The media world is slowly continuing its dialogue on NBC News' decision to air the submitted materials of Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui, following a pattern that savvy web-readers are sure to recognize: hype, followed by backlash, followed by a backlash to the backlash. Hey! It's just like the way the rock press covers The Strokes, only without any concomitant national tragedy (the poor production on Room On Fire nothwithstanding).
On the matter of the Cho materials, we seem to have entered that third stage, and the defense of NBC's position got a boost this week from Kevin Sites of the Columbia Journalism Review, who thoughtfully lays out why "NBC did exactly they right thing." And that's saying something, because as Sites elaborates, he's been on the business end of NBC doing, in his opinion, the wrong thing:
On this issue, I find myself in the strange position of defending a television news network that more than two years ago deftly stepped away from me when I, as a freelance correspondent for NBC, videotaped one of the most controversial scenes of the war -- a U.S. marine shooting a wounded, unarmed insurgent in a Falluja mosque.
NBC, like most other American networks that received the footage under a pool agreement, chose not to air the entire shooting; it blacked out the critical portion when the marine raises his M-16, fires point blank into the insurgent's head, then spins on his heels and strides away. It was a decision that, at the time, I not only supported but pushed for. It was the wrong decision.
Thus, it says a lot that Sites is willing to offer his support, and he very concisely rebuts criticism of the airing of the materials and the worry that such images can have an infectious effect. But the money quote, in our opinion, is his articulation of a point that really hadn't occured to us:
For those still not convinced that NBC did the right thing, remember, this is the Internet Age. Cho sent his package to NBC, but he could have easily bypassed the mainstream media and posted his videos to YouTube and his photos to MySpace. With the exception of burning the NBC logo onto every photograph and video image to make it seem the package was the result of its own investigative work, NBC handled the material with a sensitivity that wouldn't have happened had it just been uploaded into cyberspace.
With time, we may find ourselves counting it a lucky thing that these materials ended up in NBC's mailbox.
Why NBC Was Right to Air Cho Package [CJR]