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NBC Has Done the Math…

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…and calculated the precise amount of time that it is appropriate to take up with its exclusive multimedia manifesto from Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer. From a press release just issued:

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.

10 percent. Does that mean 2.4 hours a day? Does it exclude commercials? Does it really matter? I’m aware of the controversy over the use of the material, which has largely boiled down, as it does in so many such cases, to: you’re giving the murderer exactly what he wanted.

Well, yes. And the 9/11 terrorists, they got exactly what they wanted too. Al Qaeda conducted its attacks with extreme media savvy–hit one tower, then have the second plane hit as national TV cameras are trained on the conflagration. But news is news.

You can certainly argue with whether the story is being overcovered. By today, I would say that, just for starters, the Supreme Court abortion decision will matter far more a year from now. The footage has been overused, just as the burning towers quickly became video wallpaper for TV news. And you can absolutely say I’m an interested party making rationalizations–I have a (thankfully short) piece on Cho’s video (among other things) in the upcoming issue of TIME.

But what would disturb me more than anything would be for news directors and editors to make editorial decisions from the standpoint of social engineers, focusing on what “the killer wanted” and what broadcasting decisions would make for a better world. (One thing we saw last week–when NBC News suddenly felt deep regret over Don Imus after more than ten lucrative years of more or less the same thing–was how flexible network scruples are.)

To be honest, there’s little in Cho’s rantings that make me feel I “understand” any of this story any better. If MSNBC is over-flogging their manifesto “exclusive,” I can change the channel–and I have. But nor would I want them to bury it, and I don’t want NBC News taking it on themselves to decide how to use their work to make us a better, happier society. Doing their actual work is hard enough.

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