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The Daily Nightly began on May 31, 2005. As Brian wrote in his first post it aims to provide a narrative of the broadcast day and a window into the editorial process at NBC Nightly News. Brian weighs in every weekday and NBC News correspondents and producers post regularly.

Brian Williams became the seventh anchor and managing editor in the history of NBC Nightly News on December 2, 2004. Read his full biography.

DESCENDING INTO HELL

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.  In consultation with law enforcement, and with all of our senior and standards executives and producers present, we then set about heavily editing some of the material -- enough to convey the mindset of the troubled gunman.

As last evening wore on, the photos we aired started re-airing as "video wallpaper" on all the cable news networks, our own included. That sort of use has since stopped.  NBC chose Nightly News as the venue to reveal the information because it was the next major network news broadcast (it was 7.5 hours from the time the envelope entered our building to Nightly airtime) in our schedule, and because we wanted strict editorial control over content and for matters of taste. As soon as I was told of the envelope and its contents I asked Pete Williams to come to New York from Washington ... so that he could see it all, read it all, and help us package it into a highly-edited, watchable form.  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.  They have not left our thoughts and prayers since the moment we learned of this awful event. Many of us involved in yesterday's decision-making are parents of college-age children ourselves. 

Starting tonight and in the future, we will only use brief portions of the material as necessary to illustrate developments in the story.

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.  As I said on the air last evening: we are aware that this puts words in the mouth of a murderer.  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.  We are fellow citizens, parents and television viewers -- we understand why families are upset -- and this continues to be an awful chapter in American life.

Elsewhere in the broadcast tonight -- we'll 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.  We'll talk about mental health tonight, and hope to end on a story of hope and resurrection.

Thanks for reading the above -- it was written because so many of you have written me today.  We hope you will join us for tonight's broadcast as well.

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COMMENTS

Dear Brian,
I wanted to offer my support. I am a loyal NBC News watcher, and I don't foresee that changing. I appreciated every word you said and wrote, and I appreciated Matt and Meredith's words. It's unfortunate that NBC received this package from Cho. I can guarantee that any other network would have also shown the pictures. Since my son, daughter-in-law, and precious 7-year-old grandson live within walking distance of Lane Stadium and Virginia Tech, this has weighed heavy on us all. We have tried to keep the 7-year-old away from the TV as much as possible, but it's there and he's seen more than he should. His ONLY question upon learning that Cho had committed suicide was "Why didn't he do that first?" That's in a child's logic. I think NBC did the right thing, and I send condolences to all the families at VT.

I am offended by NBC decision to publish the killer’s manifesto. What public good did it serve for NBC to have given such an undeserving publicity to the face and the words of this mass murderer? By NBC’s action, the focus was shifted from the innocent victims to the evil killer. It is sad that making money on sensationalizing the tragic killing and the untimely death of so many innocent people may have prompted NBC to make the killer the center of focus. Shame on you NBC!!!!

I feel the tape shouldnt have been shown, it was what the killer wanted obviously that is why he sent it to NBC instead of the school or police YOU gave the killer the last word when the students didnt have a chance for a last word to their families.Its a shame the parents have to watch the person that killed their child over and over get a thrill out of what he was about to do!

I think the broadcast exploited tragedy, in the pursuit of increased viewership. Please, let's honor the memory of the dead, and give no more attention to the killer. Viewing this video may glamorize the killer, to other mentally unstable people.

I believe that NBC had an obligation to show what they did. On the internet and the news cast it had disclosures, so I believe that if it was something you didn't want to see you should change the channel or don't view it on the web. As far as "glamorizing" it, I don't think they did, it is no different than making it breaking news to tell about the initial shooting. I believe America has a right to know what is going on in their country, I say down with censorship, it is a FREE country. My heart goes out to the victims of this tragedy, and the shooters family as well.

Ok now you have showcased the Killer, it is time to stop talking about him and start celebrating the lives of the victims. I do not need to hear any more about this mentally ill person. We need to be talking about how great the victims were.

This event was a news-making moment. But the media has an extremely bad habit,(NBC included) of taking the information trail way to far. When I first saw the event I knew this would take a week or two of unending news dialogue. Enough is enough. I think everyone, especially the VT Students have had enough! Time to move on and leave this issue in the past. Don't forget it, but leave it in the past.

I agree that the information needed to be shared, however enough is enough and let's stop putting the murder's face up for public viewing. That is exactly what he wanted.

NBC's release of photos, videos and text obligingly provided by the murderer himself will surely go down in media history as one of the monumentally irresponsible events in news reporting. Most people in our society do the best they can and live a good life. Unfortunately, our society also has a significant population of deviants. It is not beyond reason to assume some of them perceive Cho Seung-Hui as a hero. These deviants will sympathize with the perverted justice he achieved after being teased and harassed in high school. They will hang his gun-totin' photographs on the wall and ultimately one or more of them will act out the same revenge, but this time on a grander scale. Just as Cho appears to have been influenced by the Columbine High School massacre, so too will some future murderer(s) be influenced by Cho. If you don’t subscribe to that theory, how do you explain the popularity of movies like Kill Bill, Sin City and Silence of the Lambs. Certain elements of our society have a morbid fascination with killing and violence. NBC has handed them a roll-model on a platter.

