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Botched Press Conference Leaves Virginia Tech Apologizing

by Courtney Thomas
News Editor
April 18, 2007

An announcement by Col. W. Steven Flaherty of the Virginia State Police at a 4:30 p.m. press conference Wednesday revealed that Monday’s shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, mailed a package to NBC News in the two hours between shootings.

Flaherty offered very little information about the contents of a package. He said that police were working with NBC and did not allow reporters to ask questions, then abruptly, some said arrogantly, strode out of the interview room at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

The move angered many in the room and left Virginia Tech’s chief spokesperson, Larry Hincker, apologizing.

“I’m sorry,” Hincker said, adding that he too was upset at how the event was handled.

Flaherty’s abrupt departure left reporters stunned and complaining.

“I was upset that they didn’t take more questions,” said Beth Gorham, a reporter for the Canadian Press Wire Service. “So much of this is still up in the air and unexplained. It’s our duty, as somebody here said, to ask questions and we‘re not getting good responses.”

Frustration is focused on the situation, though, not individuals. Hincker’s apology in an interview after the press conference eased the media’s reaction.

“He’s got to do his job and we have to do ours, so I’m quite understanding of that. And it’s nothing against any of them on a personal level at all,” Gorham said.

Information released to reporters is limited because of the ongoing criminal investigation. Dorry Gundy-Rice, an editor for BBC News, deals with this often.

“I get frustrated everyday by the way authorities withhold information. Not just this, but all the time. They say it’s for criminal investigations and you have to trust that and respect that,” Gundy-Rice said.

Sean Tinnelly, a reporter for WVU News, agreed.

“As far as the information they’re not giving, maybe it’s better for their investigation that they’re not giving it,” Tinnelly said. “This is a hard time for them. I would say they’re doing whatever is best for them.”

The number of media organizations on campus seems to increase by the hour and students are growing tired of their presence.

Photos in Planet Blacksburg’s gallery illustrate the dense concentration of reporters and photographers in the area and their prominent presence on the drillfield Wednesday, where students gathered to pray and visit memorials.

Still, reporters say Virginia Tech has welcomed them.

“I have found the people here to be nothing but absolutely amazing and gracious in the face of such a devastating tragedy,” Gorham said. “I can’t believe it. I cannot believe how wonderful the students and the faculty and the staff are here. It’s unbelievable to me. I think you guys are setting an incredible example for the rest of the world.”

Reporters continue to contact students and local officials for information, many of whom are already overwhelmed with interview requests.

“People are busy,” Gundy-Rice said. “They’re overwhelmed with requests. We’re trying to respect that, but everyone here on campus has been as accommodating as they can be.

“No one’s been grumpy or mean or anything. Today, we wanted to talk to one of Cho’s roommates or friends or something and he said ‘I just can’t do it.‘ And we totally understand. Totally and completely. We’re just trying to do our jobs too with some level of respect.”

The Inn, where press conferences are held and satellite trucks fill every available space (paved or not) has served as a home-base for news media. Gundy-Rice said the amenities Virginia Tech is providing exceed her expectations.

“It’s such a heartbreaking story,” Gundy-Rice said. “It’s just so hard not to feel this grief. I have been to stories where there’s immense sadness and grief like this, but usually there’s not running water, there’s not hot coffee, there’s no muffins, no toilet paper...and it’s such a beautiful campus.”

Comments (15)

I think the press has been handling this far worse than the school administration.
But it's difficult to tell at this point
how much isn't the two intertwined trying
(and not succeeding) to control things and
thereby covering up here and there. That is
Lastly, I feel that when NBC received this package they should've found a way to get every single word of the manifesto to the american people without sensationalizing things. Most especially because he mentions Columbine in it. Tomorrow is Hitler's birthday. I feel that law enforcement, media and school administration have further endangered all of us in the united states by their attempts to manage this.

marco | April 19, 2007 8:03 AM


I wasn't clear enough [need coffee!] in that I wish TEXT of the
manifesto would have been released to the full open source community.
We could've been left out of the loop on video and images for days
if not longer even. Let law enforcement glean what they can out of
all that additional crap. We need the words. WE NEED TO KNOW IF THERE'S
KNOW RIGHT AWAY AND FIGURE OUT ON OUR OWN maybe that this creep isn't
in the Trench Coat Mafia or the Hammerskins or anything. We need to
know that other schools and towns, are safe if they are. Etc.

NBC dropped the ball on this, so did admin and so did law enforcement.

marco | April 19, 2007 8:30 AM

"Trench Coat Mafia or the Hammerskins"

...uh... do you have any info that those groups had any presense on the VTech campus?

starviego | April 19, 2007 4:08 PM

reading the manifesto will not allow us to learn anything, as forensic psychiatrist michael wellner stated, cho wrote/taped/photographed what he WANTED us to see, not what he really is. there's nothing to learn from the heap of crap he sent to NBC.

