The first half hour of this morning's "Today" offered an unusual window into NBC's decision to air some of the materials that the Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, had mailed to the network.
Matt Lauer introduced the topic.
MATT LAUER: It puts us in an unusual position, because obviously at NBC News we always want to cover the important stories of the day and the massacre at Virginia Tech is one of the most disturbing and tragic stories any of us will ever cover. But we're not used to becoming part of the story, and with this package that he sent us, Cho has made us in some way part of the story
MEREDITH VIEIRA: The decision to air some of the images he sent to us: the video clips and the photos and to discuss what was contained in that rambling and hate-filled manifesto was not taken lightly, it was not made quickly, and we understand that this is going to be seen as devastating to many people who lost loved ones in the shooting. In fact I will tell you that we had planned to speak to some family members of victims this morning but they cancelled their appearances because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images.
LAUER: And let's be honest. There are some big differences of opinion right within this news division as to whether we should be airing this stuff at all, that we're taking the right course of action. But we've made the decision, because by showing some of this material, perhaps it'll help us understand or answer the question 'why?' Why did it happen? If we can examine how a person who can say what he says and then do what he did, fail to be taken off the streets prior to committing these murders. But let me say that while we will show you some of what we received, it will be just a very small percentage. Because to be honest, after you see a bit of it you're going to get the idea. We feel strongly that this is not video that we need to run in some kind of an endless loop, and so we will severely limit the amount of footage that you're going to see.
Speaking with former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt later in the segment, Lauer even raised the possibility that in airing the video, NBC might be inspiring similar future crimes.
LAUER: Clint, you used to work for the FBI as a profiler. Can I ask you a blunt question? If you were still working for the FBI, still in law enforcement, would you want us to air this videotape?
VAN ZANDT: In a perfect world, no, Matt. But that's because I believe he's trying to re-victimize this campus by doing this and I think he's reached out from the grave and got us to carry out his mission in this. But we're not in a perfect world, and the reality is this information would get out. There would be other media that would get court orders, other people, tabloids. This would get out. So if it's going to be out, I think it should be out now where we can consider it, and allow this campus to move on and heal from this terrible wound that it suffered.
LAUER: Well let me take on an argument that's probably going to come in the next couple days or so. He references Klebold and Harris from Colombine. So clearly he understood what happened there. Media outlets over the last several years have shown that video of Klebold and Harris practicing with their weapons in the woods. So can't you make the argument, maybe this guy Cho saw that video, and maybe it inspired his act. So could this video of Cho inspire a future act?
Another guest, psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, responded, supporting NBC's decision.
ABLOW: Well, when you use the word inspire, here's the way I see it. Long ago, the roots were sown for this man's violent act. And long ago, he identified himself as a person of concern. I think it's important to know this is the kind of dramatic thing that was happening inside him that no one saw, because maybe in the future we can take action earlier, now that people see the real pathology that was beneath the surface.
My two cents say NBC handled the matter appropriately. For that matter, while some liberal bias has seeped through, as here on the issue of gun control, all in all I give the MSM good marks for their handling of the tragedy.
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