THE KILLER TAPES

Although some TV viewers expressed outrage at NBC News's decision to broadcast the tapes that Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-hui sent to it on the day of his attacks, the network's NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams surged well ahead of its rivals Wednesday, according to Nielsen Research. After trailing ABC's World News With Charles Gibson for weeks, the NBC newscast drew a 7.5 rating and a 15 share, 23 percent above ABC's 6.1/12 and 79 percent ahead of the 4.2/8 for the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. Nevertheless, the use of the killer's tapes was being roundly condemned on some websites -- particularly those that have frequently attacked what they refer to as the MSM (mainstream media). On NewsBusters.org, operated by the conservative Media Research Center, contributing editor Noel Sheppard wrote, "What kind of a world do we live in where a bloodbath such as this can happen, and within 48 hours, the assailant can have a video played on national television like the debut of a new Madonna tune?" Cliff Kincaid, editor of the watchdog group Accuracy in Media, wrote, "NBC is playing into the cold, dead hands of a mass murderer, exploiting his paranoid delusions for ratings and profit." But NBC was taken to task even on the liberal Huffington Post blog. Harry Shearer warned, "a hundred thousand self-pitying mentally ill young men (and women?) have just been shown the road to glory one more time." On NBC's Today show co-host Meredith Vieira said that family members of the VT victims had "canceled their appearances because they were very upset with NBC for airing the images" of the killer. Her colleague Matt Lauer then indicated that there were "some big differences of opinion right within this news division as to whether we should be airing this stuff at all." On ABC's competing Good Morning America forensic psychologist Michael Welner appealed to all media outlets to "stop showing this video now. Take it off the Internet. ... Showing the video is a social catastrophe." In Roanoke, VA, near Virginia Tech, the NBC affiliate said it would not air the video locally. "To do so would only cause further pain to an already suffering community," it said. Fox News Channel also decided to cease broadcasting the tapes. On the other hand, Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told the New York Times, "While reasonable people may disagree, it was clear [NBC News executives] were trying to exercise restraint." A writer to the TVNewser website commented, "If we allow the caretakers of the news ... to self-censor themselves worrying about the feelings of a viewer, that's a slippery slope that this DEMOCRACY ... does not want to go down." Bob Steele, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the video "provided one more lens into who the killer was and what motivated him to carry out that slaughter." Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report monitors the nightly newscasts, commented, "Of course it was correct to show the tape. It was a vivid and informative demonstration of the young man's despair, rage, anguish and humiliation." And even at Fox News, analyst Eric Burns acknowledged that had the news media refused to air the tapes, they would have been attacked for that instead. On his Daily Nightly blog, NBC anchor Brian Williams wrote "there was no joy" in being the recipient of the tapes. "To the contrary: opening each computer video snippet for the first time was a sickening and harrowing experience -- and it's good to know that the worst of them -- all now in the hands of investigators -- will never see the light of day."

MOYERS RETURNS WITH TONGUE-LASHING OF U.S. MEDIA

The return of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS next Wednesday will feature a deadly appraisal of the news media's performance in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Editor & Publisher, which received a preview DVD of the broadcast, said that Moyers concludes that "the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush Administration to go to war on false pretenses." In only rare instances did the media display enterprising journalism in appraising the assertions by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein posed a danger to the U.S., Moyers indicates. Former CNN head Walter Isaacson credits reporters for Knight Ridder with busily calling the military and the CIA "and finding out that the intelligence is not very good." Isaacson adds: "We should've all been doing that." He blames a "patriotism police" that arose after the 9/11 events for CNN's lack of aggressive reporting on Iraq. And former CBS anchor Dan Rather admits, "I don't think there is any excuse for my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. ... We didn't dig enough. And we shouldn't have been fooled in this way."

Brian B.