On the April 19 edition of MSNBC Live, Boston radio host Michael Graham told NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory that "the entire story" of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech "is a story of people just freezing, of just letting him [the gunman] have their way, except for that one brave professor who put himself in between the gunman and his students." Graham stated:
GRAHAM: And there's going to be a disturbing conversation coming up, David Gregory, about what -- how is it possible for 200 people to encounter a lone gunman, in one classroom 25 to 1, and yet the entire story is a story of people just freezing, of just letting him have their way, except for that one brave professor who put himself in between the gunman and his students. He sticks out in this story. And I think that's a conversation we're going to have in the future.
Gregory did not respond to Graham's assertion.
Media Matters for America has documented several examples of media figures faulting the victims at Virginia Tech:
- In her April 18 syndicated column, Fox News analyst Michelle Malkin wrote: "Instead of encouraging autonomy, our higher institutions of learning stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance. And as the erosion of intellectual self-defense goes, so goes the erosion of physical self-defense."
- In an April 18 National Review column, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn suggested that Virginia Tech students were guilty of an "awful corrosive passivity" that is "an existential threat to a functioning society."
- In an April 17 weblog post on National Review Online's The Corner, contributor John Derbyshire asked: "Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake -- one of them reportedly a .22." Time.com Washington editor Ana Marie Cox criticized Derbyshire in an April 17 post on Time magazine's political weblog, Swampland.
- In the April 18 edition of his daily program notes, nationally syndicated radio host Neal Boortz asked: "How far have we advanced in the wussification of America?" Boortz was responding to criticism of comments he made on the April 17 broadcast of his radio show regarding the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. During that broadcast, Boortz asked: "How the hell do 25 students allow themselves to be lined up against the wall in a classroom and picked off one by one? How does that happen, when they could have rushed the gunman, the shooter, and most of them would have survived?" In his April 18 program notes, Boortz added: "It seems that standing in terror waiting for your turn to be executed was the right thing to do, and any questions as to why 25 students didn't try to rush and overpower Cho Seung-Hui are just examples of right wing maniacal bias. Surrender -- comply -- adjust. The doctrine of the left. ... Even the suggestion that young adults should actually engage in an act of self defense brings howls of protest."
In the April 19 edition of his daily program notes, Boortz endorsed Steyn's column, but added:
Mark Steyn has it right. We have produced a culture of passivity. Some listeners brought up a very good point yesterday in that self defense is absolutely not allowed in today's government schools. Almost all of those Virginia Tech students went through a government school system where a person who uses physical force in self defense on school grounds is punished at the same level as the aggressor. In this we teach our children that there is something wrong with acting to defend yourself. This lesson can be carried into adulthood. It's a valid point, one that I wish I could have made in a more appropriate manner yesterday. I failed, and for that I apologize.
On MSNBC, Graham failed to note reports that students and faculty did, in fact, act against the gunman. The New York Times reported:
Then, with gunshots ringing down the hall, Mr. [Derek] O'Dell, who had been shot in the arm, and other students shut the classroom door and pushed themselves against it to prevent the gunman from getting back in.
A few minutes later, the gunman tried to force his way back inside the classroom, where Mr. [Trey] Perkins was using his jacket and sweatshirt to stanch the wounds of bleeding students. Mr. Cho [Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman] managed to open the door a crack, but the students pushed back hard enough to stop him.
"I sprinted on top of the desk to the door, because the aisle was clogged with people, and I used my foot as a wedge against the door," recalled Mr. O'Dell. "It was almost like you had to fight for your life. If you didn't, you died."
Mr. Perkins said he was struck at how Mr. O'Dell managed to help hold back the gunman, given his injury.
"It was just amazing to me that he was still up and leaning against the door," he said. "Derek was able to hold him off while I was helping other people."
Mr. O'Dell said others helped him block Mr. Cho from re-entering. "Trey and Erin helped keep the door closed," he recalled, referring to another student. "One helped while the other went to the window and yelled for help. There was also another student who was shot in the hand who helped keep the door closed."
