April 20, 2007 -- Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner's appearance on "Good Morning America," in which he criticized the news media for showing Virginia Tech killer Seung-hui Cho's video manifesto, may have changed the direction of the news coverage.
"It was great to wake up this morning and go online to see that only one news site has a picture showing a gun any more," he said. "That's the way it should be. The story can be told without overexposure and painful exposure and it's gratifying to be seeing it done so fast."
Welner's comments sparked a massive discussion online about the effect of news organizations showing the video manifesto Cho sent to NBC between the first and the second shootings Monday.
Welner called airing the video a "social catastrophe." "I promise you, the disaffected will watch him the way they watched 'Natural Born Killers,'" Welner warned.
Many viewers who wrote in to the ABCNEWS.com message boards praised Welner's directness and passion in railing against giving killers media exposure and glorifying their crimes.
Welner said today he was gratified by that response.
Removing Stigma From Paranoia
But there are also people who say that airing the Cho video is newsworthy and may shed some light on why he snapped.
"This man [Cho] affected a nation," one viewer wrote on the message board. "We should know who he is and what drove him to this. The video certainly doesn't give us any solace, but does provide some answers and maybe there is some solace to be found in that."
Welner said that there are other ways to inform people and spur action that don't include focusing on the killer. In fact, he said, that kind of coverage takes away from the victims of tragedies.
"Let me remind you that we have a Megan's Law that was named after the child that was a victim," he said. "Our war on terrorism, nobody watched a video made by one of the hijackers. We don't need to focus on the attackers in order to mobilize a sense of humanity because we're a human nation."
Welner does, however, say there are important lessons to be learned from studying the killers themselves, not their videos.
The medical community, said Welner, needs to look more at paranoia, a condition that often plays into violent attacks like the one at Virginia Tech.
"We've been very successful as a society in talking about anorexia, panic disorder, depression, bipolar disorder. These conditions have come out of the closet," he said. "We've got to have a discussion about paranoia, because paranoia, among psychiatrists even, is so taboo that there are many people whose paranoia never draws attention, and because they're paranoid, they hide."
Welner said bringing paranoia "out of the closet" could help prevent future incidents like this.
"We make it easier for them to hide and we feed into a stigma. We have to bring paranoia away from stigma…the people who hide away and fester and hate and then dehumanize everyone else, we have to pull them back in," he said.
For additional information, see http://depravityscale.org.