Saturday, September 10, 2005

Attempt to manage news backfires

There are some people who think that no photo of a dead body should be shown any time, any place.
I ran into those people during my time at The Carthage Press. Shortly before my departure from the newspaper world in May 1999, The Press inadvertently ran a photo in which you could see the foot of a dead man. It was inadvertent, but I had one person after another writing and calling and telling me how insensitive I was. Frankly, I wasn't bothered anywhere near as much by people telling me that was wrong, as I was that people were willing to forget every good article I had written because of something that was not intentional and not blatant.
I am sure there are some people who firmly agree with FEMA's edict that news photographers take no pictures of bodies in the areas affected by Katrina. The news media is protesting these attempt to manage the news, and rightfully so.
The media's job is to accurately portray the situation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That cannot be done if they are being ordered by government officials to sugarcoat the news.
The photos are ugly and offensive...just as they should be. This is an ugly and offensive situation, made worse by local, state, and federal officials who were not anywhere near adequately prepared for such a disaster. The photos should accurately reflect the situation.
The government is not setting these guidelines in an effort to protect family members or Americans' sensibilities. Showing these pictures and the true scope of what has happened is the worst public relations politicians can have. That is what is going on here.
If you don't buy that, consider recent history. The Bush Administration's order that photos not be taken of flag-covered coffins out of respect for the families, was not done to protect the families. News agencies were not revealing which Americans were in those coffins; they were just showing the horrible consequences of war. Each time the coffins were pictured, even though almost always in a respectful manner, the cost of the administration's hasty march to war can be seen clearly.
Perhaps it is time for our government officials to take care of the people's business and let the media do their jobs.


Anonymous said...

I watched the new man in charge with FEMA (the admiral) live during the press conference. His point about not shooting the dead was he didn't want some relative to find out a missing family member was dead through video. I think it is OK to shoot a foot, but leave faces out for a while.

Randy said...

That's a legitimate point, but you would find hardly any reputable news organizations that would show faces. Those are the kinds of discussions that take place in newsrooms all of the time. It is possible there would be a handful of news organizations that would not do the decent thing, but it is more of a danger to allow the government to start putting shackles on a free press.