Ethics Verdict: The New York Daily News WDBJ Shooting Front Page Isn’t “Tasteless” or Unethical; It’s Journalism

Virginia shooting

Honestly, I don’t get it. The horrible photos of the exact moment deranged racist Vester Lee Flanagan opened fire on Alison Parker convey what happened in specificity and clarity that no mere verbal description could. If your issue is gun violence, this shows it. If you want to see and understand what tragedy is “up close and personal” and even if you don’t want to understand it, this is how we learn. The furious criticism being focused on the Daily News is traditional Daily News hate, as far as I can determine. That paper has been criticized for having the guts to show raw images for a century now: one of its first outrages was a surreptitious photo of murderess Ruth Snyder being electrocuted:

Snyder_chair

Now that photo is history. Today’s front page will be history too.

At the journalism ethics site of the Poynter Institute, Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president for academic programs and a media ethicist, argues against using the unedited pictures, saying that “the problem with it is that it a deeply intimate image. It is a moment of someone’s death.”

You mean like….. this?

Nagasaki

That’s just thousands of people being incinerated in Nagasaki, but from a distance, so it’s tasteful, is that the idea? Well, what about this award winner…

napalm

That’s not “intimate”? Or are graphic pictures of horror not considered tasteless if they involve Asians? I’m sure you remember this one..

vietnamese_buddhist_monk_1963_622

and this…

South Vietnamese National Police Chief Brig Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Viet Cong officer with a single pistol shot in the head in Saigon Feb. 1, 1968. Carrying a pistol and wearing civilian clothes, the Viet Cong guerrilla was captured near Quang Pafgoda, identified as an officer and taken to the police chief. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)

That was the AP, and another award winner. Why is the shooting of Alison Parker less worthy of a photograph than a Vietnamese execution?  Why is it more “intimate” than this….?

Kent State

Photographs help us feel and comprehend events far more than any words can. Want to understand why boxing is barbaric? Here’s a boxer getting permanent brain damage…

boxing-punched

Do you wonder why Capt. Wirz, commandant of the Andersonville prison camp for captured Union soldiers, was hanged after the Civil War? This photograph of one of the camp’s survivors (for a while, anyway) makes it pretty clear, I think:

Andersonville_survivor

That’s a famous photograph too., and it’s a lot harder to look at, for me anyway, than the Daily News front page this morning. Still, it is important for us to see it. To understand.

Publishing grisly photographs merely to shock  and to appeal to the prurient and the perverted is unethical, but such photographs have no redeeming value at all. The assassination of Alison Parker and Adam Ward was the news story of the day, and the picture conveyed it as nothing else could. The publications that blurred the images infantilize their readers, and were not doing their jobs.

Al Tompkins, senior faculty at The Poynter Institute, declared that the images from the shooter’s perspective shouldn’t be published.  Readers can find the image somewhere if they want to, Tompkins said, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that sparked a massacre. He’s right. The news media should have published those too. His ethics are a bit askew as well: this flunks Kant 101. If everyone follows Al’s ethical formula, nobody will publish the photos, and searching for them will be futile. His theory is self-refuting.

Readers shouldn’t have to search for information because the news media is censoring according to political correctness and situational ethics. The news media is sensitive to these particular photos because the victims were  journalists, and the napalmed Vietnam girl was not.

That’s not taste.

That’s bias.

That’s hypocrisy.

That’s a double standard.

The news media is good at those.

32 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, History, Journalism & Media

32 responses to “Ethics Verdict: The New York Daily News WDBJ Shooting Front Page Isn’t “Tasteless” or Unethical; It’s Journalism

  1. Zanshin

    In the NYTimes Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, is arguing to change the way media is reporting on these shootings.

    According to Tufekci,

    “Many of these shooters are seeking a twisted form of notoriety. The killers’ success in obtaining the distorted fame they seek is helping inspire the next troubled person.”

    Specifically she suggests,

    “This doesn’t mean censoring the news or not reporting important events of obvious news value. It means not providing the killers with the infamy they seek. It means somber, instead of lurid and graphic, coverage, and a focus on victims. It means not putting the killer’s face on loop. It means minimizing or not using the killers’ names, as I have done here. It means not airing snuff films, or making them easily accessible on popular sites. It means holding back reporting of details such as the type of gun, ammunition, angle of attack and the protective gear the killer might have worn. Such detailed reporting can give the next killer a concrete road map.”

    • Julian Hung

      David Brin had a similar idea, but as I recall, he suggested giving the killers the most embarrassing reporting names possible, something akin to “WhatAnIdiot87”.

    • But gosh, reporting it as you say denies the ability to blame assault rifles, whites, racism, and other favorite canards when the story is “just right”.

    • I wrote about another suggestion of this sort after one of the mass shootings. Unethical. Just the facts, you arrogant, biased, egotistsic liars. Don’t give such untrustworthy gatekeepers of the truth leave to “frame” the news: they do it too often and in too many spheres already—politics, science, social policy, race, law enforcement, foreign relations.

