Social catastrophe

ABC News — scooped by its rival NBC, which itself is playing the ultimate media whore by celebrating a mass murderer’s public tantrum — reports an interview with a psychiatrist who says, quite credibly, that showing Cho Seung-Hui’s video is a “social catastrophe”:

“If anybody cares about the victims in Blacksburg and if anybody cares about their children, stop showing this video now. Take it off the Internet. Let it be relegated to YouTube,” Welner said. “This is a social catastrophe. Showing the video is a social catastrophe.”

(Fedora tip to Mrs. Likelihood.) The blood of the victims of the “next one” is on the hands of everyone in the decision-making chain at NBC for this utterly inexcusable decision. But this is merely Son of Frankenstein, for it was the 1995 publication by the New York Times and Washington Post of the Unabomber’s nutty, blood-soaked “manifesto” that established the recent precedent of media outlets providing the most highly-sought-after reward in today’s world — fame, and a “platform” for grievances — to killers.

The Times and the Post could argue, though not convincingly, that they at least sought to assuage a killer who was still on the loose. That argument was absurd because there was no quid pro quo nor any way to enforce a “deal,” and the calculus contained no factor for the “next one,” whose incentives would now be twisted in a new way due to the media’s compliance with such demands.

Still NBC’s decision is far worse, not only because no such rationale is available, but because the Times and Post circulations were unlikely to increase meaningfully as a result of printing the neurotic “manifesto” that no one could read past the first paragraph. In contrast, the NBC move is striking in its venality. Because of the traffic that this video will get — with that cute little NBC peacock in the upper corner, it doesn’t matter if it’s on YouTube or anywhere else — NBC is simply making an ice cold, murderous money decision.

Cho was the “next one.” But, no thanks to NBC, not the last.

UPDATE: Kaus says the same thing (but doesn’t link to the videos!); now it appears that this view, though far from unanimous (see the comments below), represents a majority of public opinion. Oh, well.

46 Responses to “Social catastrophe”

  1. mishu Says:

    There will always be a next one no matter how much you want to sweep it under the rug. This argument is no different than the leftist who wants to sweep the image of the WTC collasping under the rug.

  2. d Says:

    It should be added that the Unabomber was indeed captured because of the publication of the manifesto – which does make the decision to publish seem much more commendable. In this case, that kind of excuse just isn’t available.

  3. Peach Says:

    publication by the New York Times and Washington Post of the Unabomber’s nutty, blood-soaked “manifesto” that established the recent precedent of media outlets providing the most highly-sought-after reward in today’s world — fame, and a “platform” for grievances — to killers.

    IIRC Louis Freeh made the decision to go public and asked the papers to print it. According to his book. IIRC the papers were actually against it – they didn’t want every pissed off Tom Dick or Harry to start copycatting. Irony.

  4. Sam Says:

    Even if I believed what you’re arguing here, aren’t you undermining your own position by posting a photograph of the killer pointing his gun at the camera? Either you believe that his boxed diatribe should be shown or you believe that it shouldn’t be shown – but how can you possibly believe both?

  5. drsam Says:

    If they didn’t know it already, now every terrorist in the world knows that our schools are “gun free zones,” and easy targets.

  6. nbcliedpeopledied Says:

    Not for nothing, but NBC has consistently lied in its coverage of its handling of these materials.

    NBC’s president for news claimed the network “immediately called the FBI” upon receiving these materials. That’s a bald-faced lie.

    NBC only called the proper authorities after they made copies of all the evidence, possibly tainting the evidence. This is known in legal circles as “tampering with evidence in a capital crime.”

    The FBI should be investigating exectives at NBC for this crime.

  7. DaveD Says:

    Wonderful. Now every neurotic, pimple faced idiot knows how to get their fifteen minutes of fame. How utterly stone cold stupid can NBC be. I they fire IMUS (who I could care less about) over his stupid remarks. They should fire themselves over this travesty.

  8. Wildmonk Says:

    “Sweep it under the rug”?? What are you smoking, Mishu? The coverage of Cho’s crimes has been 24×7.

