and when your budget depends less on the quality of work than the ratings...

you do what you have to do..

and if you wont...

trust me..someone will step up to take your place...

CapitalistImperialistPig: News television is trash because its low intellectual bandwidth is forced to cater to that lowest common human denominator.

the good news? the target isnt that hard to hit..

if you are on cable..

broadcast days are numbered...


andy: Someone who seeks infamy through a heinous act will get it, by definition. You can make a similar argument by asking why do we remember 9/11? Isn't that what the terrorists wanted?

exactly...

and when we play the images over and over in seemingly endless loops...

why shouldn't we cash in on it..

remember we are the 4th ESTATE...

anyway..

who wants to see for example the boring gonzales hearing where the nation's top law enforcement officer says "I don't recall" more than 60-times...

relax....you'll forget all this...

until the next shooting...

and by then....we'll have a new satellite truck...

so be sure to watch our continuous coverage....

coming up...the neighbor of the killer's family says...

Posted by: mainstream media on April 21, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

I believe you said "Freedom ends at the point where it causes injury to another". So don't go conflating viewing standards of broadcast television with your idea of what should not be shown. We have totally different standards of speech and viewing for airwaves at different times of day, and between broadcast and cable/satellite. Not sure why, but we do.

That has nothing to do with freedom to communicate stopping at risk of injury to another. Jesus. They wouldn't have broadcast the Abu G hearings.

And I wouldn't be able to call you a silly old fool for thinking such.

Posted by: notthere on April 21, 2007 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

I have studiously avoided reading anything ever about the vile fuck who shot Lennon.

His is famous to me only as vile fuck.

Posted by: desmond on April 21, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

notthere,

I don't know what you just said.

The entire point was the presentation, in a continuous loop for hours, continued and completed the intention of the murderer making the networks complicit in his action.

Posted by: cld on April 21, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Does releasing stuff like this lead to copycats? Probably.

Should we see it? Yes. It's a reflection back to us of how someone who is unbalanced process what our society gives them to work with. In this case, it was a gun and a camera and an attitude from movies and television and MTV rap videos that should send a message that all is not right in American media understanding of sudden impact.

Posted by: parrot on April 21, 2007 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't seen much of the video, but he seemed to intensely believe whatever he believed and in what he was doing. And since he was willing to die for that belief, he was not stoppable.

That is the horrible lesson he conveys about suicide missions everywhere. They are frightfully effective.

Posted by: slanted tom on April 21, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

The release of the Baldwin voice message was really uncalled for. There is no news value whatsoever - it's no more newsworthy than me overhearing someone at the local Walmart checkout. What's worse, once again, the news media allowed itself to be used in a personal legal dispute. I almost dropped my gallon of milk this morning when I saw that CNN had an online poll about whether Baldwin should lose custody of his daughter. Nice work. Murrow is rolling in his grave.

Posted by: Gary on April 21, 2007 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Donald of Hawaii:

"constitutional surrender monkeys"

Very nice coinage.

Light and vivacious with a honed edge that seems especially crafted for Limbaugh's double chin...

If it is an original, multiply your score by three and collect 200 dollars as you pass Go.

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on April 21, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Bomb bomb bomb
Bomb bomb Iran...

Posted by: Cho or McCain? on April 21, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

In the neo-conservative mind, a money shot is bad, but a M-16 shot is very good, even on rabbits.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on April 21, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

Bomb bomb bomb

Everyone condemns what Cho did. Not everyone condemns the idea of bombing Iran.

I heard on some news that some school districts had 80% of their students absent yesterday. These parents will take their children out of school to avoid being potential victims of gun violence, but they will not politically support anti-gun policies.

I said that to my softball teammates and they looked at me like I was crazy.

Posted by: Brojo on April 21, 2007 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

notthere: "Jesus. They wouldn't have broadcast the Abu G hearings."

Nor did the so-called mainstream media bother to broadcast live last Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee's public interview of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Afterward, their coverage of that seminal political event was such that one guest correspondent on the PBS show Washington Week later observed that the public was left with the distinct impression that the only congressional opinions that the media thought really mattered were those belonging to the Republicans.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 21, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes: but the fact is that the rest of us really did learn something from it. First, we learned, really learned, just how disturbed Cho really was.

This strikes me as the basic point: the Cho tapes conveyed valuable information, albeit violent and difficult information. NBC trusted viewers to view the material in this spirit.

Mass killings are news. Mass killings raise questions. News organizations are there to help provide some answers to these questions.

And another thing: most Americans know someone who has or is struggling with mental health issues as common as anxiety or as severe as treatment-resistant paranoid schizoprenia. I myself have a beloved older brother severely disabled with chronic schizophrenia. I (like many Americans) have life experience with mental illness. Was Cho having a psychotic break, I wondered, that sometimes attends early stages of schizophrenia?