      This is a terrible suggestion, and brain-dead, elitist ethics by Zeynep Tufekci. (That’s obviously an anagram: I wonder what the letters really spell?

      • Humble Talent

        Pick Eye Fez Nut?

      • Paul Compton

        Sorry, I haven’t found the previous piece you mentioned, perhaps you can answer this by just referring me to it. Clearly I’m on the wrong channel here, everyone else has moved on, but could you clarify this for my benefit please.

        I would agree with the post by Zanshin and the quotes from Zeynep Tufekci.

        I believe that many of these monsters ARE seeking their piece of fame, albeit that is not the exclusive motivator. I also believe we shouldn’t give them that fame and that we should focus on the victims and not aggrandise the perpetrator in any way. It is likely that they must be named publicly at some point, but don’t keep repeating their name and photograph endlessly. If you have to use their name lead with: “the piece of witless filth Fred Blog who….”.

        Here in Australia – that’s the one with kangaroos, not lederhosen! 🙂 – we had a major massacre some years back and we STILL have the filthy mongrel who did it named on air regularly. Why is that good? How does that not encourage further nutters to follow suit?

        In saying this I am particularly thinking of these high profile crimes discussed here. I can see the value of publicising – naming and shaming – people involved in lesser crimes.

        It seems to me from your post that you disagree.
        1. Please explain.
        2. Do you base your position strictly on ethical considerations alone or do you have other practical – but still ethical – reasons?

  2. I agree with you on this one.

  3. Or the midday news broadcasting Budd Dwyer’s suicide.

  4. dragin_dragon

    My only objection is that the photos are obviously photoshopped, presumably to sensationalize them. Why do I say “obviously”? The hand holding the Glock is Caucasian and Vester is, well, not.

  5. The Bill

    People said the same thing about showing the people who jumped from the Twin Towers all I could think was that these people were idiots and those were amazing photos that captured a horrific moment in time and should be seen.

    Especially this one.

    The Falling Man.

  6. What aggravates me is how do we decide which murders be deemed so offensive that we gut the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and kick that whole ‘inalienable rights’ thing to curb and which ones we just shrug our shoulders at and move on. Although a murder, I’m sure this is far from the worst murder that occurred in the nation this week. We had one nearby that was much more gruesome and heart-wrenchng, but it was done by a mentally ill man with a knife, so it doesn’t count.

    What I really mean is why do we ignore things like this:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-82-shot-14-killed-in-chicago-4th-of-july-weekend-shootings/
    Police killed two teenagers among the 14 killed that weekend. Eighty two people shot in one city. However, most of those shot were black and shot by other blacks. The city has some of the strictest gun control legislation in the nation. It is also the home of our President and is run by his close friends. This doesn’t fit well with our press’ political leanings, so such an occurrence is swept under the rug. Those murders were done the right way, the Democratic way. As long as those murderers are people who vote Democratic and their victims are conservative or poor cogs in the Democratic machine, their lives don’t mean anything. Now, if a journalist is murdered, there better be hell to pay for that, because journalists are important and we needs special rules for them.

    • I would submit that alot of it has to do with expectations.

      A while back, after Charlie Hebdo, one of the progressives here complained that we never ever express outrage at the near endemic killings in third world nations, but then we will over the extremely rare acts of mass violence in a places like France.

      My response was this:

      When we see a nation that has its act apparently together and citizens who are generally reliable to be, well, civilized, it IS a shock when barbarism occurs. When we see a nation that is far less civilized and doesn’t have its act together we presume part of that has to do with the culture in question and it IS NOT a shock that bad things come of flawed and broken cultures.

      Let’s apply this to individual humans: Johnny Healthnutexerciser is in perfect condition and is never ill suddenly contracts a near deadly bacteria and comes close to dying – his friends are shocked and sympathetic. Frank Eatsgreaseandsleepsallday is pretty well ailing all the time and takes no steps to rectify himself and has a major sickness every month or so. He contracts the near deadly bacteria – his friends are concerned but also think, “well gee, Frank…we’ve been warning you…”

      So, how does that work inside our nation?

      When some communities rack up body counts by the bushel in no time at all, and all logic points to there being serious cultural flaws in those communities either 1) we shrug and say “well, no kidding” 2) we don’t want to address the problems for a variety of reasons.

      When this kind of attack occurs, and in this case, the community in question involves professionals who seem to have their acts together, though of the “professionals” happened to be a loony outlier, then yes, we are shocked that it occurred.

  7. Here in Melbourne, there was a series of TV advertisements intended to prevent road accidents by presenting shocking images and re-enactments. The problem is that, after a few repetitions, there is a psychological tendency among some people (including me) to displace that from shock to comic effect.

    Bearing that in mind, how long do you think that releasing these images would work as an awful warning rather than having a comic effect? After all, the deep, reptilian brain would take it like cartoon violence, “see, she’s not really dead, there she is again, right back up again”.

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