    It is inexcusably barbarous for NBC to be showing this guys self-promotion video. And that is exactly what it is: a justification and glorification of his “rationale” for mass murder. They should have bundled *everything* up – no copies made – and sent it to the FBI. The FBI should have then quietly buried it after the appropriate analysis.

    Hearing this murderous thug spout his nonsense has absolutely no social value; it serves only to inspire those who might see in NBCs glorification of him a justification for taking a step they might otherwise hesitate to make.

    Will there be another killer? Obviously yes. Is it more likely that there will be more of them because NBC wants to make some pocket change? Yes as well – and that is deeply, deeply wrong.

  9. MadMan Says:

    I thought they caught the Unabomber because someone recognize the writing style from the published manifesto.
    (See Wikipedia entry for Unabomber: “Kaczynski’s younger brother, David, recognized Ted’s writing style from the published manifesto and notified authorities.”

  10. Ron Coleman Says:

    Sam, please. The cat is very much out of the bag and, notwithstanding the fleeting pleasure of an Instalanche, there is no marginal effect whatsoever that my publication of a still picture from the video will have on the social fabric.

  11. Ed Says:

    I will belive them when they use the same logic to showing and glorifying terrorist actions in Iraq.

    Until then I will put it down to whining that NBC got the “scoop” not them.

  12. DK Says:

    It is clear that part of the goal of this sicko (and others) is public infamy. If publicizing this video isn’t yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, what is?

  13. On that note Says:

    “The blood of the victims of the “next one” is on the hands of everyone in the decision-making…”

    …that left an entire community of 25,000 students unable to shoot back.

    There will always be someone willing to use a gun, or box-cutter, to commit evil deeds. The question is, when will the innocent start fighting back and what tools will YOU allow them to defend themselves with.

  14. Easycure Says:

    In my opinion you have to give NBC the benefit of the doubt.

    1. How much junk to they get in the mail?

    2. How certain are you that the person who opened the mail even recognized it as important right away?

    3. How long does the average person have to look at “the manifesto” package and be able to attribute it to the shootings? (Note: I have not watched any of the videos myself, which is why I ask.)

    Is it possible, that part of NBC’s SOP to copy stuff before it’s analyzed?

  15. mishu Says:

    >Hearing this murderous thug spout his nonsense has absolutely no social value;

    I disagree. At least this is real evidence that points towards his motivation. It is far more tangible to comprehend and remain vigilant against than the narcisistic handwringing of some talking head 24×7. You don’t fight reprehenisble speech by hiding it. You fight it with more speech.

  16. Ron Coleman Says:

    That’s a great point, DK. I was actually wondering whether this was a compelling non-free-speech argument. But clearly this is far more speculative than Mr. Justice Holmes’s example.

    On That Note, if by “YOU” in all caps you are referring to this post, you are in error about my little views. I have never argued against concealed carry (which I favor) or in favor of gun-free zones (which I oppose). I only disagreed with Glenn Reynolds and others who suggest that it was likely that the outcome at VT would have been different if the campus policy had been — I just don’t think it would have because most college students, even down south, don’t carry guns and because people are not prepared for this kind of threat (see also here).

  17. Sam Says:

    So, in other words, because your publication is smaller, your use of the picture is acceptable, because of the limited audience it will reach? Whereas NBC, by virtue of having a bigger audience, is thus should be more responsible? I’m having a hard time following the logic.

    Yours is one more website where this man’s picture is now appearing. Yours is one more website receiving traffic because of this man’s violence. I’m just unsure of how you can criticize others for doing exactly what you’re doing here.

    To put this another way, would your post be any less effective without that man’s picture? If not, why run it? If so, isn’t then the argument made for running the man’s picture, or diatribe, or whatever?

  18. M. A. George Says:

    Bad, bad idea for NBC to publish any of this. What an inducement to the desparate crazies out there to get their twisted ideas a public platform. Kill dozens of people and your manifestos will be ‘celebrated’ all over TV. How many loonies are preparing thier video ‘packages’ right now?

  19. Ron Hardin Says:

    It’s right in character for the media. Yes, they don’t care.

