I have a confession to make.

April 25, 2007 at 12:18 pm 1 comment

Guess what I did yesterday.  Go ahead.  Just take a guess.

sigh.

I watched Oprah again.  Apparently I’m a bigger fan than I thought.  (Maybe I need to consider adding an “Oprah” tag to my tag list.  No, no I don’t think I’m ready to do that just yet.)

Yesterday’s show caught my interest because two of the guests were from NBCNBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and NBC News president Steve Capus.  They were there to defend the network’s decision to air the tape that they had received from the Virginia Tech gunman.  After listening to their rationalizations, my thoughts can be summed up in four words: I don’t buy it.

At this point, I should probably make sure you understand that in this post, I am making a distinction between “need to know” and “want to know” or “would like to know.”

I haven’t seen the footage, and I don’t intend to.  I’ve had plenty of opportunities – the links are all over the web – but I just don’t need to see it.  I don’t need to “get inside the killer’s head.”  I don’t need to know why he did it; his reasons probably weren’t logical anyway.  Knowing his thoughts and understanding them are two totally different things.  That’s not to say I’m not interested – I do have a B.A. in Psychology; it’s just that I recognize that it wouldn’t produce good fruit in my life.  There is no pertinent, pressing destitution of soul that can only be satisfied by watching the rants of a man in a murderous rage.

I think the American public has become presumptuous on so many levels.  I also think there are some things that the American public just doesn’t need to know.  We hear buzzwords like “accountability” and “right to know,” but I believe the only rights human beings are born with are these: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Beyond that, as Americans, we’ve been blessed with a great number of privileges – every one of which I’m grateful for and will exercise when appropriate – and a limited number of rights bestowed upon us in the Constitution.  But I do not believe that it is the right of the American public to view a home video made by a mass murderer, especially without notifying – and obtaining consent from – the families of the victims.

When Oprah asked if NBC had considered not airing the footage, Mr. Williams said,

“To me there was never a debate. This was news. This is journalism.”

Uh, no.  The fact that NBC received a package was news.  Airing the video was not news, it was – cue news music here – “An NBC EXCLUSIVE.”  Dictionary.com defines sensationalism as “subject matter, language, or style producing or designed to produce startling or thrilling impressions or to excite and please vulgar taste.” You can make up your own mind from there.

Mr. Williams went on to say,

“The debate was, how can we pare back, be as sensitive as possible in editing all of this garbage and profanity, to give a sense of what we have here.”

Well, obviously, “what we have here” is “garbage and profanity.”  And being “as sensitive as possible,” in my mind, is showing restraint by not airing footage of a madman when there are victims yet to be buried – no matter how big the spike in your ratings might be.

Someone – I can’t remember if it was on yesterday’s show or if I heard it somewhere else – spoke about the fact that we know the who, what, when, where, and how, but we may never know the “why.”  Today, Virginia law enforcement is still searching for a motive.  I hear things like, “The American public wants to know why,” and, “The American public has the right to know why.”  You know who has the right to know “why?” in this situation?  The families – and that’s it.  If they want to pass that information on to the rest of us someday, that’s their perogative.

Wesley Fryer left a comment on the post I wrote yesterday, and I think he hit the nail right on the head when said that “the news media seems determined” to make this situation into “a defining cultural event.”  I also agree with him when he says that he doesn’t want to see this become a “media circus.”  I feel like the media already has so much influence over public opinion and I believe, in a sense, they exploited that in this situation.

Dr. Michael Welner, one of the psychiatrists on Oprah yesterday, called NBC’s airing of the footage a “social catastrophe.”  I think he’s right.  I can’t help but feel that a certain innocence was lost when that video hit the airwaves.  Someone on the show talked about suicide bombers in the Middle East who make these kinds of videos all the time, and Arab television airs them regularly.  Is that really “news?”  Is that responsible journalism?  Have we reached that level?

It was a subtle shift, but a shift nonetheless: our boundaries – what we are willing to accept as “news” – just changed.

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Entry filed under: Current Events, News, Television, Wesley Fryer.

Some Semblance of Normalcy I thought you might like to know…

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Margie  |  July 10, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    You are one of the most eloquent writers I’ve ever read. And I read. A lot.
    If you were on a round-table debate show on t.v. or were a lawyer, there would be no room for argument with anything you presented. Your logic is so fluid and succinct and articulate that I find myself not being able to read fast enough! Verisimilitude is the word. Yes, that’s right– verisimilitude. 🙂
    Well done, Chief.

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