NEW YORK—So now when the world thinks of Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung Hui, armed and glaring at the camera, forever embedded in the gruesome memory will be the NBC News logo.
Complete with the NBC peacock, in all its multi colored glory.
While NBC News on Thursday withstood a furious backlash from viewers incensed that it would give a platform to a mass murderer, others in journalism circles say they, too, would have presented some of the same materials if Cho had sent his package to them. Accordingly, Cho’s video and images ran elsewhere on the air and cable, in print and on the Internet.
But at NBC’s request, the rantings and Travis Bickle poses of Cho’s “multimedia manifesto,” as “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams dubbed it Wednesday, had NBC’s logo slapped on them. On other networks, it was Cho and NBC News. On cable, it was Cho and NBC News. On the front page of The New York Times, it was Cho and NBC News.
What an odd thing to want to have associated with one’s brand.
An NBC News spokeswoman Thursday said it was “standard operating procedure” industry wide to put a logo on exclusive material, indicating the network did not regret the decision.
Earlier in the day, as the backlash from the public and authorities began to swell, the network issued a statement acknowledging the grief of the Virginia Tech community and the country at large but noting the decision to run the video “was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers.”
NBC’s Matt Lauer said on Thursday’s “Today” that “with this package that he sent us, Cho Seung Hui has made us, in some ways, part of the story,” which is true.
But when NBC treated the materials as a scoop, the network grabbed its part of that horrific story tightly with both hands.
In fact, Williams on Wednesday night’s newscast teased viewers with the promise NBC would “air more of these materials tomorrow morning on `Today,’” which no doubt contributed to the decision of victims’ family members to cancel scheduled appearances on the show Thursday.
“They were very upset with NBC for airing the images,” said Meredith Vieira, Lauer’s co-host.
“And let’s be honest,” Lauer said. “There are some big differences of opinion right within this news division as to whether we should be airing this stuff at all, whether we’re taking the right course of action. But we’ve made the decision because, by showing some of this material, perhaps it will help us understand the question why. Why did it happen?”
If there was debate within NBC and other newsrooms about the proper way to handle Cho’s self-serving material, there was loud disagreement with the decision in other quarters.
“NBC is playing into the cold, dead hands of a mass murderer, exploiting his paranoid delusions for ratings and profit,” Cliff Kincaid, editor of the watchdog group Accuracy in Media, said in a statement. “This is exactly what he wanted.”
All three network newscasts Thursday night prominently reported the backlash against coverage of the Cho video that they all had aired the night before. But, by midday Thursday, NBC and the others had begun judiciously scaling back their use of the material.
John Moody, Fox News Channel executive vice president for editorial, for example, issued a statement saying there was “no reason to continue assaulting the public with these disturbing and demented images,” but he also reserved the right to run the footage again if events warranted.
“It was a new and newsworthy element of the biggest story of the day, the week and, I hope, month,” Moody said in an interview. “I think it was legitimate to run it for a while, while it added new information to the story.”
And CBS News boss Sean McManus said that it would have been unsound journalistically not to air the video excerpts initially, but his network intended to back off in a hurry.
“The news organizations have an obligation to do it, but also have an obligation to be sensitive to what it does to the victims’ families,” he said. “The one thing that I do think is important is to not overuse it. We have very strict standards on when it can and when it can’t be used. We’re not going to air it unless it’s absolutely necessary to advance the story.”
“Nightly News” anchor Williams, in his Thursday blog, said he understood why people might be upset with NBC News.
And in truth, NBC is no more responsible than any other media outlet that carried Cho’s video and pictures. But putting its peacock on those images binds the messenger to the message.