The Cho tapes helped me answer that question (and others) to my own satisfaction. This is what news is for, it seems to me. It trusts sober, thoughtful people with life experience to see news for themselves and make judgments based on some facts.

FWIW, I regretted the incessant stream of images in the immediate wake of the release of the tapes. But, you know what? I watched a funny Billy Wilder movie instead. It was easy. I just changed the channel.

Posted by: paxr55 on April 21, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Pointed analogy there, fellas: McCain's 'bomb bomb bomb' comments and nutso Cho's vids. Now, if we could just put that together with AG AG's testimony in an aural extravanganza and play it on Broadway under the title...

The Lowest Common Nominator...

Posted by: parrot on April 21, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Baldwin, through his lawyers, has assumed the leaker is Kim Basinger or an attorney or agent of Ms. Basinger's (since it couldn't be him). He fails to consider that it might have been Ireland herself. (I'm not saying it is, but it's a possibility.)

While we don't know who the leaker is, we do know that Basinger heard the tape and petitioned the court for an emergency hearing, and that the child (according to Deborah Norville's report) had no problem with the tape being played in the media.

While some may mention the Baldwin and Cho tapes in the same breath (and try to weave it all into a great big 'liberal hypocrisy'-afghan), I'd like to know from those who object to the airing of the Cho and Baldwin tapes (different people, different reasons) if they would have objected had the Cho tapes been in the nature of the Baldwin tape -- A recording of Cho's father, talking to him as Baldwin talked to his daughter? Would you still think it was "just a mad dad," "just a parent behaving badly," "not verbally abusive," a private family matter that shouldn't have been aired in public?

Posted by: Maeven on April 21, 2007 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

Did their advertising rates go up the night they aired the Cho tape?

Want to bet they did?


Posted by: Monkey on April 21, 2007 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

thersites - I agree entirely. Sorry if I didn't make that more clear.

Posted by: RT on April 21, 2007 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

I said that to my softball teammates and they looked at me like I was crazy.

Posted by: Brojo on April 21, 2007 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

You are. And affected. But never mind that now. Thought you might want to know they are talking about you one thread up.

Posted by: Pat on April 21, 2007 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

While we don't know who the leaker is, we do know that Basinger heard the tape and petitioned the court for an emergency hearing, and that the child (according to Deborah Norville's report) had no problem with the tape being played in the media.

Like a 12 year old has the capacity to understand how making this tape public can alter her relationship with the public and with her peers.
She'll be the talk of the pre-teen set believe me.

Posted by: aline on April 21, 2007 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't need to see the Cho stuff, personally. It didn't confirm for me that he was crazy. I was satisfied with that analysis after he killed dozens of people randomly.

I think airing the video serves as a dog whistle that may inspire more violence. The images are just disturbing to us, but inspiring to a small few. Cho shows all the put upon, isolated loners in high school, the unstable ones with revenge fantasies, that this is the way you get attention and fear from those who used to persecute you. Cho used to be an anonymous ill person, now he is a star. 2007 will forever be remembered as the year of Cho, and you can rest assured one of those pictures of him with the guns will make it onto the cover collage of Time or Newsweek's "yearbook" editions this December. Jesus Christ, he sent this stuff straight to a major network. Could he have asked for a better result?

I know someone has probably said something similar to this above. Just my $.02.

Posted by: sweaty guy on April 21, 2007 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

And I feel terrible for the Bassinger-Baldwin girl, the child of two truly messed up people like that. It is really horrible. Anyway, how is that girl supposed to go out and earn without the real leads, the Glen Garry leads?

Posted by: sweaty guy on April 21, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

"...a gun and a camera and an attitude..."
Posted by: parrot on April 21, 2007 at 6:32 PM

Sounds like a spaghetti Western!

A Fistful of Dollars
For a Few Dollars More
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Sopranos hasn't touched on this genre yet that I can remember..

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 21, 2007 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

"First, we learned — really learned — just how disturbed Cho really was. No words could possibly have the same impact as seeing it, and that makes a difference when we're asking whether Cho should have been allowed to buy a gun or whether the university should have been more proactive in getting him help. Second, we learned that he apparently wasn't motivated by any particular event or belief...."

"No words could possibly have the same impact as seeing it, and that makes a difference when we're asking whether Cho should have been allowed to buy a gun or whether the university should have been more proactive in getting him help."

Kevin, what we saw and heard in the tapes was not what the gun store seller or even university people (with the possible exception of the English prof) saw or heard. I mean, had Cho gone into the gun store muttering about 'blood on your hands that will never wash away,' I think the salesperson might have had a second thought about selling him a gun. So I don't get what you're saying at all.

