I didn't think it was possible for me to have simultaneous respect for President Bush and extreme contempt for the media, but this week has proved that the unthinkable does happen.
I've trashed him quite enough in this space and in life, and so I'll say here that I think Bush has behaved in a remarkably tasteful and classy manner this week. His speech at the convocation was entirely appropriate and one got the sense that he was profoundly affected by the grief and the unity that was shown in that ceremony. He did not hog the spotlight there and kept the focus on the community and on President Steger, which is exactly as it should be now. He's also so far been staying out of the shockingly tasteless battle over gun control that began almost as soon as the last shot was fired on Monday, though I doubt that will last long. But for now, well played indeed. Unlike, say, pretty much every major American media outlet.
I'm not in the slightest bit exaggerating when I say that I shrieked and jumped when I saw the photos of Cho Seung-Hui posted on the New York Times homepage earlier this evening. NBC had a chance to do the decent, non-profit-driven thing and to, I don't know, NOT give a mass murderer the satisfaction of immortality by broadcasting his demented ramblings to a raw public that really, really did not need to see him snarling at the camera with the very weapons he would use to murder his classmates. I'm not remotely suprised that they published these photos and videos, but that doesn't keep me from being disgusted with the speed with which the talking heads line up to bray about "senseless" and "tragic" while splashing these terrible images around, adding to the grief and horror as they breathlessly decry it.
The idea that the survivors will see these pictures and re-live that morning, that the victims' parents, spouses, siblings and friends will know exactly what the victims saw at their last moment is beyond sickening. What possible "news value" is there in these photos that supercedes the dignity and peace owed to the survivors and the dead alike? Did the leaders of a soulless corporate media not once pause to imagine a student who survived the massacre seeing a photo of the murderer wielding the same gun he'd tried to kill them with? Did they not for a moment think of what was decent in a time of mourning?
It is not the job of the press to protect the public, but it is their duty to help the public make sense of events. These photos and videos contribute nothing to our understanding of why this tragedy happened. They just reinforce what we already knew: that a deeply sick, corrupted individual did something incomprensibly awful.
I'm overwhelmed with disgust for the media right now. They've taken an unexplainable tragedy and were almost instantly swarming like vultures trying to find someone to blame, be it the administration, the permissive gun culture, the not-permissive-enough gun culture, the mental health profession, whatever. The media didn't kill anyone. That was all Cho Seung-Hui. But if Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Larry King want to know who is responsible for all the grief that the Virginia Tech community is feeling, they could take a long, hard look in the mirror. They could ask themselves how shocking an unsuspecting audience with the cold eyes of a murderer and the barrel of his gun in any way contributes to understanding or healing.