The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

More Virginia Tech shooting news

Monday, April 30, 2007, 18:53
Section: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonGovernor Tim Kaine, whom I’d never heard of until two Mondays ago, as he seems to have risen to prominence after I left Virginia has closed a loophole in existing Virginia gun law, which prohibited anyone ordered to seek psychiatric treatment from purchasing a firearm. But since no one was actually in charge of entering the data about outpatient psychiatric treatment, Seung-Hui Cho was able to purchase the guns used to shoot and kill dozens of Hokies in April.

It may not change much, however. For a long time now, Virginia has been known as an easy state to get a gun — you’ll hear it mentioned in Law & Order in many episodes as the point of origin for guns used by criminals, a situation that mirrors the real-life situation in New York City. Given the staunchly pro-gun feeling in most of Virginia outside the Washington suburbs, I’d be surprised if this changes.

(For the record, I’m no knee-jerk gun control advocate. My father has been a member of the NRA for longer than I’ve been alive, I think, and once briefly built a home target range. I’ve used guns and am not frightened of them as some sort of fetishized dark magic. People, on the other hand, have the capacity to scare the hell out of me.)

Over on CJR Daily, a freelance reporter who was dumped by NBC after he filmed a Marine shooting an unarmed insurgent at point-blank range argues the network was right to show portions of Cho’s multimedia press kit:

As I watched the Cho case unfold in the early stages, Cho’s use of “question mark” to describe himself seemed apt.

But when NBC’s Brian Williams reported that the network had received the package and began to broadcast some of the twenty-seven video clips, forty-three still pictures, and portions of Cho’s 1,800-word manifesto, the idea of who this troubled young man was began to emerge. He was clearly disturbed, full of anger and paranoia.

Some argue that the public need not hear or see the titillating details contained in these videos and photographs, that their only real use is to forensic psychologists and law enforcement officials. But in fact, these clues may be more useful to ordinary people who, by seeing Cho’s face, hearing his voice, gaining a visual understanding of what someone who is capable of this kind of violence is like, may be in a better position than law enforcement to spot the early warning signs and prevent another massacre.

Law enforcement experts have contended that giving Cho’s manifesto airtime only encourages copycat killers. After all, Cho did refer to Columbine killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, as martyrs.

But this kind of thinking creates a climate where journalism protects the public from information rather than delivers as thorough an account of a situation as possible. That is completely counter to our democratic belief that the nation is best served by a well-informed citizenry that can be achieved if the media pursue truth vigorously, even when it hurts.

The knowledge the public has as a result of NBC’s decision to air Cho’s package fuels and informs a much needed, but stagnate debate in this country over gun control and increased federal and state spending on mental health. The images of Cho will now, and perhaps always, color that discussion, and rightfully so.

For those still not convinced that NBC did the right thing, remember, this is the Internet Age. Cho sent his package to NBC, but he could have easily bypassed the mainstream media and posted his videos to YouTube and his photos to MySpace. With the exception of burning the NBC logo onto every photograph and video image to make it seem the package was the result of its own investigative work, NBC handled the material with a sensitivity that wouldn’t have happened had it just been uploaded into cyberspace.

Peter and I have talked about what we’d do had we been the recipients of something like Cho’s press kit, sent off between rounds one and two of his shooting rampage. We agreed that, although we’d have to carefully sift out what sort of images we’d use, we would feel compelled to put some of the images and words out there for the public to see and read.

This isn’t sensationalism — Peter doesn’t seem to have a sensationalizing bone in his body (any headlines that run contrary to this are almost inevitably written by me) — but rather a response to the public’s natural desire to understand what happened and why, even if Cho’s ramblings and rage obscure as much as they inform. The problem wasn’t NBC airing the clips, but rather everyone running and re-running and re-re-running them endlessly. Fortunately, most media outlets, guided either by viewer/reader backlash or their own sense of horror, cut back on 24/7 Cho after about 48 hours.

A Virginia Tech milestone, of sorts

Thursday, April 26, 2007, 18:20
Section: Virginia Tech

Today was the first day that Virginia Tech didn’t show up in the AP video crawl or headlines on the Hesperia Star site. This is a good thing.

NYT’s interactive Virginia Tech shooting graphic

Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 18:49
Section: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonTough to watch, but very informative: The New York Times can walk you through every step of the shootings last Monday. No gore, but incredibly grim.

Unsurprisingly, the shootings are having mixed results on admissions — prospective freshmen have to let Tech know by next week whether or not they plan to attend classes in the fall.

In happier news, stores are having a hard time keeping Virginia Tech memorabilia on the shelves. I just received a Tech t-shirt, Hokies baby onesie, a Virginia Tech garden gnome (!) and Virginia Tech Alumni licence plate frame here at work from the campus bookstore. I guess I got in under the wire.

Wendy’s Virginia Tech memorial video

Tuesday, April 24, 2007, 18:15
Section: Virginia Tech

Black Virginia Tech flag

Wendy Wickham, whom I went to high school and college with, put together this memorial to Virginia Tech, incorporating a Northern Virginia candlelight vigil:

Assessing the blame for the Virginia Tech shooting

Monday, April 23, 2007, 20:50
Section: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech black ribbonHere’s a little morbid humor for you: In the natural human desire to understand why something horrible happens, folks are assigning blame to the usual suspects (videogames, violent movies) and to some new-to-me culprits (liberalism, China and Bill Gates).

One blogger is keeping track. He’s now up to 58 reasons the shooting happened, according to various pundits.

If you’re looking for reporting that’s not the national (and international) media’s take on the events of last Monday, I suggest local news reports, including those from Virginia Tech and Southwest Virginia:


Copyright © Beau Yarbrough, all rights reserved
Veritas odit moras.