Saturday, April 21, 2007

MSNBC—Descending Into Hell and Dragging Us Along

Brian Williams is the news anchor and (apparently) news editor over at MSNBC. For four days I was unable to bring up Countdown, Tucker, Scarborough Country or Hardball. That portion of the site was subsumed with the Korean maniac who murdered 32 students at Virginia Tech.

Brianwilliams Brian Williams is the news anchor and (apparently) news editor over at MSNBC. For four days I was unable to bring up Countdown, Tucker, Scarborough Country or Hardball. That portion of the site was subsumed with the Korean maniac who murdered 32 students at Virginia Tech.
Williams attempts to gloss over MSNBC 24-7 coverage, telling us
Yesterday, we received a parcel from a mass murderer.  The simple act of opening it and examining its contents thrust us into a role we did not seek and did not want.  Our first step was to call law enforcement and hand over the originals. Next, we decided what of it we could air as a news organization.  I do not know of a reputable news organization that would have stopped after that first step ... and put the contents into a drawer. We chose to air but a small portion of the sociopathic rants, writings and recordings of a murderer.  It was shocking material ... beyond disturbing.  However unpleasant it might have been for us all to watch, we are journalists and it was inarguably a huge news development.
Yeah, Brian. Did not seek and did not want, but could not resist. Editing is the business-end of resisting. Less opportunistic editors might resist Sanjaya or Cho or Alec Baldwin’s voicemail message to his eleven year-old daughter.
Virginiatech Your contribution to healing, Brian was to pull your regular commentators and devote four days to incessantly picking the scab of Virginia Tech’s horror. Four days to make the gunman as much name-recognized as American Idol’s Sanjaya. At Idol, you have to actually go and be humiliated  in order to be famous, instead of merely pulling a trigger.
Four days of ratings and profit.
It was shocking material ... beyond disturbing--a  broadcasting achievement to be proud of, Brian. Something to nail on the cubicle-wall. Better to throw up watching MSNBC than never to throw up at all. However unpleasant it might have been for us all to watch, we are journalists and it was inarguably a huge news development. Wrong, mister editor. Huge news was the shooting.
The next four days of that inescapable image of Cho was what is called pandering.
Journalists do not pander. Pimps pander.
Soldiercoffins MSNBC, too intimidated by Fox News to show our dead kids coming home from Iraq (32 in the last 10 days),  finds a maniacal school shooting shocking. Imus is shocking as well, but only when the advertisers abandon ship. Sanjaya’s week by week survival is shocking and ultimately the word becomes meaningless.
MSNBC is all too obviously desperate to get out of 3rd place in the cable-news game and if shocking and disturbing is what it takes, then shocking and disturbing is what it will be. But don’t aggrandize your choices and motives by calling them editorial decisions.
At each step during the process, we talked about the possibility that the material would be seen by the families who have suffered the ultimate loss.
Then we decided—nah, screw ‘em. Compared with four days of holding aces, it just was a no-brainer.
A critical piece of information in a huge national news story was dropped on our doorstep.  While I love my work, our task yesterday was extremely unpleasant.  Yesterday was an awful day. There was no joy in this for any of us. 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.
Like Abu Ghraib, but for only slightly less chicken-shit reasons. But you choked it down and shared it with us. You made our day sickening and harrowing to absolutely no purpose while you lionized an insane killer. You celebrated and assigned great social importance to (which is the definition of lionizing), the slaughter of 32 college kids.
There may have been no joy in that, but there is plenty of profit and the fallout is MSNBC’s to savor;
  • The Internet being what it is, families of the murdered kids will never be far from video exploitation of their children’s last minutes, courtesy of MSNBC
  • The mentally sick in future will be assured of fame and the plastering of their faces everywhere, if they can only beat the record 32. Fifty would be a shoo-in. Sixty another Tiger Woods, name-recognition wise. How many clips would that take for a Glock pistol?
Williams continues,
We are also aware that this danger, represented by this sick young man, lives among us ... and lives on our campuses and in our schools with our children ... and to see it and hear it is to understand the consequences.
Understand the consequences? What does that mean, Brian? What social purpose, what possible  advantage can there be in pointing out that, among three hundred million people, there lives on our campuses and in our schools with our children, a madman?
Msnbc With this ignorant and self-congratulatory non-sequitur, MSNBC has accomplished the equal of screaming fire in a theatre.
I would love to know what Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough and Keith Olbermann thought about the cumulative pre-empting of their right to reach their viewers.
There was, Brian, other news being made across the world.
  • Monday, the 16th--Militant Iraq Cleric Pulls 6 Officials Out of Cabinet-- The rebellious Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr withdrew his six ministers from the Iraqi cabinet on Monday, in the first major shake-up of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government since it was installed a year ago.
  • Tuesday, the 17th-- Death rate for American forces in Iraq rises; total reaches 3,305-- Over the past six months, American troops have died in Iraq at the highest rate since the war began.
  • Wednesday, the 18th-- House Republican leader says Gonzales should go--A congressional Republican leader on Friday joined bipartisan calls for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign but the White House reaffirmed its confidence in President George W. Bush's long-time friend.
  • Thursday, the 19th--Global warming may cause threats to national security--study finds scientists seem to be in agreement that global warming presents environmental and economic challenges for the future, but a new study classifies climate change as a national security threat as well.
Friday it seems Brian was ready
to take a second look at a huge story yesterday that was somewhat overwhelmed by our own discovery: the Supreme Court abortion case, which will be written and talked about for years to come, and which will be taught in law schools.
Brianwilliams2 Yeah, somewhat. And as you do, Brian, you might shine your editorial light on the difference between discovery and exploitation. To discover is to make known information previously known only to a few people or that was meant to be kept a secret. Exploitation is an act that uses or victimizes someone with that information and treats them unfairly.
MSNBC, under your editorial guidance, unconscionably exploited Cho’s family, the victims at VT, their families and the University itself for the oldest and least respectable of reasons—profit. Have I left anyone out? Oh yeah, you exploited us, your audience as well. And we noticed.
Williams titled his piece Descending Into Hell and he chose, self-servingly, to drag us with him. Not exactly the Murrow tradition. Good night, Brian—and good luck.
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