How Much of Cho to Show?

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Cho Seung-Hui

There are some scoops it might be better never to have gotten. NBC was under criticism all day today for its decision to air parts of the macabre video rant that had been mailed to the network by Cho Seung-Hui, who may have shot it in the two hours between his two lethal rampages on the Virginia Tech campus Monday. The video was riveting. And inevitably, also revolting. Millions watched it last night. Today came the recriminations.

Virginia State Police Col. Steve Flaherty, the agency superintendent, said that he was disappointed that NBC had decided to air parts of the video. NBC executives gave police the entire package that was sent to NBC studios on Monday by Cho — a rambling 23-page written statement, 28 video clips and 43 photos — but Flaherty says it contained little that the police did not already know. The portions broadcast Wednesday night on the NBC Evening News were so upsetting to relatives of some of the victims that they canceled plans to be interviewed on Today. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

NBC News said in a statment: "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."

In a 24-hour day, that would still be two hours and 40 minutes, a hefty chunk of time. Perhaps sensing that for once the high road might offer a competitive advantage in the Nielsen race, ABC news reported on its website today that its staff were being urged not to use the videos anymore. "Obviously, in the first news cycle, there's some breaking news value to that video," said Jeffrey W. Schneider, one of the network 's senior vice presidents. "Once that news cycle has passed, the repeated broadcasting of the material has little news value, and becomes pornographic." Not to be outdone, Fox News said late Thursday that it would stop airing the video, and producers at both CBS News and CNN will now reportedly need explicit approval from their bosses to use the clips going forward.

Meanwhile, more Virgina Tech students were coming forward with reminiscences about the strange, painfully shy classmate that some of them had crossed paths with, though none of them ever got to know. Victoria Wilson, a senior from Virginia, told about an awkward experience with Cho on the first day of a literature class last year, after her professor paired up students and asked them to question one another about their hometowns, interests and goals, then report back to the class about the other's replies.

"But he wouldn't say a word," Wilson recalls. "He just looked at me with his mouth open slightly. His lips were trembling a little, so I thought he was just shy and nervous. So I asked, 'Are you from northern Virginia?' and he nodded his head a little. After I tried getting him to talk for a few minutes, I gave up."

At that point, Wilson says, she suggested that he simply write down information about himself, but that failed to draw a response as well. "So we just sat in silence together," she says, "until the professor told us to go around the room and talk about our partner. When the professor got to me, I just shook my head and gave him a look that said, 'Please just skip us.'" The professor, says Wilson, got the point.

One outgrowth of the published, broadcast and webcast images is that a Virginia Tech professor saw what he believed were similarities between one of Cho's photographs and the South Korean movie Oldboy, by the director Chan-wook Park, about a man who seeks vengeance on the man who kept him unjustly imprisoned for 15 years. Cho photographed himself flourishing a hammer, the movie 's trademark weapon, in a pose that the professor, Paul Harris, said resembled one from the film. Another possible outgrowth of the media storm is that, according to the Korea Herald newspaper, Cho's parents are currently under the protection of the Virginia State Police.

Earlier this week school officials at Virginia Tech announced that they were cancelling classes for the rest of the week. Today they went a step further. Though classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, the university is looking for ways to allow students to end their academic year now without penalty, perhaps by accepting whatever grade they have at this point in the term. And one more thing — Virginia Tech decided it would award degrees posthumously to all 32 victims.

- With Reporting by Annie Johnson/Blacksburg