Experts Speak Out: Seung-Hui Cho's Video 'Manifesto'

April 19, 2007 — -- To find out how psychological experts view television networks' decision to broadcast the video made by Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho, ABC News sent a general question out to the mental health community: Should the video have been shown to the public?

More than two dozen of the country's top mental health specialists -- including adolescent psychiatrists, forensic specialists, suicide prevention specialists and others -- responded.

Overwhelmingly, they said the video should not have been broadcast. Their reasons ranged from the threat of copycat violence to the possible stigmatization of those with mental health problems:

Dr. Jerald Kay

Chair of the American Psychiatric Association Committee on College Mental Health

Professor and Chair of Psychiatry, Wright State University

"The critical issue is balancing the public's need to know against the potential danger of provoking copycat behavior. The power of the Columbine tragedy was evident in Cho's writing.

"There appears to be more evidence of copycat behavior in incidents such as the one at Virginia Tech than that of suicide contagion, which refers to the potential influence of reporting suicide in evoking similar experiences in others.

"It would be wise, therefore, not to repeatedly air the video tapes that NBC received. The potential gains are clearly outweighed by the potential dangers."

Dr. Michael Welner

Chairman, The Forensic Panel

Associate Professor of Psychiatry

New York University School of Medicine

"This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character. This is precisely why this should not be released.

"Parents, you should cut the pictures out of the newspaper. Do not let your children see it. Take them out of the room when these videos are shown, because he's paranoid, and his agenda of blaming the rest of the world is unedited.

"There's nothing to learn from this except giving it validation. If this rambling showed up in an emergency room, my colleagues and I would listen carefully and, when we reflected that it was delusional, would go see the next patient and start the medication."

Dr. Donald W. Black

Professor of Psychiatry

University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

Author of "Bad Boys, Bad Men -- Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder"

"I see no point in re-airing [the video], and it might spur some unstable person to copy Cho's actions who hadn't seen them the first time. And, like the videos of suicide bombers, they tend to glorify violence. Is that our aim?

"You could even compare them to videos of Osama bin Laden: they are certainly newsworthy, but is the world better off having them aired? I think not, and many would argue that airing his tapes is precisely what bin Laden wants. Do we want to contribute to that?"

Mark I. Singer

Professor of Family and Child Welfare

Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences

Case Western Reserve University

"Adolescents are very impressionable, and when presented with 'high profile' individuals who may be expressing thoughts and feeling similar to their own, and acting in ways that they themselves may have contemplated, these high profile individuals become role models. This relationship was directly expressed by the Virginia Tech shooter in his mention of the martyrdom of the Columbine killers.

"Large front page pictures of the Virginia Tech shooter holding two guns western style, black baseball hat on backward and dressed in a khaki vest, will undoubtedly become emblematic for many angry, disconnected youth."

Ed Christophersen

Board Certified Clinical Psychologist

Children's Mercy Hospital

"While we often hear that the public has a 'right to know,' I don't see any benefit from listening to and watching the ramblings of a mentally ill person who just destroyed 32 lives.

"The videos are so disturbing I would hope that they won't give ideas to other mentally ill individuals or validate the inner feelings of other paranoids. The effects on innocent children who have seen these videos may well be nightmares for some time to come."

Dr. Gene Beresin

Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training

Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital

"There are significant risks of airing the tapes. Psychologically, they may be frightening to children and adolescents for different reasons. Younger children may not appreciate how rare these individuals are, and may develop significant fears that could impact sleep, separation, and other daily functioning.

"Beyond copycat phenomena, there is a risk of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in youth.

"There is good evidence that viewing events like this on television may cause PTSD in youth. Studies of the [space shuttle] Challenger disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the events of 9/11, among others, have demonstrated that the impact of media is profound on youth, and should not be minimized."

Dr. Gary Slutkin

Professor, Epidemiology and International Health

University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

"This is being turned into entertainment; it is not adult or responsible."

Dr. Anthony L. Rostain

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics

Medical Director, Adult Developmental Disorders Section

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

"I think it wasn't a good idea to air the videos because: (a) It was the shooter's hope that this would happen, and so his murderous wishes were granted; and (b) There is a great potential for psychological harm for the victims and their families."

Elena Reyes

Director of Behavioral Science Curriculum and Associate Chair

Department of Medical Humanities & Social Sciences

Florida State University College of Medicine

"This does not help the public, [with] no psychological or psychiatric training, understand things any better. It may spark negative feelings and stigma against people who are mentally ill, and it is disrespectful of his parents and family that have to deal with their grief, and now, negative effects from others who watch this and don't understand a mentally ill patient.

"It also allows patients to see that obviously, even they can purchase weapons, in spite of whatever written laws there may be, i.e., how ineffective these laws are."

Melanie Killen

Professor of Human Development

Director, NIH Training Program in Social Development

University of Maryland

"Viewers are not clinicians, nor are they trained to understand what is going on in the videos, given that the information is highly selective.

"These should not be broadcasted. It reinforces the fact that individuals who commit horrific acts get fame and publicity. In addition, the images are highly disturbing, chaotic, and very hard to interpret."

Dr. Carole Lieberman

Psychiatrist, Clinical Faculty

Neuropsychiatric Institute

University of California, Los Angeles

"The videos should not have been aired, nor re-aired, without a psychiatrist making commentary along the way -- not just a news anchor or reporter. A psychiatrist takes away the glamour for a would-be copycat killer. It would also be more sensitive to the families who have lost loved ones to have them analyzed on-air by a professional."

Mary Margaret Kerr

Associate Professor of Psychology in Education and Psychiatry

University of Pittsburgh

"Viewers may attribute violent behavior to persons of Korean or Asian descent, adding to the discrimination that already exists in this country.

"Child viewers will be frightened and distressed needlessly. Exacerbating this problem is the number of children watching television without adult supervision.

"Most importantly, the videos create untold distress for the victims' families and for those on the campus, at a time when their emotional recovery depends on psychological safety and privacy."