    Their concern is that you not tune away ; and since most people do tune away, this concern is only about their target demographic, soap opera women, who are easy to attract and to retain, easy enough to be the entire business model.

    There’s a reason most people are disgusted. Most people don’t watch the news. The soap demographic though does, and it pays the bills. They sell the eyeballs of these viewers to advertisers. That’s the business.

    All that’s wrong is that the fiction of journalism surrounds it. It’s part of the marketing.

  20. Ron Coleman Says:

    Sam, drawing lines is what the intellect is for. I believe my line is so far from the release of lurid sound and moving pictures, and, again, is so marginally insignificant that yes, it has no effect whatsoever on the world.

  21. sean Says:

    I disagree with your position. i think we should, as a nation, have to face the fact that some people are completely insane. we need to be able to see the vast difference between someone who is completely off the beam and normal people.

    too many people argue that rights of “the People” to bear arms should be infringed based on the irrational belief that “anyone” could do what theis person has. the nation needs to have insanity shoved into its collective face so that we can see that this is wrong. normal people do not do this.

    perhaps we can finally get into the proper debate we should be having. not the gun control debate, but the debate about who should be involuntarily committed due to being unable to care for themselves. the blame for this act rests squarely with the person (note i do not call him a Man) that pulled the trigger. if we want to avoid this type of thing in the future, we need to seriously consider institutionalizing these types of people.

  22. Ron Coleman Says:

    I don’t think we needed this too realize he was insane. You have a nice point — if this will in any way lead to a change in civil commitment procedure, maybe lives really will be saved. I am really skeptical of it, though, and I think the incentive provided to bad actors far outweighs it.

  23. Ron Hardin Says:

    Did I mention that tragedy is entertainment? It’s what makes it work.

    What sympathy is about, when it works, eg. “Sorry about your son,” is not to express sorrow, but to cut the guy some social slack for a while. It says that it will be okay if the work project slips a bit, and if he doens’t laugh for the hundredth time at the same lame joke you tell, which otherwise would be an obligation. This slack is useful to him, and that’s why it’s offered. You’re not in fact sorry about his son, but about his condition, and he needs the social space for a while.

    When you don’t know the guy, it’s not useful to him; it’s you entertaining yourself with your goodness and empathetic powers. This is how it suits soap opera women.

    But others might think it’s a good thing. It isn’t.

    More teens die in traffic accidents each day. 100,000 people die in the world each day. 10,000 in American. You don’t hear about them ; but each one is important to somebody, just to different somebodies. Tragedy diffuses over the earth as it always does, and becomes part of life in general. Sometimes it hits near you, and then you can offer sympathy with some effect. That’s what it’s for.

  24. reader Says:

    I agree that NBC should not have aired that video. It is of no educational or informative value whatsoever. I also agree that you should take that picture down. The same arguments apply to you as to NBC. It is just more death pornography no matter where you draw the line.

  25. Anthony Says:

    Actually, it was probably the reaction to Patrick Purdy’s crime that set the standard for mass publicity for mass murder in recent times.

  26. Sam Says:


    That’s a convenient bit of semantics you’re playing, what with having a different set of rules for yourself than you maintain for others.

    But on a secondary note, we’re not seriously talking about the committing people who are perceived to be dangers are we? How many innocent, weird people will be committed who are, in fact, no danger to anybody? The threat to the freedom of innocents overwhelms the possibility that the occaisonal shooter might be confined to a mental institution.

  27. Bryan C Says:

    I don’t think NBC should’ve aired those videos. It’s stupid and wrong and they should be ashamed of themselves.

    OTOH, now that they have decided to benefit from airing selected snippets of this insane bastard’s delusional rants, I think the only responsible remedy is to release the whole thing. I don’t want what we see to be limited to what NBCs editorial staff decides to cherry-pick. Let us see how twisted, evil, and irrational this guy really is. Let the Internet make fun of him and mock him mercilessly for his incredibly lame scribblings and stupid rhetoric. What they’ve given us so far is just a “Best of Cho Seung-Hui” trailer to inspire the next would-be copycat killer.

