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NBC Defends Decision to Air Contents of VT Package - Broadcasting & Cable

NBC Defends Decision to Air Contents of VT Package

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NBC found itself part of the Virginia Tech story after the network received a video, photographs and "rambling writings" from Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman in the massacre. In a move that sparked controversy, NBC's Brian Williams aired the partial contents on the Nightly News.

After the airing, several family members of Virginia Tech victims scheduled as guests on Thursday morning's The Today Show declined to appear. "We had planned to speak to some family members of victims this morning but they canceled their appearances because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images," Meredith Vieira said on Today this morning.

NBC issued the following statement about the decision to air the material:
The pain suffered by the Virginia Tech community and indeed the entire country is immeasurable.

Upon receiving the materials from Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed. We did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities, who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter. Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime.

Our Standards and Policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams handled the reporting. We believe it provides some answers to the critical question, "why did this man carry out these awful murders?" The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on websites and in newspapers. We have covered this story - and our unique role in it - with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less.


When the news of the package broke yesterday, MSNBC reported the material was mailed between the first and second shootings. Law enforcement officials praised the network's news division for swiftly turning the material over to authorities.

"I certainly want to commend NBC news for what they have done," said Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, at a press conference. "They way the secured this information and they way they handled it with dignity."

The news organization, which is owned by General Electric, now finds itself awkward position of being part of the news story. Brian Williams led his 6:30 p.m. Nightly News program with coverage of the package NBC received.
Calling it a "multimedia manifesto," Williams described the envelope's 29 photographs, 1800-word document, and a video of Cho Seung-Hui reading his written words to a camera.  The photographs included Seung-Hui posing with the handguns he used to commit his violent acts.

"We are sensitive to how all of this will be seen by those affected and we know we are in effect airing the words of a murderer here tonight," Williams said. He was joined by Justice Correspondent Pete Williams.

"We are sensitive to how all of this will be seen by those affected and we know we are in effect airing the words of a murderer here tonight," Williams said.

ABC, meanwhile, was ran NBC's photos, attributing them to the competition, while CBS had coverage of the campus' memorial service.

Williams described how NBC received the package. The envelope was not addressed to a particular individual and did not reach the network until today because Cho Seung-Hui had used an incorrect zip code. A New York City postal worker, who spotted the return address, brought the package to the network's attention.

Williams ended the newscast saying the network was working with law officials to analyze the "voluminous, multimedia package" and would air more of its contents on tomorrow's Today show.

Representatives from CBS, ABC and CNN said the networks had checked their mailrooms and had not received similar packages.

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