Monday, April 23

Confusing Crisis: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech provides an interesting, somewhat disturbing look at American voyeurism, media sensationalism, and fear-peddling communication spin. When tragedies occur in America, people from all sides find ways to further agendas, gain ratings, and deliver questionable content.

In the wake of Cho Seung-Hui killing 33 innocent people at Virginia Tech, dozens of organizations, groups, and individuals have attempted to capitalize on the tragedy, some of them under the guise of good intentions. The net outcome is the same: polarization.

"Our legislation, had it been in place last week, may well have stopped last week's unspeakable tragedy," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said to "But we know that someone like Cho Seung-Hui should never have been allowed to buy a gun. Our legislation will take one step toward preventing more people from falling through the cracks, and will try to make sure that such a horrible thing doesn't happen in New York, or Virginia, or anywhere else ever again."

“Anybody who’s going to go on a murder spree and then kill himself is not going to be deterred by a law or regulation," said
Virginia state Del. Todd Gilbert (R), in an unrelated story that mirrors one run by The Washington Times. "He’s only going to be deterred by the end of another gun.”

Personal views aside, gun control is neither the problem nor the solution. Truth be told: no law or lack of law killed anyone at Virginia Tech. Cho Seung-Hui did. So we might all be better off giving the media a break from having to report on new debates that detract from the facts and focus on the Second Amendment.

Sure I suppose the Second Amendment has some thread of a connection between the issue and the incident. It's better, though not much better, than the Westboro Baptist Church's original threats to picket the funerals of the victims. Sure, Westboro Baptist Church removed the call to picket from its Web site after public outcry, but one wonders if they really thought "all publicity is good publicity."

To be fair, the church is not the only one trying to hitch a ride on tragedy. Even atheists have something to argue about, spurred on by Dinesh D'Souza's story. Huh?

People sometimes ask me what constitutes spin. The spin in this case comes in the form of linking unrelated topics to the tragedy. There is no relation between the shootings and economics. There is no relation between the shootings and gun control. There is no relation between the shootings and ... pick any other topic under the sun.

Yet, knee-jerk legislation, reactionary arguments, and unrelated sub-stories continue to erode common sense, keeping the pain of the tragedy alive in all of our hearts and minds for months and months, years and years. It needs to stop, but it will not any time soon. This story's next step will be a movie of the week, needless legislation, and more divisiveness between groups that were never divided before. So what is the communication lesson to be learned from all this?

Reactionary communication almost always includes erroneous thinking, especially during and after a crisis. All we can hope for is that the public becomes wary of those too quick to attach some cause, any cause, to this tragedy.



Rich on 4/24/07, 9:18 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Disturbing images are nothing new. In the post 9/11 world we see them increasingly often. That doesn't mean the discussion of how to handle them has gotten any easier for the news media. The way outlets dealt with the video and photos of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-hui and the uproar it created showed just how complicated the issue can be and how elusive simple right or wrong answers can be." — Dante Chinni, a senior associate at the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Well said. We shorted our original post for clarity,
but the original version did contain similar commentary on media ethics as well. I may repost the portion again in the future. It's a tough call, and in this case, posting the video was the wrong one.


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