As nearly everyone in the United States now knows, On April 16, 2007, around 7:15am, Cho Seung-Hui murdered two students in a dormitory on the campus of Virginia Tech. Two hours later, he entered Norris Hall and began his now infamous shooting rampage.
What was Cho doing in the two hours between incidents? Initially, experts thought he might have been biding his time, making plans, and even hiding from authorities.
In actuality, Cho spent the time assembling and mailing what Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News termed his "multimedia manifesto." I believe it was more accurately described by Wall Street Journal Opinion columnist Peggy Noonan as the "self-serving meanderings of a crazy, self-indulgent narcissist." Once Cho's package had been mailed, he returned to campus where he chained some of Norris Hall's doors from the inside and began a shooting spree that claimed the lives of an additional 30 students.
Unfortunately, shortly after NBC received the package from Cho, they chose to air some of what he had sent to them, knowing that it meant a guaranteed ratings boost in the highly competitive nightly news market. As expected, NBC Nightly News scored a ratings triumph for that evening with a 7.4 rating/15 share, easily beating ABC and soundly trumping CBS.
Though NBC executives remain unsure as to why the package was mailed to their network, they defend their decision to air Cho's media. Many question the decision, including Brian Williams who the New York Times reports as saying, "[t]his was a sick business tonight, going on the air with this."
Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and ABC News consultant said, on Good Morning America, “If anybody cares about the victims in Blacksburg and if anybody cares about their children, stop showing this video now. Take it off the Internet. This is a social catastrophe. Showing the video is a social catastrophe." Welner went on to say that Cho's rants do nothing to aid in our understanding of the crime and, instead, validate his delusional behavior. Local police and federal investigators reportedly concur with the final portion of Welner's assessment.
Some studies suggest that perhaps Mr. Welner did not go far enough in describing the negative impact of NBC's decision. Research regarding a certain "effect" conducted by Harvard University back in the mid-to-late 1920's, which researchers later dubbed the "Hawthorne Effect," indicates that the short-term ratings boost NBC Nightly News received may translate into a long-term problem for everyone else.
Briefly, the Hawthorne Effect is a phenomenon where behavior is influenced and/or changed following new or increased attention from others. The "others" generally refers to researchers who, in 1924 were trying to find ways to positively affect the performance of factory workers. What the researchers found was that any scrutiny of their behaviors and/or working environment inevitably led to an increase in the performance of the factory workers.