In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy , a national debate has emerged after videos and photographs of the gunman were aired on television and spread across the Internet. Does giving attention to killers send a dangerous message?
Having been the first to air the footage, NBC News finds itself at the center of this debate. Two days after the shootings, an overnight package containing what anchor Brian Williams called a "multimedia manifesto" of videos, photographs and writings arrived at the NBC Tower in New York City. Later that night on the NBC Nightly News , a portion of the package was aired.
Brian joins Oprah to discuss the decision. "I think it was, for us, the only decision, with some caveats here. An envelope arrives on our doorstep, a day late," Brian says. "This twisted, strange person sends an overnight envelope between mass shootings. He got our zip code wrong—he called it Rockefeller Avenue and not Rockefeller Plaza—so he was trying to have more impact, but it took two days to get to us."
Brian returned to New York from Virginia Tech's campus the day the package arrived, and he says he was immediately paged to his boss's office. "And I hold this document in my hands and we sit there at my boss's computer clicking on these boxes of new videos to open," he says. "We called the FBI. That was step one."
Did NBC ever consider not airing the videos? "To me there was never a debate. This was news. This is journalism," Brian says. "The debate was, how can we pare back, be as sensitive as possible in editing all of this garbage and profanity, to give a sense of what we have here."
In airing the videos, Brian says the news organization's aim was to answer the questions that had been asked in the previous days. "Did he act alone? Who is he? What was his motivation? What did he do in the two hours the campus wasn't locked down between shootings?" Brian says. "All those four questions were materially answered here."