Was Tony right?

When I saw those Cho videos and pictures on NBC, my first thought was “Maybe they shouldn’t be showing this.”

And when Tony Burman felt the same way, and said that CBC News wouldn’t be showing them, my first thought was “Finally someone in the media shows a little class, and thank God it’s us.”

I felt a lot of pride.

Then I went to msnbc.com to see every scrap I could find.

Having watched this play out for a few days now, I’m not so sure hobbling our coverage is good for the CBC, good for the Canadian public, or good for anyone, for that matter.

Let’s face it, it was a moral decision. And while a lot of people agree with it, it’s not like we don’t have rules for this sort of thing.

“The Corporation itself takes no editorial position in its programming.”


“The broadcast media in particular have an obligation to be fair, accurate, thorough, comprehensive and balanced in their presentation of information.”

It’s very hard to defend the decision in light of our own policy. And I’m no coldhearted policy nut. Obviously. Sometimes the rules need to be bent.

And Tony is the boss. If he can’t bend them, who can?

Do Canadians want the CBC to filter news through his morality? Preliminary reaction from last week suggests that amazingly, many of them do. Yet I have to wonder how many viewers applauded Tony for his decision, and then went somewhere else to see what the CBC refused to show, just like I did.

That pride I initially felt started to look more like cheap nationalism and maybe snobbery. I was proud of the CBC and proud of Canada. But let’s face it. What I was really feeling was superiority over the bloodsucking American media, and maybe even over the bloodthirsty Canadian audience.

And a lot of our coverage over the following days revolved around criticism of NBC, and why we weren’t showing the material. It makes me uncomfortable to see Tony Burman on CBC News being interviewed by CBC News for a story on Tony Burman taking the high road on CBC News.

If it were a Canadian story, and Tony held a similar envelope in his hands, would he make the same decision? Would I want him to?

One of the many experts on TV, forensic psychologist Michael Welner, 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. Let it be relegated to YouTube.

If we fail to report the news, or fail to report all of the news, people will go to msnbc.com or YouTube or their neighbour or their blog or just go ahead and upload it themselves. They will and they do. If as a news organization we make moral decisions on what news people should see, then the audience will eventually give up on us.

It’s as simple as that.


  1. Laurence
    Posted April 30, 2007 at 3:58 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I don’t recall the CBC not reporting that video. They just didn’t show it. Which was GREAT by me. Every time it came up and ambushed me on another channel, I swear to God, I jumped for the remote.
    I DON”T want to see that little fuck. The victims, sure. Him, wipe his image off the face of history.
    CBC does need to report the news, They just don’t need to use it as a sex toy.

  2. Allan
    Posted April 25, 2007 at 11:31 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The New York Times

    April 26, 2007
    F.C.C. Moves to Restrict TV Violence

    WASHINGTON, April 25 ’” Concerned about an increase in violence on television, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday urged lawmakers to consider regulations that would restrict violent programs to late evening, when most children would not be watching.

    ’śThese F.C.C. recommendations are political pandering,’ť said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. ’śThe government should not replace parents as decision makers in America’™s living rooms. There are some things that the government does well. But deciding what is aired and when on television is not one of them.’ť

    The ultimate effect of making “free” TV safe for children, will be a godsend for all pay services, particularly the ones out of reach of all governments – satellite services.

    Having heard and seen what these new, unrestricted channels have to offer for a fee, I can assure you that it’s also better programming.
    Imagine, no political pressure and no fear of losing sponsors or religious boycotting.
    It makes an enormous difference to the exercise of free speech.

    And they won’t be hiring the likes of Tony Burman to run any of them.

  3. Allan
    Posted April 25, 2007 at 4:36 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Canada’s top television critic John Doyle of the Globe and Mail nails it on the head in his April 23 column. He calls Burman “sanctimonious” and “disingenuous” for promoting what Doyle calls our “culture of avoidance.” Nobody says it better than Doyle.

