To show or not to show Cho Seung-Hui's "manifesto?" That was the question faced by NBC News. We did what I would think every responsible news organization would do.
I've seen and read through some of the documents that have never aired, because I've been reporting on it all day on MSNBC. It's unbelievable, just like the massacre. We're in the business of providing the public with information and letting you decide how to process it.
Given the enormity of what happened at Virginia Tech, given our failure to comprehend in any way, how someone could become so whatever it was that fueled Cho's rampage, his final words and pictures offer a window into his mind. Admittedly, so much of it in just an angry rant or diatribe, but it says something that perhaps helps us understand. Or at least helps us try to.
Perhaps there's something there that might set off alarms about the next Cho?
All day, I've seen and heard bits of what the gunman had to say. Each time I walk away feeling more and more upset about it. Shaking my head. I've never seen anything like it. Except perhaps the videos left behind by suicide bombers abroad. But what Cho left behind was so much more extensive. He'd thought about it, certainly in a delusional way, for a long time. I keep asking myself, how could someone actually murder people in cold blood, then walk to the post office and mail a package. And then kill so many many more. And I wonder why no one apparently saw him during the 2 hours, while he ran his murderous errand?
I haven't traveled to the campus in Blacksburg, Va., but now I feel in some ways I have. Perhaps those of you who've watched the pictures feel much the same. Perhaps you didn't want to go. I can honestly say I now feel a deeper sense of the tragedy there. I've seen more than my fair share of death and despair during 25 years in this business. You tend to detach after a while. You have to. The "manifesto" draws you close to Blacksburg. Hearing the killer's voice and seeing him dressed as his victims probably did really drives home in such stark relief the horror of those moments.
I would imagine most people in the Virginia Tech community turned away from the "manifesto." I'm only calling it that because I can't think of another word. Manifesto, frankly, is a word with too much dignity for the rankings of a deranged mass murderer. Some, I've heard say, watched, hoping to get another piece of the puzzle. There's something about having a lot of puzzle pieces that perhaps helps us deal with unspeakable grief and sorrow. Everyone deals with the impossible in their own way.
Finally, I hope Cho's voice and images remain in the nation's mind and heart, when we turn from Virginia Tech, to issues of what we should be learning from what's happened. Those lesson's will be part of the legacy left by the students and faculty cut down so much too soon. When we talk about violence in our culture, caring for the mentally ill or criminally insane, and dare I say it....gun control. If that multimedia diatribe serves any useful purpose, perhaps it will form some of the background noise for those debates, when we think about the worst possible consequences of hoping the tough issues just go away.