Friday, February 02, 2007

Multi-Media Death of Soldier Raises Ethical Questions

From CJR Daily: Bloggers Enraged By Times Images of Soldier's Death It's not just the bloggers that should be enraged--but pretty much all of us.

What's the Times up to here? Why might a publication like this show this sort of multi-media presentation of the death of an American soldier? Was it to just get more eyeballs to their site? Were they doing it to stick it to The Man and show the true gritty, unrelenting nature of war?

Somehow, in a time when most newspapers are struggling not only with profits but with the ideas of how to relate to the public in this new age of social media, I'm inclined to take the more jaded and jaundiced view and not give the Times the benefit of any doubt. They've got all these wonderful new fancy-assed toys, and there's nothing that says they can't cross the lines of respect and dignity for the family of a dying soldier just to make their shareholders happy.

This is far different than the fabulously gruesome pictorial of Southeast Asian brothel life that Nick Krystof put together....equally as horrifying, with the intent to inform as well as outrage. But there was consent on that story.

Who consented to show the death of Army Staff Sergeant Hector Leija ? Did he sign a release? Was his family notified? (no!)

This is also quite different from a very grainy photograph of the murder of a man on a rooftop in a Dutch city (something that came up in a discussion on a list I am part of. Nothing about it in English) This is a story that has not made the American press, but is making a stir in the Netherlands. From what I know of the story, the film which was shot with a cell phone and then put on some websites known for showing gruesome stuff. There was some questions on the veracity of the video. But once it was verified, and the family of the murdered man found out about it, they were supportive of showing the video, and hoped it would help find the murderer.

Now, it could be argued that a film like this could prejudice a jury trial. But also, the tape would have to be verified, would have to be shown it was not tampered with, that it was not a hoax in order to ensure that there would not be a false conviction.

But this goes back to the Times piece, where they did not get any permission from the family. As I said, it's one thing to stick it to The Man, another to respect the wishes of a family. And in this case, they didn't even bother to find out about the wishes of the family.

There are many reasons why the family wouldn't have wanted to show the video--maybe they don't want to be part of some either high or low minded press agenda. Maybe they feel humiliated. Maybe they support the war. Maybe they wanted the chance to grieve and sort out their feelings *first.* We don't know. A family's feelings about the death of a loved one in wartime vary so much that it's hard to know for sure what they might be thinking...

We'll never know because the Times took it upon themselves to show the video without even contacting the family. That, in itself, goes beyond callous an plays straight to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Times had another less noble agenda.

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