- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

NBC was burned by its own exclusive yesterday. Critics spoke out against the network’s repeated broadcasts of the grim amateur video made by Cho Seung-hui, who killed 32 persons and committed suicide at Virginia Tech on Monday — but not before mailing the “media-manifesto” to NBC alone.

The video got a showcase rather than a limited shelf life.

“Repeatedly airing the footage turns it into wallpaper at best, and pornography at worst,” said ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider yesterday. “The video is viable for the first 24-hour news cycle, then its news value devolves.”

ABC will air only still photos, or a brief video clip with no audio.

Fox News will “severely restrict” the video, which shows Cho waving weapons and ranting.

“We believe that 18 hours after they were first broadcast and distributed via the Internet, our news viewers have had the opportunity to see the images and draw their own conclusions,” said John Moody, executive vice president of editorial content for Fox News. “We see no reason to continue assaulting the public with these disturbing and demented images.”

But the frenzy is already underway. Print, broadcast and Internet alike are filled with speculation about violent movies, songs and poetry that inspired Cho’s poses or the mysterious phrase “Ismael Ax” written in red ink on his forearm. A parody page named “the real Ismael ax” appeared on the social networking site MySpace.com yesterday. Traffic to news Web sites, meanwhile, has skyrocketed according to Nielsen — up 121 percent at FoxNews.com.

“We’re using less of the video, definitely,” said Jon Klein, president of CNN. “It’s not breaking news, and has become less urgent, less pertinent. We don’t want to risk gratuitous use.”

A chastened NBC announced yesterday it would broadcast the footage “no more than 10 percent of our airtime,” or about six minutes an hour. Still, family members of some victims cancelled their appearances on NBC, citing the saturation coverage.

“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. We have covered this story — and our unique role in it — with extreme sensitivity,” NBC said.

Was the coverage understandable?

“This is not a video of an actual crime. Granted, it does make Cho into some kind of derange iconic image,” said Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “NBC was trying to act responsibly. It wasn’t a quick tabloid decision. Once the footage got out, however, it escalated into absurd proportions on a worldwide scale.”

The Virginia State Police initially approved airing the video Wednesday. Their perceptions changed within hours.

“We’re rather disappointed in the editorial decision to broadcast these disturbing images. I’m sorry you were all exposed,” said Superintendent Steve Flaherty yesterday.

The public has a right to see such fare, according to some.

“Journalists do not have the right to hide material that is so clearly essential to a full understanding of a major public issue,” noted Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher in an online chat with readers yesterday.

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