The network media got a big bucket of cold water dumped on the boffo ratings extravaganza they’d hoped for when Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui’s “multimedia manifesto” broke on NBC news. Instead of a rapt public, with all eyes pinned to the TV to watch the face of a killer, all eyes turned away and fingers pointed back: How dare you?
How dare the networks air the photos, the video, the rambling essay of a narcissist in love with his own immortality in place of what everyone really wanted to see: the survivors, the victims, the heroes. NBC got the package just two days after the tragedy. It took two days because Cho had gotten the zip code wrong. Can you imagine how much that tiny little mistake would have bothered him if he’d known about it?
Other than it being just one day later than he’d hoped, Cho’s desire to become an instant celebrity, a somebody instead of a nobody, was carried out to the letter. No one knew him before, the “question mark kid,” but they sure did now. There is a special place in hell for people like him who seek to become famous by committing mass murder. The sad part was, we were all willing accomplices when we let him have his way with us two days later.
There it all was – a lame explanation, carefully choreographed action shots of Cho holding the same gun that killed someone’s daughter, son, teacher, friend, sister, brother and father. It was video that never should have been seen by anyone except law enforcement. If there was one last tiny bit of revenge that could have been reaped, it would have been that Cho never got the satisfaction of the recognition he so desperately craved.
For anyone near Virginia Tech, images of the gunman were beyond inappropriate. It was an all-out assault by a media-savvy sociopath who provided exactly what the media had been searching for: any photo, any video, any writings of the killer. Who could have imagined the killer would have had the presence of mind to carefully cultivate his psycho’s legacy. It wasn’t enough that he made headlines for shooting; he wanted to be seen in the flesh doing it, just in case there were no security cameras catching the action. Why did NBC make such a hasty decision to give Cho exactly what he wanted? It came at such a price for the victims, their families and the public at large.
Once the victims’ families began complaining and the networks were deluged with calls of complaints, they pulled the footage. But it was too late. Anyone with access to a television or computer found themselves staring into the vacant eyes of a soulless young man, in some cases, the one who murdered their beloveds in cold blood.
Probably the worst effect of carrying out Cho’s direct demands was that it will likely inspire others who are dangling off the edge, ready to strike, with just the kind of validity they are seeking.
The running of the “manifesto” was, as it turned out, a gross error in judgment. But a call most other networks would not have been able to turn down. It was like hitting the jackpot. Anyone who’s seen Network knows the drill. That the people shamed the networks for their over-eager, vulgar coverage shows that the beast may be hungry but the beast still has a conscience. If the public had lapped it up, that would have been one thing. But they didn’t. It is a rare moment to be proud of our collective humanity. Enjoy while it lasts.