Killer tapes

April 19, 2007

Dear Brooke,
I really admire OTM [On the Media] and your work on it. I must say I was a bit taken aback by your quick endorsement of NBC's airing of the Cho tape, and more so by your assumption that everyone would like to see it. Well I didn't want to see it and I especially don't want other Cho Seung-Huis to see it. My understanding of copycat psychology is that airing of such material serves as an incentive to future killers. The press routinely refrains from reporting on suicides from landmarks or publicizing the tapes of suicide bombers for similar reasons.

One reason I heard for airing the tape was the historic magnitude of the event, but maybe its magnitude is due to extensive coverage of the perpetrators of past massacres. Another reason given was the need to better understand why this happened. I reject this idea for three reasons. First most of us are not equipped to make such an evaluation. Apparently even trained professionals missed the depth of Cho's illness in a face-to-face, clinical setting. Second, these events, while horrifying, remain too rare to draw any statistically meaningful conclusion. Finally, the parents of the victims who might seem to have the greatest interest seem to have been the most opposed to the airing of the tape.

I note that the broadcasting of Cho's voice on the radio drove home how Americanized he was and seemed to me to break the back of coverage of his ethnicity.


Marc Auerbach
Birkenfeld, Oregon