Hugh Hewitt is in a tizzy over NBC’s decision to broadcast the video that Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui recorded before he went on a shooting spree and mailed to the network in the two hours between shootings. Hewitt suggests it may be “the single worst editorial decision in the history of broadcast news.” His primary beef with the decision is that that it would result in copy-cat crimes. Hewitt predicted the broadcast “will prime many killing pumps in the years ahead” and suggested “their decision could indeed kill others down the road.”
While I do believe there are arguments against airing the video (the strongest being out of respect for the victims), given that I watched it, I think it would be hypocritical of me to become sanctimonious over the decision to broadcast it. But even beyond that, I believe the copy-cat argument is overblown. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if future mass murderers decided to video tape themselves, but I don’t think the mere act of broadcasting Cho’s video will provide an added impetus for people to become mass murderers who otherwise wouldn’t have. A person deranged enough to shoot 32 people doesn’t need the extra motivation of having his video broadcast on national television. Besides, to whatever extent Cho was motivated by a desire to be famous, that fantasy would have been realized even if NBC didn’t air the video. Even Hewitt writes that “I would have published –instantly– the text of the killer’s statement’s for the public to read…” I don’t really see what the big difference is between text and video, especially because Cho’s picture is already being plastered everywhere. If publicity is what he wanted, he would have gotten it even if NBC didn’t air the video.