The Washington Post reported on a computer class composed of a "small group of 10":
One student, Zach Petkowicz, was near the lectern "cowering behind it," he would later say, when he realized that the door was vulnerable. There was a heavy rectangular table in the class, and he and two other students pushed it against the door. No sooner had they fixed it in place than someone pushed hard from the outside. It was the gunman. He forced it open about six inches, but no farther. Petkowicz and his classmates pushed back, not letting up. The gunman fired two shots through the door. One hit the lectern and sent wood scraps and metal flying. Neither hit any of the students. They could hear a clip dropping, the distinct, awful sound of reloading. And, again, the gunman moved on.
The Post reported:
Granata, a military veteran, was in his office on the third floor. He walked out and across the hall to a classroom, where 20 frightened students were wondering what to do. He directed them into his office, where he ushered them to safety -- in close quarters but behind the locked doors. Then, aware that other students might be in danger on the second floor, he and another professor, Wally Grant, went downstairs to investigate, Slota said.
Cho spotted them and shot them both. Grant was wounded but survived; Granata was killed. If the students in the classroom had tried to run out, they would have confronted the killer, too, Slota said.
"All those in that class, they all made it," Slota said. "They were locked up until the police came. [Granata] couldn't sit around and do nothing. He had to help out, find out what was going on."
The Post also noted:
Room 204, Professor [Liviu] Librescu's class, seems to have been the gunman's last stop on the second floor. The teacher and his dozen students had heard too much, though they had not seen anything yet. They had heard a girl's piercing scream in the hallway. They had heard the pops and more pops. By the time the gunman reached the room, many of the students were on the window ledge. There was grass below, not concrete, and even some shrubs. The old professor was at the door, which would not lock, pushing against it, when the gunman pushed from the other side. Some of the students jumped, others prepared to jump until Librescu could hold the door no longer and the gunman forced his way inside.
Matt Webster, a 23-year-old engineering student from Smithfield, Va., was one of four students inside when the gunman appeared. "He was decked out like he was going to war," Webster recalled. "Black vest, extra ammunition clips, everything." Again, his look was blank, just a stare, no expression, as he started shooting. The first shot hit Librescu in the head, killing him.
From the 8 a.m. ET hour of the April 19 edition of MSNBC Live:
GREGORY: Is there something that we should take away from all of this? If it wasn't on a college campus -- I don't mean just the gun debate, I mean this terrible rampage -- if it weren't on a college campus, you would especially say, "Look, I mean, what are you going to do? There's wackos out there. There's people who are so disturbed that this is going to happen." But there's something about being in a closed society, that is a college campus, this is where we send our kids, where they're supposed to be safe -- what should we be talking about out of all this?
GRAHAM: I think there are three things. In Boston, where I live and work, we have an incident like this every six months. It's just spread out over six months. Seventy-five people murdered last year, and local law enforcement very slow to react to it. Second year in a row of murders that high. And yet that every-six-month-Virginia Tech death toll gets basically ignored. It's just, "Oh, it's just another shooting on a Friday night in Dorchester or Roxbury," and that's one lesson.
The other lesson, I think, though -- and this is the hard one, particularly for those of us in the media because, you know, I get on the air and scream and yell and rant and say, "Oh, we've got to do something today." There are some things in the world that aren't fixable. You can't fix the fact that there are broken people. And to try -- whether it's implementing draconian gun laws or screening every future college student for, you know, any unusual behavior -- there is no free -- there is no filter in a free society that can filter out people like this.
What we need to do is, I think, focus on what we can do when we are confronted by situations like this. And there's going to be a disturbing conversation coming up, David Gregory, about what -- how is it possible for 200 people to encounter a lone gunman, in one classroom 25 to 1, and yet the entire story is a story of people just freezing, of just letting him have their way, except for that one brave professor who put himself in between the gunman and his students. He sticks out in this story. And I think that's a conversation we're going to have in the future.
GREGORY: All right, we're going to take a quick break here. Michael Graham, radio talk-show host out of Boston, joining us. Twelve minutes to the hour. We're coming right back. Don't go away.