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Published:April 23rd, 2007 03:38 EST
The Virginia Tech Massacre and How the Media Capitalized on the Tragedy

The Virginia Tech Massacre and How the Media Capitalized on the Tragedy

By Peter Giordano

A few weeks ago, if you had mentioned Virginia Tech to me, only two words would come to mind: friendly rivalry.  Now, the university will always remain in my heart.  The shootings that occurred that April 16th hit close to home as I’ve been to Blacksburg, VA.

It was 2002, my freshman year at West Virginia University.  I knew one thing about the rivalry between the Mountaineers and the Hokies: it was hostile.  The last time Mountaineer fans were able to enjoy the taste of victory over the Hokies was in 1997 when I was just a young boy.  That victory came in front of 63,000 screaming Mountaineer fans, this one was in front of 63,000 maroon and orange shirts.

While playing during the postseason, the Mountaineers won in dramatic fashion 21-18.  Names like Grant Wiley, Rasheed Marshall, Quincy Wilson, and future first round pick, Adam Jones, grazed the stat sheet all game long.  Even then, I sensed some unity from the Virginia Tech fans.

Up until the final minutes, I could barely hear myself think over the deafening chants of “Let’s Go Hokies!"  But then, even when the Hokie fans knew that victory was out of reach, they still let their players know how proud and united they were as a university.

On the days following April 16th 2007, Hokies again let the world know how unified they were.  They were not going to let anything stand in their way.  Whether it was a deranged, alienated student or any number of the media outlets camped out overnight, they “were Virginia Tech."  The great poet at Virginia Tech, Nikki Giovanni, said it best, “We do not understand this tragedy . . . no one deserves a tragedy, but we are Virginia Tech!"

On the days following the massacre, the nation watched news channels in hopes of catching the latest press conference about the shootings.  The nation saw a campus so diversified, yet so in united, come together at the most difficult of times.

This tragedy isn’t about the killer, or why he did it.  It is too late for that and we’ll never know for certain.  It is not about the improper and irresponsible handling of the situation shown by the Virginia Tech administration.  It is a compelling story of how 26,000 people-- virtually children from many parts of the world-- came together, grieved together, and captivated the nation together.

Nevertheless, one can observe the media running around Blacksburg hunting students to interview who are angry at the President, Charles Steger, and his administration.  Why?  Certainly, it is rare for a homicide to occur; and then, two hours later, 30 more people are ruthlessly murdered.  Still the media organizations should be ashamed of their hypocrisy.  In one instance they expound on how angry and resentful the students feel towards their university administrators.  In the next instant, they detail how unified the students were at the convocation services.  This is a blatant and grave injustice.

It is troubling how it takes such painful tragedies for our nation to become “indivisible under God." First, it was the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.  Next, we witnessed the tragic scenes created by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.  Now it is the fate of 32 people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It is a cliché to say, but it seems only clichés come to mind during such difficult times.

Aspiring members of the media may experience a bit of embarrassment.  Aside from media hypocrisy, it is gut-wrenching to watch media organizations scurrying about to create controversies in order to gratify of their massive egos and endless ambition.  The worst mass murder in our nation’s history just took place and what they concentrate on is the “inappropriate response time of the university."  What became more disturbing was the circus atmosphere they created.  With every tragic event in our nation’s history, the producers cannot wait to think of a catchy headline such as “Campus Killer," or “Virginia Tech Massacre."  It is sickening.   

The media did the university and 26,000 students a great injustice.  They misrepresented the community and its ability to survive this tragedy.  As with the Don Imus incident, one news organization displayed its hypocrisy by helping the issue explode.  Rather than handle the issue immediately, the press got hold of it, civil rights people got hold of it, and eventually the advertisers pulled out and Imus was fired.

One thing is certain.  MSNBC and CBS got lucky.  Had it not been for the Virginia Tech shootings, the Imus story would still have its head of steam.  The media must stop making a spectacle of these unfortunate occurrences and read their code of ethics.  Report the news accurately and truthfully.