Tragedy in Blacksburg
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Last week we took "On the Record" to Blacksburg, Virginia to cover the tragic events at Virginia Tech. In our "spare" time, we taped a "Crime Scene" special for you that aired over the weekend. I don't know if you watched the special or not... but you might like to see the behind the scene pictures we took from taping the special. It gives you a little idea of how it is done.
• Click here to check out my photo essay
Like so many of these tragic events, it was difficult trying to decide how to best present the events to you each evening and in the special. Crimes are always ugly (and this one was horrendous) and thus information about them is ugly and difficult to present. Fortunately, viewers have remote controls and can decide for themselves when they have seen too much.
I may be in the minority, but I thought it important to air the taped materials sent to NBC. The materials are evidence — because the materials (including the tapes) provide information about Cho leading up to the actual slaughter of innocent people.
Some have complained that the tapes were shown too often. I may be in the minority again. In any investigation you examine the evidence over and over and over and over again — hoping to spot one more clue to help piece together the crime… a clue that you did not see earlier. Sometimes your efforts of repetitive viewing are wasted, but sometimes you learn something — something important. Here is an example: After studying the Cho tapes, investigators noticed that in one tape there was a gold power cord in the background of the tape — it matches a power cord to a lamp in a hotel that Cho rented on April 8 (see New York Times Sunday). Hence the investigators used the tapes to help make a timeline for themselves... the tapes provided the clue. Investigators were able to make a reasonable assumption as to when and where Cho made at least one of the taped clips. I don't know how many times they had to view the tapes to notice this clue, but that is what a good investigator does. A good reporter does likewise examine and re-examine information.
I suppose you could say that the public is not the police investigating the case and thus did not need to see the tapes over and over again. But many of our viewers are curious and want to see what the police see as they try to get answers as to why this crime occurred. As an aside, over the years I have received many tips from viewers who look at material we air in other investigations. They have seen things I have missed and have tipped me off (and it has been much appreciated.)
Do the aired tapes create the risk of copycats? I can't answer that, but the enormous and unending access to the tapes on the Internet dilute my fear that we would be the ones to provoke such despicable copy cat behavior. I don't know the numbers, but my guess is (and yes, it is only a guess), today more people have access to the Internet than pay the monthly fee for cable. This is not to say that the presence of the Internet relieves us in cable of all responsibilities in deciding what to broadcast, but it is one factor of many in my decision making. Is the information readily available in other places or not?
Yes, of course if I thought our airing the tapes provoked a copycat crime, I would not air them. We in the media are good citizens with real empathy for those who are victims of the crime and their families. We also have an obligation to you, the viewer, to give you the news straight, blunt and in most instances unedited and uncensored. There is no perfect answer for any news organization under these circumstances, but best efforts are made to do the best job and make the best decisions. There will always be those who disagree with any given decision and many who disagree have very good points worth considering. In the end, we just have to weigh all the considerations and try and make the wisest decision.
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Watch "On the Record" weeknights at 10 p.m. ET