  28. mishu Says:

    >think the only responsible remedy is to release the whole thing. I don’t want what we see to be limited to what NBCs editorial staff decides to cherry-pick.

    This is my preferred stance as well. However, NBC news does have time constraints. Perhaps they could have directed viewers to the website if they want to watch the whole thing.

  29. Ron Coleman Says:

    No, Sam, I apply my rules universally, including my rule that people who comment here must read carefully what they are responding to — a rule you are having some trouble with. I also have no idea what you mean by “semantics” here but I think perhaps I am not alone in that regard in this dialog.

    Seriously, now, I am not saying there are different rules for me and for NBC. I am making the following three distinctions, which you are not engaging with me on: (1) NBC has already caused the harm, and my use of the material is virtually certain to have no additional impact, especially considering (2) my insignificance (this is not “a different set of rules for me” — I would love to be NBC, Sam!); and (3) the use of a single image from the material is materially different from the broadcast of sound and movement, much less (if we may use the word here) content.

  30. Ian Says:

    Was there even any doubt that they would publish it? The only question was how much hand-wringing ‘concern’ was needed to justify a decision that was a foregone conclusion.
    I learned absolutely nothing from the ‘manifesto’ that I didn’t already know – the guy was out of his mind. End of story. NBC gave this loser exactly what he wanted.

  31. brian Says:

    Let me see if I understand this –

    We shouldn’t publish the rantings of psychos because it might influence other psychos.

    How far do we go in self-suppression in order to avoid accidentally triggering a lunatic? Do we stop covering Manson’s parole hearings? Take “Silence of the Lambs” off the market?

    If you ever wanted an example of “tyranny of the minority”, it’s exactly what people are advocating for now in the name of not influencing other psychos.

  32. Sam Says:


    With all due respect, I completely disagree.

    1. If you believe so whole-heartedly that these images only bolster the next crazed gunman, why run this risk by placing a photo of Cho on your site? In other words, why disseminate his image even farther? Hard as you will find this to believe, I had not seen the image you’ve run on your site, if only because I don’t have television (and like you, I find watching televised news coverage to be sickening). My first exposure to this image of Cho, as widespread as it might be, was from you.

    2. Of course you’re not NBC. I wasn’t suggesting that you were. I was suggesting that objecting to Cho’s insane rant getting airtime, while at the same time discussing Cho’s insane rant (and discussing all of the images that come along with said rant) strikes me as having your cake (criticizing NBC) and eating it too (discussing and disseminating Cho’s insanity).

    3. On this point, there is no likely victor, but I think that humanity remembers single images as much as it remembers movies of angry ranting. The look in Cho’s eyes, in the photo you’ve included above, is stunning for its absence of what we might describe as something bordering on humanity. That seems much more likely to stick with me than a recorded cellphone call of gunshots, or Cho’s angry video. Maybe that’s me, but I don’t think that I’m alone.

    4. Ultimately, I suppose I disagree with the basis of your disagreement – that NBC is spurring on the next killer. Publishing the Unabomber’s work didn’t lead to more mailbombs. I doubt that showing Cho’s video will lead to more massacres. Our society, unfortunately, sees a fairly regular occurrence of such things, a pattern that has held relatively steady recently. Alleging that television news is responsible seems just as irresponsible as alleging that guns themselves are responsible.

    Sometimes, crazy people do crazy things. Discussion of such events afterwards doesn’t create more crazy people.

  33. Ron Coleman Says:

    Ok, good.

    1. I don’t believe there is any such risk in my use, because of the reasons I have enunciated. I do not ever posit “zero risk,” which is an impossible mode of living, but “likely risk,” as a consideration. Here the risk is unlikely in the extreme — especially considering that unlike NBC, my readers are classy gentlemen such as yourself.

    2. There is the problem of “I wouldn’t discuss this awful thing but how else can I address the awfulness of discussing it?” That is a rationalization that we must beware of but, again, I think what I have done is so de minimis that I am not guilty of that here.

    3. Well, I do not argue against showing the crazed look of crazed killers, even if they have taken the picture themselves.

    4. I do disagree. I believe that the Unabomber calculus must have affected Cho.

    You are right about this: Terrible craziness happens.