    Jeff White

    Posted April 23, 2007 12:49 PM

    John Doyle spoke from the mountaintop and declared we are living in an age of avoidance (as opposed to denial).
    And then something about blood.
    He’s a pretty nutty guy.
    But he tries.
    He got it right about Burman, and I haven’t seen any other writer go there (Ouimet notwithstanding).
    Using words like “sanctimonious” (twice), “alleged”, “spuriously”, “facile and self-serving. The CBC should be ashamed”, he eventually got around to saying that television can serve a useful purpose by providing the population with all the news.

    But he also uses his television review as an opportunity to pontificate a la Ignatieff or Kingswell..
    Who knew he was a descendant of Will & Ariel Durant.
    The Age Of Avoidance.
    Kind of flies in the face of NBC ratings and the bloodthirsty eyeballs protest.
    I knew I was living in the wrong age.
    But when he prattles on about

    “Mind you, there is a broad context to the Virginia Tech killings and the media coverage of it. The Canadian context, which cannot be avoided, is the current climate of belief in a need for blood sacrifice and the notion that bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, an act that forms a nation, an act that declares a country has somehow found “manhood.” I cannot be the only one who is made uneasy by the blithe acceptance of this idea, especially in the wake of the horrific events in Virginia.”

    what is he talking about???
    He seems to be saying ” Canadians think spilling blood is part of growing up and coming together as a nation, and that makes me feel uneasy.”
    I told you he was nutty.
    But I have to disagree with the non-selling author Doyle on one point, and say, perhaps it isn’t so much an age of avoidance as it is what Burman did, an age of deliberate incompleteness.

    John says that one aspect of mental illness is it’s “self-aggrandizing reality”.
    Wow. That’s a little close to home, John.
    His solution to preventing massacres is to identify the killers before they kill.
    Good luck with that one, philosopher king.
    Until that happens, I intend to stay more frequently in the safest place I know.
    Nobody ever gets killed in a bookstore.

  4. Allan
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 6:35 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s been a week now since Burman interfered with the flow of news, and not one reporter at the CBC has dared to come forward and disagree.
    That tells you a lot about the culture of the CBC. About freedom of opinion and so-called debate.
    He is no doubt deluding himself into believing that everyone approves of what he did.
    Despite his superior awareness, he hasn’t yet realized how much he damaged his own credibility and that of the CBC News dept.

    CBS too was very proud of itself when they hired Katie Curic and forked over millions of dollars.
    How is that working out for them?
    Those guys at the top sure know what they’re doing.
    Before she even went on the air, Howard Stern predicted it would fail, and for good reason.
    And Howard seems to know a little bit about broadcasting.
    In his last year at CBS, one radio station was billing $50 million in one year.
    A year and a half later, they now bill $18 million.
    Way to go, CBS management.
    So how are things at Newsworld? Still boffo ratings?

  5. Dwight Williams
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 6:19 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    For some reason, I find myself zoning out…

  6. Allan
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 3:21 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You’re free to ignore me, and free to criticize.
    And free to suggest rules for my behaviour, and to suggest limits to how much free speech is allowed on the internet.
    It seems to me all breathing has ceased, and did so almost immediately.
    (Has the CBC stopped talking about Virginia, or is it still obsessing?)
    I appreciate your concern, but I think it’s misplaced.
    So what if I’m incredibly taken with myself.
    Do you honestly find John Doyle more interesting and worthwhile than me? (I dare you to say it – remember, God is listening)
    Can you offer something more useful?
    At least you’ll never accuse me of being complacent.
    Unlike all the non-breathing going on here.
    You may be more comfortable at Strombo.com. It’s very peaceful there. And no comments.
    Your problem with me is not that you you think I’m a nutbar, because you know me better than that. You’re worried that I’ve gone off on a tangent that is resorting to quantity instead of quality. But it’s really just a reflection of the nature of communication, and that people have several thoughts from moment to moment.
    This use of the internet is quite different from the way we’re used to consuming media and content; there’s no schedule that ends the broadcast, and no shortage of pages like a newspaper, and no clock ticking.
    So why impose the same old restrictions on it’s use and on me?
    Unless what you’re really accusing me of is being boring, and that, I really couldn’t live with.
    But the CBC sure can!
    Besides, no one takes the comment section anywhere very seriously anyway.
    In fact, that’s the basic mistake Avi Lewis and the CBC is making with his show.
    Running documentaries is fine, and adding expert, educated commentary afterwards is good too.
    But once he turns to the audience for feedback, it’s a complete bore.
    That’s when viewers tune out, and when the CBC is most proud of itself for encouraging debate. (and quickly going out of business)
    The same thing happens here on this side of the blog.
    So I flatter myself by thinking that at least I try to keep it interesting, knowing that there’s almost no one who bothers to come here.
    Except Dwight and Jason and the odd anonymous sniper.
    And no need to worry.
    There’ll be a hundred years soon enough when you won’t be hearing anything from me at all.
    And no matter how many insults you throw my way, I know that you like me. You really like me.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 11:54 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Jesus, Allan, go for a walk or something. You were on a roll of interesting commentary over the past few months, but you’ve slipped back into “obsessed nutbar” territory.