"Second, we learned that he apparently wasn't motivated by any particular event or belief...."

Are you sure? Has his 'manifesto' been published yet? (Quite possible that it has, I just haven't seen any talk about it). Did we see the complete set of videos? I had the suspicion while watching what they gave us that videos were being withheld having to do with specific motivation or blame. Just a vibe, that's all.

I'm in the camp that says keeping the ravings of a mentally ill person from public view is a matter of respecting a sick individual's privacy, even given these circumstances, and not withholding anything of 'news' value that couldn't have been described in text. Certainly the videos should have been made available to any of the families who wished for whatever reason to see them.

Posted by: nepeta on April 21, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Oops, a bit too many quotes above. Sorry.

Posted by: nepeta on April 21, 2007 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

I can't comment on the amount of coverage, but I think they should've aired the tapes, or at least portions of them.

I think it's helpful for everyone to see just how far gone Cho was.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on April 22, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

Imagine the outcry if, instead of NBC, Cho had uploaded his "exclusive" onto YouTube & it had run there first? The Old Media howls would have had it yanked faster than Funster McCain's deadlier exhortation to Bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran. By sending it to NBC Cho not only guaranteed primetime airing to a much wider audience, he also ensured his whiney "you-made-me"s gained the gravitas & coverage he so desperately wanted. For a self-pitying lunatic with nothing much to say, he sure knew who to contact to say it.

Being no fan of censorship what bothers me is not that NBC aired it. It's that their execs & Brian Williams histrionically wrung their hands about their "painful ethical dilemna" while simultaneously promoting & endlessly repeating his hate-speech in a way that rivalled Anna Nicole-Baby-Daddy-Scoop for sheer shameless sensationalism. That juxtaposition of pseudo soul searching with the breathless cable-esque coverage (NBC Exclusive!! Highlights!) seemed distinctly like having-it-both-ways hypocrisy.

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on April 22, 2007 at 6:32 AM | PERMALINK

monkey: Did their advertising rates go up the night they aired the Cho tape?


speaking of that reminds me...

remember when msnbc announced that it put imus on a 2-week suspension?

remember it wasn't going to start until the following monday...

4-days of cashing in before the penalty...

that's how we do things...

then the darn advertisers had to mess things up..

Posted by: mainstream media on April 22, 2007 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK


paxr55: I just changed the channel.

NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo

Posted by: mainstream media on April 22, 2007 at 6:52 AM | PERMALINK

My take is that seeing the images time and time again burn them into one's consciousness,
an unstable, disaffected individual can be moved by the images, thus the copycat behaviors.
The photo of Cho standing with two guns had a figurerine, Rambo feel to it, and that surely was transmitted.
Every channel to which you surfed seemed to have the Cho pictorials, endlessly. One saw them even as one switched channels. It is symptomatic of our media to misuse information, glomming on for viewership and ratings.
There needs to be a balance for getting out information without censorship yet avoiding overkill/sensationalism. Initially show the pictures, move to transcript, indeed--discuss the findings, but don't resort to endless exposure--it puts me to mind of the conditioning of Pavlov's dogs.

Posted by: consider wisely on April 22, 2007 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Full exclosure? During the original NBC broadcast, Williams did say there was much more to the package they felt they could not show due to its controversial and disturbing content.

Kevin questions whether it should be NBC's choice to make that call. But they didn't hide the fact that there was more. I felt they did show enough to determination Cho's mindset.

Showing other, more graphic or violent photos would likely have been considered exploitive (exploitative?).

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on April 22, 2007 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I just heard the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp contradict Kevin and say that there is plenty of evidence for copycat behavior from coverage of rampage shootings.

Posted by: Disputo on April 22, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The Alec Baldwin tape is not really news, in my opinion. It is nothing more than celebrity gossip, and does not belong on any media that considers itself a serious news source.

Should it have been air in other forums other than news? The truth is that I don't really care since celebrities seem to actively court public attention, and I would point out that Baldwin has brought this on himself- I have seen in him in numerous instances talk publicly about his divorce and the aftermath, and a lot of it is extremely unflattering to his ex-wife. It looks like she struck back.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on April 22, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

News flash: Alec Baldwin is an asshole.

File under "Sun continues to rise in the east."

Posted by: TCinLA on April 22, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

VA Tech students have told the media to go home.

I guess we can expect another post from Kevin bemoaning censorship....

Posted by: Disputo on April 22, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK


VA Tech students have told the media to go home.

we already are....

home..


would you like to be a guest on the today show?

matt is even cuter in person...you know..

Posted by: mainstream media on April 22, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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