You gotta love the mainstream media. They re-define chutzpah. In an amazing triple play, the media have given us Nancy Grace, the Don Imus imbroglio, and now NBC’s “coverage” of the horror at Virginia Tech. Boy, is Edward R. Murrow dead.

In her TV news persona, Grace plays a snarling vampire who stalks the nightmares of decent people, hurling charges at the innocent for the delectation of CNN viewers. She has been accused of driving one distraught mother to suicide with charges of killing her missing child, and hers were among the harshest of the news stories that destroyed the lives of the Duke Lacrosse players by pounding the drum of guilt for the past year.

When the DNA evidence was undecided, she declared it would “make or break” the case. When the DNA showed nothing, she declared that this did not mean they weren’t guilty. For a year, she was considered the harpy from hell leading a pack of journalists in the prosecution of what turned out to be innocent men. Her courageous response to their exoneration? She was nowhere to be seen the day of the verdict. Time to change the subject. Mum’s the word. In a more civilized era, she would have been told to clean out her desk and then been met at the doors of CNN by a mob pelting her with mud and rotten vegetables. Instead, she retains her highly lucrative job because she pulls in an audience.

Not so Don Imus. After his umpteenth act of boorishness, Imus suddenly found himself without work after he uttered a racial slur against a team of black athletes from Rutgers. One might be tempted to commend CBS for this, except for the fact that Imus has been making ugly remarks for years and CBS did nothing about it.

Why the sudden act of contrition? The sponsors were frightened by the sudden hubbub and refused to underwrite Imus’ hitherto lucrative show. When the money dried up, CBS suddenly declared that they were shocked — shocked — to discover that Imus said ugly things about minorities and women on his show and canned him. Yessirree, bob! There’s nothing like taking a principled stand when you have nothing left to lose and everything to gain.

But perhaps nothing defines the grossness of American mainstream media better than the behavior of NBC in the wake of the slaughter at Virginia Tech. A lunatic kills a student and a resident advisor in a dorm, then goes back to his room and writes a sob story blaming everybody for what he’s about to do (including photos starring himself in various violent poses).

He ties the whole thing up in a bow by announcing that his victims made him do it. Then, he mails the whole evil pile of blame-shifting to NBC and goes off on his mission of murdering 33 people in cold blood, including himself.

NBC gets this steaming pile of self-excusing psychodrama the next day, as the country is reeling in shock from the worst campus slaughter in history. Families are in ruins. Thousands are in tears. Everybody needs time to cope. So how does The New York Times describe NBC’s reaction to the arrival of the murderer’s little package? The headline says it all: “Package Forced (sic) NBC to Make Tough Decisions.”

Excuse me: “Forced”? Just what was that “tough” decision? Why, it was the decision to rush right on to the air with their exclusive valuable treasure trove of pictures of the killer and excerpts of his self-excusing blather.

Get real. The package no more “forced” NBC to air this swill than the victims “forced” their killer to slaughter them in cold blood.

The suits at NBC freely and deliberately chose to air it, presumably because they wanted to destroy the competition with huge ratings from viewers motivated by the same impulse that makes people stare at car accidents. There was absolutely nothing of news value in airing those images of a vanity-driven psychopath waving his guns.

The public had no need to hear this nutjob’s self-excusing manifesto for murder or reward him (and other future nutjob murderers) with world-wide instant tele-fame. But NBC did it anyway — for the money. And in so doing, they helped to put another knife in the hearts of the victims’ loved ones and to degrade still further American public discourse. The murderer’s self-excusing blather can at least plausibly be chalked up to mental illness. What excuse does NBC have?

Television news exists primarily to sell beer and shampoo, not to inform. For now abide three things in the mainstream media: ratings, prestige and money. But the greatest of these is money.

Mark Shea is content editor for CatholicExchange.com.