    The more often you post, the less attention I find myself paying to you. Going on endlessly is a surefire way to get your thoughts ignored. Don’t give people exuses.

    Let the conversation breathe, dude. No monologues.

  8. Allan
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 11:23 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Free of sin since 2007

    Bring your knitting

    News that won’t make you do bad things

    If you want it first
    go elsewhere

  9. Allan
    Posted April 24, 2007 at 11:09 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Tony Burman appoints himself Chief of Homeland Security.
    Population applauds loss of freedom of information.

    Admitting that it can no longer compete in the midst of multiple choices for sources of information, and being primarily concerned with broadcasting in a socially responsible manner, the CBC will henceforth be focusing all of it’s attention and equipment toward coverage devoted entirely to quintessential Canadian niche markets.
    It’s first broadcast: The Moose: where did it come from, and where is it going? can be see and heard on Channel 2056 for the next several weeks.

    No shootings in the last 24 hours.
    That we know of.

    Broadcasting Milestone Reached.
    Last three remaining CBC workers announce “we’re happy”.
    Full transcript, pre-Burmanized, reveals statement to have been “we’re happy to have jobs. Temporarily.”
    Burman defends edit saying “I found the remark depressing and didn’t care for it.”

  10. Allan
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 7:01 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Are you saying that airlines are being hijacked AND NO ONE IS TELLING ME!

    How far would you say it is between Rotten.com and NBC, and FOX, and CTV and the New York Times?

    Reporter’s tip:
    Never label someone a bastard.
    Let the person you’re interviewing do that.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 3:58 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Allan clearly has a hard-on for Burman. (6 comments?!) But let’s be clear about something: there is a big difference in reach between the main news outlets (incl CBC) and something like Rotten.com.

    If you want to see the worst humanity has to offer, the web will always be able to offer something to sicken you. And, from the point of view of preventing the fascistic manipulation of the media, that’s a good thing. (Who is to say that what sickens me won’t interest you?) But, in terms of what’s made available by the mainstream news sources, it is simply not necessary to focus on the worst of what’s happening in ways that will make it more horrible. Simply tell the story, then label the bastard in a way that doesn’t glamorize the act. But don’t mention that the “real stuff” is available and thereby throw to the bastard’s press kit; anyone who really wants to see his rantings will find them, thanks in no small part to Google. (That’s so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned. And, if Burman has kids older than 10, he knows it!)

    On “Cross Country Checkup,” one of the callers drew attention to the collective decision to stop covering Airline Hijackings. How is this any different?

  12. Allan
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 10:56 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Wow. We should have been reading his mind instead of his words and actions.
    In that case, I think the pea is under the walnut shell in the middle.

    And speaking of Debates-R-Us, I hear Avril Lewis is coming back soon.
    He’ll straighten all this out.

