Thursday, April 19, 2007

Turn Off Your TV to Avoid Massacre News -- and Rosie

I am gobsmacked by the news that Rosie O’Donnell has joined the right wing crackpots who somehow find the news media despicable for broadcasting the Virginia Tech mass murderer’s tapes.

There are a number of definitions of news, including: that which affects an editor; that which “advances” the story; and what I prefer – that which is accurate and affects a lot of people. Now, you might say the murderer affected only 32 people, but we know this story is bigger than that.

As for television constantly repeating the ugly images of this maggot, you have only yourself to blame if you keep watching it. Cable news, in particular, has 24 hours of time to fill. When something important is going on, producers have to assume someone is tuning in for the first time. Not to trivialize too much, but if your team is losing 32-0, should the sportscaster refuse to give the score in order to pacify the fans?

If you don’t like it, don’t watch! Some viewer wrote NBC that as a result of the coverage, she will never watch or read news again. Tell me – who does that harm?

When you read a newspaper, you usually take from it what you want and then throw it out, though you may wish to re-read a particularly good piece, or magnetize it to your fridge. Do the same thing with television, for God’s sakes. Don’t tell me you are disgusted by repetitive coverage if you are gonna keep watching it. And if you are personally affected by the deaths of loved ones or friends, you have more serious concerns than the news media reporting the news.

In my 40 years in or around the news business, for every family member who resents media coverage of their personal tragedy, there is at least one who is grateful for it.

Now, as for any commercial interest that the media might accrue – forget it. They don’t operate that way. It probably is costing most mainstream media more to cover the event than it will profit. Yet, we have the sick spectacle of a Major League baseball team wearing Virginia Tech caps, Nascar putting the Tech logo on its race cars for the next three weeks and sports paraphernalia companies meeting a national demand for Tech hats, sweaters, pants, shirts and ribbons of sorrow. I have no idea who or what is being supported by this outpouring of treacle.

But I know the vicious vacuous right wing – getting pasted in the polls and finding its only answer to domestic and world issues is ideology – couldn’t figure out how to turn the massacre to its advantage until NBC ran the killer’s tapes.

It is failing that, too, because if you give even two seconds of thought to it, what would you rather have – news coverage decided by news people or by state police chiefs, craven politicians and Fox “News.” Thomas Jefferson addressed this quite well a couple of centuries ago.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”


  1. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I would rather have had NBC say, "We have looked at this and can report that it is disturbing and contributes nothing to understanding the mind or motivation of the person who did these horrible things." That would sure have been better than seeing this creep on the front page of every paper--just the way he intended.

  2. Doing what you suggest would crumble the bedrock of journalism that protects you. It would prove the case that the news media are just a small elite imposing their views on the rest of us.

    Just how much information are you willing to have withheld so that you don't have to see something you don't like? I am sure Richard Nixon didn't want to see reporting on Watergate. Nor Alberto Gonzales about the politicization of the Justice Department. I am sure Bill Clinton thought it was ugly to have his deposition televised. Did you look at the Zapruder film? Maybe we should ask NBC to stop reporting on pedophiles on Dateline or ask Fox to stop broadcasting wild police chases.

    Where does it stop? While I generally trust reputable news organizations, I also want to see as much as I can for myself.

    (By the way, what do you think Fox would have done if they were recipient of the package?)

    Editors have a responsibility to publish (or to broadcast) and we have a responsibility to decide what to do with that information.

    NBC, which fired Don Imus for impure thoughts, says it didn't release even more stuff. Well who knows what that other stuff is? What if it was a statement that Cho was a CIA agent?

    Ridiculous? Of course, but ridiculous things have a way of becoming fact when information is withheld.

  3. Anonymous5:57 PM

    What anyone else would have done had they been the recipient of the package cannot be answered, as it didn't happen that way. I'm sure those who initially received the package came in their pants when they saw what it was, and after the joyous hoots and high fives died down, took no more than a few minutes to decide what to do with it.

  4. Anonymous3:19 PM

    Oh, please, Ira, we hardly know 25% of anything! Everything in the news has great reaches of iceberg beneath it. Many suicide notes are not released. At least, NBC could not have released the pix to form those horrible loops. The spectacle was wearying and finally led to a story in our paper about how the whole country was bummed out. Because TV had pictures, they could continue coverage. I am not advocating some suit vetting all our information as you somewhat dramatically suggest, but some discretion would have kept this to a dull roar. Who slapped on the word Massacre--how about Tragedy instead?