  34. Daniel Says:

    Three reasons to publish this:

    1. Always err in favor of publishing. Let the people, not mommy and daddy at the FBI or at NBC, decide what we can handle.

    2. He was already (in)famous, and every news channel would have covered this 24/7 for the next few weeks anyway WITHOUT the video.

    3. The killer comes off as absurd in all his rantings. He’s not Hitler, or Satan, or Hannibal Lecter. He’s a confused and very sick idiot who made no sense at all. This demystifies him. Without it, he was a mute threatening evil face, full of power. With it, he’s a sick pitiful nothing.

  35. Ron Coleman Says:

    1. NBC decides every day what it will and will not publish, on its own criteria of propriety. That doesn’t make NBC your daddy. Or, if it does, then it already is.

    2. I think the video makes it much worse, and I can’t see how you could not acknowledge that.

    3. You’re right, but it is his fellow sickos we are concerned with.

  36. Daniel Says:

    I don’t know in what sense the video makes anything worse. Do you mean more coverage? Maybe. Certainly the video is made for TV and the internet, more so than still pictures for instance. But for the media this was a monumental story from the very start, as moron Matt Lauer made clear when he told a story of how kids at a food court at VaTech were surprised to see him walk through, which meant to him that they didn’t understand how big this story was.

    As for the impact on other sickos, I think it could go either way. This may have been a copycat of Montreal, where there was no video. The idea of kids in trenchcoats is imensely nervwracking, after Columbine — no video. And again, maybe seeing how stupid this guy looks (he sounded like he was reading from the screenplay of Se7en, part II — this time with Eight! — written by during recess by an eighth grader) will actually deter others. I think if he’s less of a myth, he’s less inspiring of copycats.

  37. Bob Miller Says:

    The only way to rein in a network’s stupidity or worse is still for large numbers to stop watching.

  38. Dean Says:

    Maybe I am the only one that has noticed, but the picture that you posted at the top of the page is linked to the Sky News website with the actual video. So, you certainly promoting the use of the video, not just using a picture.

    If you really felt the way you claim, you would have just posted a JPG without a link to the video. Remove the link and your arguement has merit.

  39. Ron Coleman Says:

    I don’t think the merits of my argument dissolve all that easily, Dean. I linked to the source of my picture because it is a copyrighted picture and if I were to make a fair use argument to an allegation of infringement against me, I’d like to have it going to me that I was linking to the source.

    More to your point, the video can be found by anyone who can work Google. As I said before, I cannot put the cat back in the bag, nor do hits from this humble website amount, in my view, to a hill of beans in terms of the cultural effect being written about here.

  40. Dean Says:

    hhhhm. According to the Sky News Terms and Conditions you have already violated their website agreement.

    “2.3 You will not copy, download, reproduce, republish, frame, broadcast, transmit in any manner whatsoever, any material on the Sky Site except as is strictly necessary for Your own personal non-commercial home use.”

    I doubt an internet blog qualifies as home use. So, linking to the site is not necessary to meet any criteria required by the website. A simple reference such as “image courtesy of sky news website” would have worked.

    Aside from all of my ramblings… “the video can be found by anyone who can work Google” sound like an excuse for reposting it.

    My personal belief is this – I don’t want you, or anyone else, restricting the press from what they can and must show.

    If someone is disturbed enough to kill for no reason, they will do so whether or not they see a video like this.

  41. Ron Coleman Says:

    I know that, Dean. I am taking a calculated risk, and gambling on a little good will and also on factors in the analysis of fair use that consider the extent to which the unauthorized use degrades the commercial value of the infringed property. I also believe there may be a fair use defense for other reasons, but in any event the link may ameliorate my exposure.

    My personal belief is this – I don’t want you, or anyone else, restricting the press from what they can and must show.

    Me neither. I have certainly never suggested that I or anyone else should restrict the press in this way, though perhaps one sympathetic commenter here is alluding to that possibility.

    I think this is the issue of “press responsibility” — a concept the media are very big on when insisting on unique privileges but which gets very fuzzy when the money is on the line.

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Attorney Ronald D. Coleman