  13. sadforcbc@hotmail.com
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 10:05 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Had the CBC decided to air the pictures, Tony Burman could have easily justified it. There’s no shortage of people offering their rationale for airing the material, and I’ll bet there’s not too many arguments Tony didn’t anticipate or consider.

    Of course it was available elsewhere. Of course the decision would be derided by some as “Mother Corp knows best” elitism. Or censorship. As the debate itself is demonstrating, the list does go on and on and on.

    Let’s say the CBC had decided, like pretty much everyone else, to air the material. Who would have said boo? Yes, there may have been some hand-wringing by people purporting to be voicing the feelings of the families. Maybe a lament for the declining standards of the media in general. But it’s quite obvious there wouldn’t have been nearly the amount of debate, nor the level of debate CBC’s decision seems (at least in part) to have prompted.

    When it comes to issues regarding public policy, and particularly journalistic public policy, Tony’s bedrock conviction is that the role of the public broadcaster is to encourage that debate. (Just read his columns.)

    So for him, the question is not “should we air it, or should we not?”

    The question is “what do you think?”

    Remember. In Tony’s mind, it’s not about the decision. It’s about the debate.

  14. Allan
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 6:01 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It must have been terribly frustrating for Burman all those years that Da Vince’s Inquest was popular.
    All those chances for criminals to take notes.

  15. Allan
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 8:01 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Who is the coolest chick in media?
    (besides Ouimet)
    Who is the CBC most afraid to give a show to of her own?
    Why, it’s … Antonia Zerbisias, of course.
    So why won’t the CBC hire her? (not that i know anything about it)
    Have you seen CBC News?
    If you watch and listen closely, you’ll hear this hum in the background.
    With my special skills I was able to enhance it and decipher the noise.
    Turns out it’s a loop of Jack Nicholson yelling “you can’t handle the truth!”

    But even the great AZ dropped the ball here.
    In her Friday column she wrote about this very topic of Burman’s decision, and in the middle of it said “NBC had an obligation to show what it had”.
    But I was disappointed that she didn’t apply a similar standard to the CBC.
    Not that it matters all that much.
    Whenever I read her rare columns I keep hearing the same song in the background – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.

  16. Allan
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 7:35 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Will Tony Burman be fired for his decision and for his despicable and ignorant remarks?
    As they say on the internet …

    It’s the CBC.
    It’s government.
    They are not about to admit that one of their big honchos is no longer competent in fulfilling his responsibilities.
    Art Eggleton, anyone?
    And as we all know, there’s little in life that is “fair”.
    Most often, just the opposite.
    On those rare occasions when something in life turns out perfectly and beautifully, well, we call those Ric Hansen and Trailer Park Boys.

    I’d be interested in seeing the university research studies Mr. Burman relied on for his belief that delaying something every reporter and everyone in the country was waiting for (a picture of the murderer) is a better way to deliver news to the public.

    Ouimet, I’ve read the Journalistic Standards and Practices, as so kindly and proudly displayed on the internet by the CBC.
    Man, are they vague or what?
    Tons of loopholes for why we got rid of that reporter.
    And why the CBC can do almost anything they want.
    So I’m going to turn to another phrase to make a point – “glorifying the act”.
    Wow. That’s a tough one to know how to draw the line when reporting, even if the killer wasn’t your best friend.
    But it seems Tony Burman has figured this one out.
    It appears you simply start with not reporting anything at all.

  17. Allan
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 7:05 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    A fuller quote, from the G&M:

    On ABC News yesterday, Michael Wellner, a forensic psychiatrist and ABC consultant, decried the widespread play given to the Cho video and called it “a social catastrophe.

    “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. Let it be relegated to YouTube,” Dr. Wellner said.

    “These videos do not help us understand him. . . . This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character.”

    Oh, you’re a psychiatrist are you?
    Must be pretty smart.
    More smarter than me.

    Something I’ve always been curious about.
    It happens when I read a book about Steven Truscott or Guy Paul Morin and the psychiatric testimony that comes out at trial.
    It’s funny and yet disturbing when I read their profound insights about an individual who turns out to be completely innocent and “normal”.
    But of course, you’re the “expert”, as in “expert testimony”.