I am sure the decision as to whether or not to air the footage was a difficult one for NBC. But, given the nature of the attacks, I feel like the decision was wrong. It serves no useful purpose to plaster that killer's face all over the television, internet or any other place. It gives him his "five minutes of fame".. He will already go down in infamy for the heinous crime he committed...Everyone KNOWS he was mentally disturbed.. Why does that have to be confirmed by showing him rambling in a video? And then, for NBC to have its logo on the screen made it seem like you all were somehow laying claim to "the story of the year".

I know we live in the information age and everyone wants information but sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor and too much information is just that.. Too much.. In this case.. it was WAY too much information.. What's next, a movive or book about it? Personally, I would rather not have quite so much information...

Free speech means that governments are not allowed to censor what private entities say - it has nothing to do with the choice that a private individual or media provider makes about what to broadcast and what not to broadcast. Obviously every media provider draws lines on what to show and what not to show. Graphic war photos are not shown by netwroks, not because of censorship, but because a line has been drawn by them between what they deem acceptable and not acceptable.
Advertising dollars and competition from alternate media sources has driven networks further and further toward tabloid journalism. Those pressures will probably not abate. Networks need to recognize that the decisions they make to broadcast controversial materials are not "free speech" issues, but rather moral decisions about where to draw the line between news and "reality tv" that increases ratings and income at the expense of decency and responsible journalism.

The truth hurts a lot of the time. Americans are strong people. This generation has had endure quite a few horrific events. I would prefer that news reports the truth of an event and not censor, sugar coat or cover up the details of the situation. The truth wakes people up and makes them aware of the problems in our society that need to be dealt with. Pay attention to the youth of america when they are crying and begging for help. Step up, get involved and help them.

In a day of escalating school violence, there must be a way to handle information of this nature without facilitating future violence. Criminal profilers on your reports have spoken of copycat crimes; the droning of this horrific video will no doubt spark more of the same.

With television news blaring in every gas station and fast food restaurant, how many school children were exposed to images of Cho and his staged images? NBC's decisions have huge ramifications. It is difficult to protect impressionable people from an increasingly violent and crass media. How do journalists report the news without spreading the madness?

I was appalled by the indiscriminate way the videos and Cho's writings were available to any twisted mind. Sure they are news, but is there no way to release them in a more sensitive way?

Our system often protects the mentally ill person, and forgets the potential victims. I am related to someone who is in desperate need of help, but each time he is taken for evaluation, he musters up a very personable, resaonable personna. The mental health professionals, say, "he doesn't have a problem". They will continue to say that until he takes someones life, even if it is only his own. If reasonable people are raising flags over someone, then they need to be listened too, stop worrying about "rights" and gather all the facts. People wouldn't say there is something wrong, if they didn't know this person and have reason to say it. Untie the mental health professional's hands to keep unstable people, even if they don't want to stay. A quick review isn't enough. You need to see them, when they know they can't walk away, and the real madness reveals itself.

Brian,
I am also the opinion that the video did not need to be shown. You could have paraphrased and even shown a picture or two, but as so many have noted above, NBC's airing of even a portion of Cho's manifesto pandered exactly to why he sent the package to you in the first place. Cho is now on the screen more than his victims.
You have established an extremely dangerous precident. Now everytime an obviously mentally ill person wants attention, he can ensure that not only his crime, but his "manifesto" is broadcast. I shudder to wait for the next "copy cat" video to arrive.
You do have a mission to inform the people, but showing the video was pure sensationalism and purely for ratings. NBC and the other networks have more than enough "experts" that could have provided the same "insight" into Cho's personality (or lack thereof) that the video did.

i was sorry to see this from NBC, this is the type of sensationalism one has come to expect from Fox, but not NBC. certainly, you had a scoop on your hands, but you could have handled it with more sensitivity and considered the reprecussions before you went on the air. a new low.

In defense of NBC, I think there was very little wrong with the way they handled the release of the pictures etc. It is a news organization, and if that wasn't news, I don't know what was. They contacted the police, and provided everything they got to the other news organizations. The pictures etc were disturbing, and I can understand relatives and friends of victims finding it very upsetting, but the killer wasn't being glorified. NBC would have been criticized if they did not release the information, probably by many of the same people criticizing them now, on the grounds that it was "people's right to know." They didn't sell it to the other outlets. And they shouldn't be criticized for having the logo on the pictures. People outside the business might not know that news organizations are obligated to say where they got any information they did not gather themselves. No matter how disturbing the pictures were, they answered some questions that everyone was asking. I would tell NBC and Brian Williams, David Gregory etc. to keep up the good work. I get the feeling that many NBC critics are just Fox (Faux) News fans anyway.

