Thursday, April 18, 2013

Right To Know Or Right To Sell Newspapers?

Op-Ed by Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

Whenever there is a horrific event as we witnessed at the beginning of this week in Boston, there is always a rush to flood the air waves and print media with images and scenes from the crime.

This horrible event was no exception but I have to say that the news media, for this time at least with maybe a few exceptions,  showed some remarkable decency, restraint and decorum.

For instance in the image above, the newspaper involved strategically covered up the huge bloody gash on the woman's leg.  There were accounts of peoples legs being blown off and horrible injuries, but by and large, we were not subjected to those gruesome images.  And I applaud the media for doing that even though Photojournalists will protest the editing of their photos.

The word images were enough in this case and I guess the alternative, would not be to run any photos at all.

Which got me to wondering.  Is there ever a case where it would be a good thing to post these type of disturbing photos?

Sometimes, I would argue, it might.

Almost two years ago, a blog from my hometown of Fullerton, California, Friends For Fullerton's Future was faced with an extremely tough decision.

Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by members of the Fullerton Police Department had an extremely disturbing and grisly photo of his son's face brutally beaten beyond recognition that he showed to the Blog's Editors. The decision was made to run the photo in the blog. And the rest, as they say, is history. A photo is sometimes indeed worth a thousand words.

This to me is a great example of how the press can use disturbing imagery for the public good.

Who knows what would have happened if that photo of a brutally beaten Kelly Thomas never was made public or saw the light of day. This probably would have been another case of Police abuse and brutality that got swept under the rug. Instead, that photo propelled a movement and an unrelenting push to reform the Fullerton Police make sure this and the other accounts of corruption never ever happens again.

On the flip side, we have the case of the Los Angeles Times last year making the decision to run grisly photographs of American troops mugging and posing triumphantly with the remains of Afghan insurgents who had blown themselves up in attempted or actual suicide bombings.

The release of the photos, which were shot in 2010, was another in a series of recent episodes that created massive negative reaction toward the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. In January, a video surfaced of Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters; in February, Afghans violently protested the burning of copies of the Koran on a U.S. base. Last year, a U.S. soldier was accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in a shooting spree. Some American military sources have suggested that these events may have sparked apparent reprisals by Afghan troops against their foreign allies.

Maybe it's because I am older now and have a nephew serving in the Marines in Afghanistan, but I saw no good from the Times publishing these photos.

The only good that may have come from this is that the Times may have sold a few more papers that day.

It's a worn-out cliche but true: freedom of speech doesn't necessarily give you the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

I get it: War and terrorism is brutal and we shouldn't forget it and the enemy probably doesn't need any reason to try to eliminate us. But, because of this decision by the LA Times not only our will be our innocent civilians who will be targets of people seeking revenge.

And LA Times, take a clue: Reputable papers like the Washington Post made the decision not to run the photos.

The Los Angeles Times should have taken this information to the Pentagon and stayed on the case, following through, to make sure that action was taken against the offending soldiers. But making the photos public, in this case, was wrong, careless, and endangered the life of innocents.

And to some degree, I felt the same way about the images coming out of Boston this week.  There is no reason to give another terrorist ideas.

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