Backlash Leads to Pullback on Cho Video
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 11:07 PM
NEW YORK -- With a backlash developing against the media for airing sickening pictures from Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui, Fox News Channel said Thursday it would stop and other networks said they would severely limit their use.
NBC News was the recipient Wednesday of Cho's package of rambling, hate-filled video and written messages, with several pictures of him posing with a gun. Contents began airing on "Nightly News," and its rivals quickly used them, too.
Family members of victims canceled plans to appear on NBC's "Today" show Thursday because they "were very upset" with the network for showing the pictures, "Today" host Meredith Vieira said.
Virginia State Police Col. Steve Flaherty _ who praised NBC Wednesday for coming to authorities first with the package _ said Thursday he was disappointed with what the network showed.
"I just hate that a lot of people not used to seeing that type of image had to see it," he said.
The Virginia Tech administrator who is dealing with the victims' families also said that he wished NBC News had kept the material under wraps.
"It would be much more preferable to indicate they'd received these things, here's a description of them, then they're turned over to the police," said Ed Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs. "Our students, our families, our whole Hokie community, I think we're still reeling from all this. And that was not good, to see that."
NBC said the material was aired because it helped to answer the question of why Cho killed 32 people and himself on the Virginia Tech campus Monday.
"The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers," NBC said in a statement. "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."
NBC and its MSNBC cable outlet will "severely limit" use of these pictures going forward, "Today" host Matt Lauer said, a restriction echoed by ABC News. At both CBS News and CNN, producers will need explicit approval from their bosses to use them going forward.
Fox News announced on the air late Thursday morning that it would no longer air Cho's material, saying "sometimes you change your mind."
These decisions, of course, came more than 12 hours after the pictures became available, after they already made their impact. The news cycle dictates they would be used less, anyway.
"It has value as breaking news," said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, "but then becomes practically pornographic as it is just repeated ad nauseam."
Jon Klein, president of CNN U.S., said the decision to air it was a tough call.
"As breaking news, it's pertinent to our understanding of why this was done," he said. "Then, once the public has seen the material and digested it, then it's fair to say, `How much should we be showing it?' I think it's to the credit of news organizations that they are dialing back."
NBC News said it had no indication why Cho chose it for his message. A Postal Service time stamp shows it was mailed at 9:01 a.m. Monday, during the two hours between his first shooting at a Virginia Tech dorm and his massacre at a classroom building.
NBC News is owned by General Electric Co. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc. Fox News Channel is owned by News Corp.