Brian,

My family is very glad you broadcast this material. You are newscasters and this is news. I have been extremely angry at this man seeing the footage, but also see that this man was psychotic, which opens up discourse regarding mental illness in America.

Of course everyone doesn't want to see this. People dealing with tragedy are different. Some people want to know everything, some people nothing. The only thing I would change would be the emphasis on this being the worst mass killing in American history. Some sicko out there will try to break the record.

Keep up the good work. If everyone liked what you were doing, you wouldn't be doing anything significant.

Wow! I can’t believe how many bloggers are sympathizing with your tough decision over whether to air and what to air of this murderer’s egomaniacal rant. It was an easy decision because there was money to be made by NBC. It would have taken real integrity to pass up the money and the scoop so NBC did exactly what they are trained to do-sold out. The next time some psycho pulls this, NBC will have to face the fact that they are responsible for encouraging it to happen—again.

Brian,

I must say that I think the video and photos were tough to look at and at the same time it is important to show it. I lost two friends to horrific violence and wish I could have had a "look" into the minds of the two men who murdered my friends and why they did it. For me, that would have helped me to deal with the loss. I am 43 years old and I lost one friend at 14 and the other at 16 and I still think about them everyday, wondering what kind of people they would have become as adults. I wish nothing but the best for the rest of the of the students and staff of VT and I hope that those who found the video and photos offensive would at least take some solice in knowing some of the "why's" for the killing of their classmates and professors. Most of the time no one gets to find out why the senseless murders take place, even if the killer is not making any sense in his ramblings, he at least is trying to tell everyone his version of why he did what he did.

Hello Brian,
Like many of the other posted e-mails authors in this forum; I am a fan of the NBC Nightly News and your other network news shows. I do however; feel that NBC News made a gross error in judgment by giving this "mentally insane killer' a forum to present his so-called reasons for these killings of innocent souls. I totally agree with the disgruntled and greiving parents and loved-ones who declined to go onto The Today Show because of NBC's decision to give this idiot a stage to speak his dislusional beliefs . I know that the "New Business" depends on ratings to make a profit; however, sometimes profit should take a backseat to what is morally right and just for the grieving parents and families who have lost their loveones in such a terrible way. The next time a story of this magnitude arises; I,as a loyal NBC News Watcher ,would suggest that NBC should think firstly the ramifications the heartbroken families feel as a result of your broadcast. You can worry about ratings when the sweeps come about!

I understand the need to show some of the footage to the world; however, it is bound to upset people who have fresh wounds from this terrible tragedy.

I also hope that these videos and "manifestos' will not create some sort of fear of people with mental illnesses. There are plenty of people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses who are stable and leading productive lives, contributing to society, and raising families.

I think that this tradegy should help people understand the importance of not letting people fall through the cracks of the system, and to also help those with mental illnesses get the help that they need so they don't take 32 people down with them.

I'm praying for all at VT!

I am on NBC's side regarding to show or not show Cho's multimedia manifesto. NBC was totally doing their professionalism. They are in the business of providing the public with information and letting you be the judge. I deeply feel for the victims' families and friends, but news channels are aimed for the majority of the public viewers. It has to be open and fair, can not be for certain groups' interests. On top of that, I believe whatever have got broadcasted was edited to the minimal to let us have a peek of what it was behind a deadly shooting mind that has been under the radar, even left his roommate shpeechless who shared the same suite with Cho for 9 months.

Mr. Williams and NBC:

It surprises me more and more everyday how much U.S citizens complain about the news that happens. The footage from Cho that was received by NBC needed to be shown because its the truth. The news is already censored from the rest of the world. The news in other Western Countries are more truthful to some extent than the U.S Government allows for. The event in Virginia is terrible. But, NBC News is a news entity that had to be a ethical decision. Forget the ratings business. Its not all about the ratings all the time. When breaking news happens, its about getting the news out to the public. You can't guage how many people are tuning into a broadcast when it is breaking news. The package from Cho was breaking news. It was not advertised heavily to get a huge rating win for the day. NBC made the right decision to report the news. It is the viewers' choice to make if they choose to watch it or not. Grow up America and get off your pedestal!

I would've been happy seeing this aired only once. It was more and more disturbing each time I viewed it and it seemed like we were allowing him what he obviously wanted, by airing his pictures and videos, a voice from the dead. He chose to be a coward and kill himself, and should've lost his chance to speak because of that, but I understand the world wants to know... I just hope that NBC puts as much in depth reporting and on air time allowance for the victims and the voices of their families and friends. After all, they are the heros, the angels and the innocent - and their voices are worth listening to.

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