Melissa | April 19, 2007 6:42 PM

I saw the press conference. The guy walked out because the questions weren't questions at all, they were accusations. He had reporters yelling "you knew he had mental problems and didn't DOOOO anything about it???"

Reporters are creating news, not reporting it...these people are irresponsible, uninformed parasites pointing fingers in every direction but Cho's.

I think the students and administration are fed up with the media's insensitivity and distortion of facts...and it showed (and I was glad to see it)

Eric | April 19, 2007 6:48 PM

HA HA HA! The press in now interviewing the press about how the press is not getting all of their questions answered.

Poor guys. How on earth to they sleep? It is so tough on them having to sit around all day, and occasionally put a microphone in front of a student's face.

Michael | April 19, 2007 7:56 PM

DId you see that sign?
VT stay strong

Maybe that should be the new slogan.

Anon | April 19, 2007 9:15 PM

I think that you'all would be wise to take the advice from that sign that said:

VT stay strong

The media will define Tech, IF you let them. They'll keep playing that tape and showing those images of the shooter with the gun in his hand....over and over and over and over and over again.

The media will come back:

...on the ONE year anniversay
...on the FIVE year aversary
...and on the TEN year anniversary nauseum. If you LET them.

They'll keep coming back as long as people will talk to them and help them feed their ratings. Don't let the media or the world define who you are. Don't let them define your grief.

You ARE the Hokies.
You will survive.
You will thrive.
Stay strong.

cricket | April 20, 2007 12:25 AM

I have NOT found a second source for
the assassin seeing himself as a white
supremicist. Early in reporting someone
made mention of a BBC claim that he was
a white supremicist, etc. I never found
support for that.
I scoured sources far and wide with that
in mind because of Columbine and because
this was just 4 days prior to Hitler's birthday, etc.
Had I been able to read the entire text
of this creep's manifesto in realtime I might
have been able to rule that out in less than
an hour rather than spend the next 18 hours or
so by process of elimination.
In that regard, we were all relatively safe
from that possibility but we DID NOT KNOW THAT.
And since additional schools got shut down
today including Tenafly New Jersey and Window
Rock Arizona because of direct references to
Columbine, I believe with all my heart that
holding back information or aiding in coverup
whether you are NBC, local law enforcement or
journalist is criminal.

marco | April 20, 2007 4:39 PM

It's sickening to watch a reporter thrust a microphone in the face of a student or teacher and ask the same old question they all ask: "how do you feel right now?"

Personally I love the new slogan.......... the media will hunt you down and never let you rest!

VT stay strong

CJ | April 20, 2007 10:59 PM

Oy don't get me started on the media. What a shame they were so upset at how their questions weren't answered. Acting like a spoiled child who doesn't get his way, and in the face of tragedy. Get a life and get this .... America wants the basic news! We don't want all of your dramatizations, shoving mics and camera's into grieving human faces, asking them the most obvious questions of "How do you feel?". Let these poor people be! And allow law enforcement to do their job and they will release information when they deem its appropriate. Don't turn this tragedy into another freaking media meltdown because you don't get your freakin way. If you're such an expert of when and how they release their information then why aren't you in law enforcement, rather than beating the streets with your pen and pad, harrassing victims with your mics and camera's?? Don't make this about YOU!

Sky | April 21, 2007 11:52 AM

Ugh I'm not done ... I just read marco's remark about it being criminal for the news media or law enforcement to hold back. Well the media never holds back. Law enforcement? Yes they have an obligation to hold back til they have the facts, not panicking everyone by jumping to conclusions before they've put all their information and evidence together, once they've gathered and accessed it. Do you realize the magnitude of such a criminal investigation? I for one do not choose to be panicked by information that is only guesswork. I want facts, and facts take time.

Sky | April 21, 2007 12:02 PM

We are tired of hearing about the gunman.
What else can be said? It is going to be extremely hard for VT students to go to class on Monday. They do not need the press sneaking around waiting for someone to cry. This week parents will be burying their children, wives burying their husbands, etc.Let them bury them in peace.I am sure NBC was as
shocked as the rest of the nation that they received all of those ramblings. It was news that day. The day is over. Let's move on!

Maria | April 22, 2007 5:33 AM

We are tired of hearing about the gunman.
What else can be said? It is going to be extremely hard for VT students to go to class on Monday. They do not need the press sneaking around waiting for someone to cry. This week parents will be burying their children, wives burying their husbands, etc.Let them bury them in peace.I am sure NBC was as
shocked as the rest of the nation that they received all of those ramblings. It was news that day. The day is over. Let's move on!

Maria | April 22, 2007 5:33 AM

I found very informative. The article is professionally written and I feel like the author knows the subject very well. keep it that way.

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