Fri, Apr 20, 2007 - Page 7 News List

NBC News praised for careful handling of shooter's video


Even before it was opened, the oversized letter sent from Cho Seung-hui to NBC News attracted attention. The postal worker who brought it to NBC's Manhattan headquarters on Wednesday pointed out the return address of Blacksburg, Virginia.

Inside was what NBC anchor Brian Williams described as a multimedia manifesto, with video, pictures and writing from the killer of 32 people just before he went on his killing spree at Virginia Tech. Cho mailed it at 9:01am on Monday, between murders.

It was mass murder for the YouTube generation, a chilling document from a man who said little in life but clearly wanted people to know his grievances in death. And it started a frantic day for a news organization that, for the second time in a week, suddenly found itself at the center of the nation's biggest news story.

The package was addressed to 30 Rockefeller Avenue, mistaking the Plaza for a street. Incorrect zip codes were written twice and crossed out -- the failure to settle on the right one delaying the letter's arrival by a day.

NBC security opened the envelope, a policy they have taken with suspicious packages ever since anthrax was delivered to anchor Tom Brokaw shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They handled it with gloved hands and quickly made copies of what they found.

At noon, NBC News president Steve Capus was called out of a news meeting by security chief Brian Patton and told what had been delivered.

The package contained a DVD and a 23-page printout of a computer file that mixed rambling, profane messages with 29 pictures of the killer. Eleven photos showed him aiming a gun at the camera.

Through NBC's justice department correspondent, Pete Williams, NBC reached out to authorities. A representative of the FBI's New York office came to NBC to get the originals, and NBC was asked not to say anything about it publicly until investigators could examine it, a request Capus thought was appropriate. The first public word of what NBC had was not released until a news conference in Blacksburg around 4:30pm.

"If we wanted to do something competitive, we would have popped it on the air immediately," Capus said.

Authorities still hadn't fully examined Cho's DVD and it wasn't until after 6pm that NBC had an official OK to show some of his filmed message. NBC's Nightly News aired at 6:30pm.

NBC's evening news competitors, ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News, managed to swiftly air portions of what NBC released only minutes after it came on the air.

"They seem to have acted honorably," ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. "They turned the information over to the authorities swiftly and they reported it out."

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