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ABC News Seeks Advice of SSW Prof


ABC News sought the opinion of Josh Miller, professor in the Smith College School for Social Work, before deciding to air the disturbing videos made by Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui. ABC News producer, Smith alumna Amy Malick ’90, wanted input from Miller and other mental health experts to aid the station in determining whether or not to air the videos.

Malick’s questions were pertinent -- indeed the very quandary has been fodder for news coverage. See:

NEW YORK TIMES, April 20, 2007
Backlash leads to pullback on Cho video

NEW YORK TIMES, April 19, 2007
Amid chaos, one notably restrained voice


Meanwhile, read the email Q&A that took place between Malick and Miller:

ABC News: Do you think the videos should have been aired at all? What are the psychological costs vs. benefits?

Josh Miller: Yes, I think that it is better to air them rather than keep them secret. They would have otherwise become part of the underground folklore and probably somehow ended up on YouTube. As distressing as they are, I think that it is better for people to see the real thing and then to be able to process it. Many videos exist of heinous people, such as Hitler and Stalin, or interviews with people like Ted Bundy. Airing the video will be very distressing for many people and some will feel very angry that it is being shown. But, it is the terrible acts that [Cho Seung-Hui] committed that are distressing, and in some ways one of the main tasks of recovery and grieving is to construct a narrative that helps us to understand not only what happened but, potentially why it happened. As inchoate as the video is, it offers some clues to the distorted and tormented state of the killer, which can help with the process of recovery.

ABC News: Now that they have aired, what limitations do you think broadcasters should follow in re-airing them?

Miller: I think that there should be limited airing because repetitive viewing of this is mind-numbing and keeps reminding people of a very emotionally charged event, which makes it harder for them to be able to move on and reconnect with other parts of their lives. I also think that parents should try to protect their children from seeing the video.

ABC News: What concerns might you have on the effects of these videos on people who have psychiatric or behavioral issues?

Miller: I may be wrong, but I think that the fantasy that people with psychiatric or behavioral issues have about what the killer was like and what was going through his mind at the time may be just as destabilizing as seeing the video. There is no question that this terrible tragedy, like many before it, will be provocative and challenging for vulnerable people, some of whom will act in a way that is threatening or dangerous to themselves or others. I am not convinced that careful, controlled showing of the video will overly exacerbate this situation.

ABC News: Some mental health workers disagree with airing the video.

Miller: I think that these are complex issues and that reasonable people will disagree, particularly as we all try to make sense of what happened and how best to help people recover from this trauma-inducing event. I based my answers on my experiences as a disaster mental health worker and my sense that the unknown and fantasy are sometimes more frightening than reality for people who have survived or encountered a disaster. At a time like this, I think that it is most helpful if those of us who have expertise and experience in responding to violence and disasters respectfully confer and discuss these issues, exploring different options, rather than have polarizing, emotional debates.

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