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No need for NBC to apologize for running video

One is hard pressed to remember seeing anything like it. I'm not talking just about the frightening, crazed video that NBC News aired Wednesday night and Thursday morning of the shooter -- Cho Seung-Hui -- in the Virginia Tech massacre.

I'm also referring to what amounted to NBC's self-righteous apology and rationalization on Thursday morning's "Today" show for running portions of the rambling remarks Cho sent to its news division in the two hours between his first and second acts of unspeakable violence.

There was no need for NBC to apologize for running a news coup that fell into its hands. Any news organization in the same position would have run it.
Even before police and Virginia Tech officials expressed their disappointment Thursday morning over the decision, you had to suspect that NBC felt it needed to defend itself after getting some heat from viewers who might have felt airing portions of it badly affected the victims' families and friends and may inspire copycats.

Matt Lauer, the "Today" co-host, explained Thursday that the network didn't ask to be part of the story. He added that not everyone inside the news division wanted to run portions of the video and that the news department felt that only running a small portion of it was necessary to understand the state of the shooter's mind.

Shortly later, Lauer asked former FBI profiler Cliff Van Zandt whether he thought NBC should have run portions of it. On Wednesday's "Nightly News with Brian Williams," Van Zandt referred to the video as Cho's "ultimate victory" because he was getting our attention after his death.

Van Zandt didn't criticize NBC News on Thursday for giving the mass murderer what he wanted.

"In a perfect world, no," Van Zandt told Lauer, before explaining we don't live in a perfect media world. "But this would get out," he added.

Of course, NBC wasn't alone in considering the video news. ABC and CBS ran portions of it and it was all over cable news. It really wasn't a question of whether it was news as it was how much of it was shown.

Lauer's defensiveness appeared to be directed at regular viewers who might have been more upset about giving Cho the spotlight he wanted. Journalists realize it is impossible to keep anything like the video out of the public eye in the Internet age.

The morning program also featured an interview with NBC News President Steve Capus, who defended the decision to air portions of the video by saying it was a way to get "inside the mind of a killer."

That's as good a rationalization as anything. Was it news? Sure it was. NBC will be judged on the emphasis it gives to the video in the days ahead. To its credit, it didn't overemphasize it Thursday morning and announced it plans to limit its use in the future.

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Timing is all

This is the second time in a week that NBC was making news. Last week, Capus was explaining the decision to drop the MSNBC simulcast of Don Imus after the shock jock made a racist and sexist remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. CBS Radio fired Imus the next day.

The decision to fire Imus has led to some backlash from people who wonder if his punishment was too harsh. Imus probably would still have his job if the controversy surrounding him had occurred on a busier news week -- like this week.

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Nixed nuptials

It hasn't been a good season for scripted weddings, with ABC's "Big Day" and Fox's "Wedding Belles" crashing and burning after relatively short stays.

At least ABC gave "Big Day" more time and a better time slot than Fox gave David E. Kelley's "Wedding Belles." I've heard from several people that they enjoyed Kelley's show, which had little chance to survive when it was exiled to low-viewing Friday night.

Undaunted by the wedding show jinx, NBC is set to premiere a new reality series, "The Real Wedding Crashers," at 10 p.m. Monday on WGRZ-TV. That's the time slot where "Studio 60" and "The Black Donnellys" found little love. The most original part of the reality show is the title, which is the only thing that will remind viewers of the popular film.

Produced by actor Ashton Kutcher, his "Punk'D" producing partner, Jason Goldberg and four others, "Crashers" is a hidden-camera series in which five actors play so-called "crashers" who mess up weddings. They don't really crash, because they've been invited by the wedding couple.

Of course, crazy things happen. The minister takes a cell phone call in the middle of the wedding ceremony, the wedding cake falls, the wedding dress is damaged, a waiter is annoying and the groom almost gets arrested.

The obvious, over-the-top pranks all seem to shock the guests, which indicates they haven't watched any other hidden-camera show in the last half century. "Punk'D," the cable series that pranks celebrities, is only a half-hour show and usually deals with more than one celebrity. At an hour, "The Real Wedding Crashers" is too long, too obvious and not too funny. Rating: 1 1/2 stars out of 4.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com.

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