    So, you want stuff OFF the internet but ON YouTube. Surely they are misquoting you, Dr. Weller.
    And somehow the video was useful to at least you in coming up with a characterization of this disturbed person.
    I’ve always wondered, as Tony Burman must be imagining, how many people have died because of Tarantino movies.
    I’m just glad my name isn’t Bill.

  18. Allan
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 6:30 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Tony Burman To Parents Of Future Slain Students:

    “… we would report the essence of what the killer was saying, but not do what he so clearly hoped all media would do. To decide otherwise – in our view -would be to risk copycat killings. Speaking personally, I have long admired NBC News and I am sure my admiration of their journalists will endure. But I think their handling of these tapes was a mistake. As I watched them last night, sickened as I’m sure most viewers were, I imagined what kind of impact this broadcast would have on similarly deranged people. In horrific but real ways, this is their 15 seconds of fame. I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts.”

    Some people are not as aware as Mr. Tony Burman, but he is quite aware. Which may explain his position as editor-in-chief of CBC News.
    Mr. Burman decides what news this country will hear and see and what it will not hear and see.
    Recently, he decided to adapt his parenting skills to his decisions.
    He decided that his children, regardless of their age or any extent to which they might be deranged, were not going to see images and sounds made by a mass murderer named Cho. Mr. Burman also decided that his neighbours children should not be exposed to this material either. And rather than quarreling with his neighbour about it, he simply decided that his neighbour should also not see this material.

    It actually makes him feel “awful and sad” that other parents are not as aware as him, including some who are the heads of news departments for major American networks.
    But until they are aware, he will do his part to protect them from themselves.
    News at the CBC will be edited of any material deemed likely to trigger copycat killings or inspire deranged people, thereby ensuring a safer country.
    Other news organizations however may well continue to incite murder and bad parenting, until they become as aware as Mr. Burman.
    But none of that will be the fault of the CBC.

    Tony Burman to Public:

    “This kind of coverage does trigger copycat killings and it’s my personal fear that there will be another event [like the Virginia Tech massacre] — whether in two weeks, two months or two years — that we can trace directly back to the way many networks and newspapers broadcast these images,” Mr. Burman said.
    “And that would be very sad, and avoidable.”

    Tony Burman, editor-in-chief of CBC News, is convinced that any future massacres like that at Virginia Tech could be avoided if reporters withheld images or news about past murderers.

    M. Burnam’s brain has admitted that:

    “CBC.ca held back using the photograph of the killer for several hours because it would have displaced pictures of the victims.”

    Today, The New York Times put a picture of Cho on the front page of the Sunday edition.

    They obviously don’t understand the harmful effect this will have on society.
    In fact, some of the people working there are increasing the likelihood that their own children will be killed like this.

    Couldn’t they have waited a week?
    Or not put it up at all.

    If only Tony Burman were the editor of the New York Times.
    Just think of the circulation numbers it would get.
    And how grateful the population would be that Tony is taking care of them.
    With his awareness.

  19. Dwight Williams
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 6:18 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Tony Burman was caught in a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario here, and I can’t hold his decision – or the reasoning behind it – against him.

    Not planning to see any of that NBC footage if I can help it. If I see it at all, it’ll be due to ambush, coercion or accident.

  20. Justin Beach
    Posted April 22, 2007 at 5:58 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Tony was right. Part of the motivation behind things like Columbine and West Virginia is that moment in the spotlight – the footnote in history, even if it’s in a negative way.

    Media, especially US media, glamourize the killers – from Jack the Ripper to Son of Sam, they are immortalized in film and books and entered into a kind of ‘Hall of Fame’ of evil.

    As far as I’m concered the people that aired this video and the people that felt compelled to watch it were (and are) endorsing the actions of the killer and flat out encouraging the next one to step forward. They may give lip service to condeming the actions, and ‘abhoring such an atrocity’ but they are actually drawn to it, like a carnival side show and are looking forward to the next one.

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