Thursday, April 19, 2007

Encouraging Insanity

All of the media attention including the NBC airing of video and the widespread publication of provocative photos clearly designed as such regarding the Virginia Tech massacre has really disturbed me. I find it more than a little disconcerting that this nut case could so effectively pull the strings of our media. He didn't live to see it, but he sure got what he wanted.

This week is a bad precedent. It tells others of his ilk how it's done. The message delivered this week by mainstream media is not a healthy one. The images of the pistols and the knife at the throat and the actual playing of the video is borderline glorification of lunacy. Now of course I exaggerate with the use of the word glorification, but by how much? Seriously, look at the photos. Look at the exposure.

This is not right. The taste, feel, and smell of the response is flat out pathological. In a perfect world, larger headlines about mental illness, recognizing the warning signs, sympathy for the losses, and prevention measures would prevail over photos of a gun in your face. I believe in freedom of the press, but there are lines which when crossed cause damage. That happened this week.

Those videos should not have been posted, and neither should have those two disgusting plays he wrote or the inflammatory photos, at least not this week. Maybe in a few months in the context of analysis, not this week in the context of breaking news. This is not about hiding something. This is about the balance between freedom of expression and fueling toxic content.

This nut, thanks to our "glorification" is now probably an inspiration to a sick set of furious folks.


We have just told the next set of nuts how to get what they want.


Blogger Liza said...

I only looked at a couple of the photos, but I appreciate what you're saying, x4mr.

Well, this is that state of the corporate media. What passes for news is all about sensationalism, when they can get it, and ratings. You can bet that NBC thought this was a gift from God, to be the chosen network to get to "break the story." Until we the consumers demand something better, then this is what we'll get.

4/20/2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I'm torn on this one ... the messages are certainly newsworthy in their own right, and if they lead to something constructive (like a better procedure for handling students who teachers are afraid might have violent tendency, or better restrictions on buying guns) then showing them will have done some good.

On the other hand, it sure does stick in my craw to give the ass exactly what he wanted, even pposthumously.

4/20/2007 12:56 PM  
Blogger Framer said...


You know how I feel about this issue already. I do have to ask, however, if you will be consistent and also denounce CNN for running terrorist propaganda clips. It is essentially the same thing, if not for even more devious reasons.

Giving an open forum and equal treatment for thugs and murderers in precisely the way they intend is wrong in every case.

Indeed, continuing the attacks on innocents for the benefit of the American press is the only successful weapon and strategy that the terrorists seem to have.

Obviously, however, the genie will not go back into the bottle of prudence and sensibility.

4/20/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Well, addressing all three of you, I consider this problem rather difficult. I think it's necessary to reach some consensus regarding what is meant by "news."

I would argue that the graphic beheading of Eugene Armstrong, which I had the misfortune of choosing to watch back when the footage was unedited and took several minutes, is NOT news. It is sick, and watching it injured me. I would also argue that the stupid photos of this kook with the pistol almost against the lens of the camera is not news.

I would argue that to qualify as news involves a judgment call of some kind regarding the value of the content and whether it forwards the discourse and has public utility of some kind. How in the world can we judge that?

Basically, I have no answer. There are certain components of humanity that I think are getting better (at least we are SAYING we believe in equal rights for all races and sort of say it for gender, although ERA failed.)

In some areas, I think it's getting worse, and this reality tv and constant escalation of "thrill" and "shock" journalism is an area that see just getting worse.

Recently, while watching a news channel, they showed footage of a car slamming into a pedestrian at full speed, sending the body flying into the air and flopping to the ground unconscious.

That is not news.

I'm glad I don't have small children.

4/21/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...


This is never an easy decision. I recall one specific period of an Ethics in Journalism class (yeah, they exist) I took years ago where we discussed a photograph a CA newspaper had run.

I'll try to describe the image, but ... words don't really do it justice.

As I recall, the community had cut lifeguards at community pools for funding reasons, so it was swim-at-your-own-risk. Some teen-age girl (15 I would guess) had taken her younger siblings to the pool, and I think while she made a bathroom run, her little brother (4 or 5 maybe) drowned.

The photograph accompanying the story showed the little boys' body on the pool deck, head turned away from the camera, his sister kneeling over him, crying of course. The shattered image of her face is seared in my memory now, almost two decades after I saw the picture.

Words don't really do it justice.

There's no question the event itself was newsworthy, but there was extensive debate over whether the picture was necessary. For what it's worth, a number of readers of the paper ended up canceling their subscriptions on the matter. The young women had what will likely be the worst moment of her life captured for all to see, now and forever. Was that all needed?

I thought (and still think) it was. That image brought things home in a way no dry retelling of events could ever possibly hope to do. If it saved one drowning death that might otherwise have occurred (because someone like me recalled that photo, and didn't ever want to be in that position), it was worth it.

The town found the needed financing for lifeguards after that photo ran. I don't think it was coincidence.

You can make a similar case for the airing of the shooter's rantings. It's not that they are meaningful in and of themselves -- but if the memory of them helps make us more aware of some issues ... the importance of early awareness of psychoses, the need for more gun control (or less, if that's your argument) ... it might be worth runnng them.

4/23/2007 7:39 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

You are right, a picture is worth a thousand words as they say, and a single picture can be powerful enough to change the course of history. Most of us have some very disturbing pictures etched in our memories.

I'm convinced that it has to be this way. I'm pretty good at visualization and I read quite a bit about current events. However, it's the film footage that I see that prohibits my return to complacency. Most of us seem to be more profoundly affected by what we see as opposed to what we read. This is not to say that words alone are not powerful, but an image records a moment in time and it's power cannot be surpassed.

But there are issues with film footage and pictures and what seems to be lacking is sound judgment with respect to when it is actually useful to show disturbing pictures to the public. As our mainstream, corporate media continues to take the daily reporting of the news down to the level of the tabloids and "entertainment news", it should be no surprise that there is probably no one left at the corporate networks with the ability to make such judgments. The prevailing philosophy seems to be that a story should be sensationalized whenever possible to boost ratings. And, of course, while they are doing this much of the real news goes unreported or , underreported.

4/23/2007 9:43 AM  

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