Sunday, May 06, 2007


After the tragedy of the Virginia Tech shootings, NBC was faced with a difficult decision. It had received a package from the killer that included video clips of him talking into the camera about the vicious rampage upon which he was about to embark, one which resulted in the deaths of 32 people. After notifying the FBI and turning over copies of the material, NBC decided to air portions of the video. Some felt that the footage was newsworthy and appropriate for airing. Others took NBC to task for giving over airtime to the killer.

If faced with the same situation, what would you do? Air the video? Withhold the information from the public? Post the information only on the NBC News Web site, so that viewers could choose whether or not to view it? Or something else?

Send your thoughts to or post them here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name and your hometown. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (The Right Thing Book from, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate , 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


RivahGal said...

I can't say what NBC should have done when they first received the tapes. Personally, I would have liked for them to not have shown them. Why? Because in the tapes, which I saw once, Cho states that he admired the Columbine killers. Perhaps he would not have gotten the idea from them if he had not seen any footage of/by them. Hopefully no other young person will see this horrible footage and decide to emulate Cho.

I was one of those who bombarded ABC and other news stations begging them to not rerun the footage, and why I thought it was a bad idea. ABC's Good Morning America had an awesome forensic psychiatrist as a guest who made so much sense. His name is Dr. Michael Welner and his website is

Some say that we can learn a lot from these videos. What can we learn? We end up with more questions than answers. If one wants to know the mind of a killer, please read anything by John Douglas, former FBI profiler, or Robert Ressler, former FBI profiler, or the books Inside the Criminal Mind and Straight Talk About Criminlals, by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. Or read Without Conscience, by Robert Hare, Ph.D., or Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

We can learn about such criminals without watching that horrible footage over and over. Some people might watch it over and over and feed on it until they decide to act.

And what good does knowledge gained from the film help us ordinary citizens? Some students and faculty were afraid of Cho, they refused to attend or teach a class where he was present. Having first hand knowledge of him was not enough to save the victims. Reports were made to admin, and nothing was done.

What did VT stand to gain by keeping him? If they were afraid of a lawsuit for dismissing him, they have a lot worse situation on their hands now.

My son hopes to attend VT in three years. I hope by then they will have some plan of action in place to help prevent a tragedy of this magnitude again. They have an opportunity to learn from this tragedy.

I am glad that the video received relatively little air time. I don't see how it can help anyone. We may be able to spot a possible psychopath but, until they act, what can we do? If those students and faculty at VT who were afraid of Cho had left, their careers/education would be derailed. And Cho likely would have acted anyway, whether those afraid left or not. It didn't stop the tragedy.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough question! I would hope however, that the big broadcasting companies will begin to question more closely their reasons for wanting to share so much many times. The country becomes satuated with these kinds of stories and I always wonder why it's done this way. Personally, I did not watch any of the Cho tapes, because it appeared as if he got his wish for 15 minutes of infamous fame.

Anonymous said...

Re the question about the video provided to NBC, the blowhards (critics?) lambasted NBC for airing it, but what were they supposed to do? The public had a right to know how warped this nut was. I don't have much use for the mainstream media, they are all liberal mouthpieces for the Democrats, but I think clearly NBC did "the right thing" (where have I heard that phrase!). And, a few comments about this occasion and almost every other time some kid in school experiences a death, they trot in the psychologists for counseling. By the way, I don't know how you stand on providing psychological counseling to those affected by tragedies, but it is my strong opinion that the U.S generally., as they have done for so many other things, such as be so worried about someone taking some real or imagined insult or even say where a particular religion does some kind of worship, it is immediately criticized as insulting some other religion. We as a country have gone soft in the head over providing counseling for even kindergartners when a teacher dies or people not even closely associated with a tragedy with this counseling. If you ask me, it's not necessary unless the person so counseled is someone who knew the dead closely (like sat next to them in school!). What are we raising here, a bunch of pansies? We've all been associated with unexpected death, but unless you're someone who suffers from a mental disease, you just don't need this kind of help and it's getting out of hand..

Charlie Seng

RivahGal said...

To Charlie Seng: The "blowhards" and "critics" who "lambasted" NBC (and other media outlets) ARE the public! The public has a right to know how "warped the nut was"? It was the same public who lambasted NBC, et al. Robin Roberts on Good Morning America said that their message boards were "on fire" from the response, that Cho's video not be shown on TV. I'm sure it could be found on YouTube or some such site if someone wanted to see that horrible thing so badly.

The viewers made their voices heard, loud and clear: We don't want to see the video, and we don't want someone else seeing it and trying to emulate him.

Those at VT saw him first hand, no video required, and where did it get htem? How did it help them?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin:

One of our main and most concerning issues today is the sensationalism by the media. I realize that freedom of speech and expression must be respected; however, individuals, especially children and young adults, are becoming desensitized by what they hear, read and see all too often on TV, in video games, on the internet, etc. -- the result of what was carried out so horribly in the Virginia Tech massacre.

Teachers are afraid to report their concerns regarding certain student's actions. Individuals are afraid to report their concerns because of retribution or being "politically incorrect". This attitude and apathy has got to stop. We must do what is best for our young and not worry about certain organizations attempting to intimidate us.

I believe the Virginia Tech killer's graphic video, and all such graphic videos, should be turned over to the appropriate authorities to be kept in the killer's file and should never be viewed by the public. Sick minds see this as glorification of a criminal and only prompts more sick minds to act out the same or worse vicious crimes.

Name: D. Monroe
City and State: Yorba Linda, CA
Newspaper: Orange County Register