Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead 9780814785911

Winner of the 2018 Media Ecology Association's Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of S

156 53 5MB

English Pages [287] Year 2017

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD PDF FILE

Recommend Papers

Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead
 9780814785911

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

Death Makes the News

Death Makes the News How the Media Censor and Display the Dead

Jessica M. Fishman

NEW YORK UNIVERSIT Y PRESS New York

NEW YORK UNIVERSIT Y PRESS New York www.nyupress.org © 2017 by New York University All rights reserved References to Internet websites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor New York University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Fishman, Jessica M., author. Title: Death makes the news : how the media censor and display the dead / Jessica M. Fishman. Description: New York : New York University Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017008039| ISBN 9780814770757 (cl : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780814760451 (pb : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Death—Press coverage. | Journalism—Social aspects. Classification: LCC PN4784.D37 F57 2018 | DDC 070.4/493069—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017008039 New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their binding materials are chosen for strength and durability. We strive to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the greatest extent possible in publishing our books. Manufactured in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Also available as an ebook

Contents

Acknowledgments

vii

1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Part I: Death Concealed: The Picture Problem 2. Alarming Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 3. Alternative Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 4. Industry Access . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 5. Intentional Ambiguity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 6. Layers of Resistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 7. Word versus Image . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Part II: Death Depicted: Exceptions to the Rule 8. Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press. . . . . . . . . . . . 111 9. Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 10. Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 11. Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image . . . . . . . . . . . 173 12. The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188 13. Victims Seeking Visibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205 14. In the End: New Perspectives on the Spectacle. . . . . . . . . . 223 Appendix: Defining a Postmortem Picture. . . . . . . . . . . . . 243 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275 About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281

v

Acknowledgments

Thank you to each of the photojournalists and editors who have shared their valuable time and insights. (As was promised, you are not identified by name, except for when you made a public statement.) You generously participated in interviews that often lasted much more than an hour, which is remarkable for those who work in such a quick-paced industry, where one’s livelihood depends on meeting strict deadlines. Some of you also followed up later. For example, I received a letter from an editor (who had been interviewed previously) in which he described his deliberations over how to cover a bloody, fatal attack in the Middle East. In his mailing, he included copies of corpse photographs originally under consideration, explained his opinion of each, and described how he came to finally choose one for publication. Some of you invited me to directly observe you and your colleagues in real time, as you tackled your assignments. During your jam-packed days, you somehow made room for even more, and gratitude is due each of you. This research, which spanned decades, was supported by many individuals affiliated with Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. The research might not have even begun if it were not for the charitable donors to these academic institutions, who funded much of the work involved through annual scholarships, stipends, and paid research fellowships. When the book was wrapping up, David Mandell gave his strong support. In between, I learned from a stellar bunch, including Marty Fishbein, Larry Gross, Carolyn Marvin, Paul Messaris, and Barbie Zelizer, each of whom excels at understanding how our news media matter. I would also like to thank Dianne Elam and Adam Gopnik. You probably cannot imagine the magnitude of your impact, but your early advice fundamentally influenced my career trajectory. Howard Becker, you specifically influenced this book’s direction. Thank you, Howie, for your exceptionally clever critiques as an early, anonymous reviewer, vii

viii |

Acknowledgments

and your decision to later forgo anonymity so you could stay in contact. You profoundly changed my perspective on what a book should try to accomplish. John Jackson and Deborah Thomas, you also shared your great minds and big hearts. John, thank you in particular for reading parts of the manuscript, sharing your brilliant insight, and making introductions with editors, which led to several interested publishers. Because of you, this manuscript landed with the ideal publisher. Subsequently, I was lucky to work with Ilene Kalish and Caelyn Cobb (at NYU Press) as they arranged anonymous reviews, continuously shared their own enthusiasm, and even helped collect copies of the images discussed. Thank you both for your patience and praise, which mean a great deal to a firsttime book author. Lastly, to my family, I deeply appreciate your support, in its many forms. I admire your generosity and your compassion towards those with very different points of view. Given the controversial nature of this book, it seems fitting to dedicate it to you.

1

Introduction

“Newlyweds killed in car crash.” “Girl slain by stray bullet.” “Thousands dead in earthquake.” These are headlines in the news that, like many others, alert us to tragic events. Because news often begins where life ends, stories about suffering surround us daily. “When somebody’s killed, that’s news,” maintains the news director of a CBS television station.1 Another news industry insider reflects, “That something happened and someone died seems to be all the context required for a story. That death resulted is the key.”2 The industry enjoys consensus on this point: fatal events are among the most important and therefore most newsworthy events. As disaster, disease, accident, and violence persistently strike, death makes good copy. But the words do not tell the whole story, and so, as reports emerge, cameras are there at the epicenter. At the scene, cameras can create an infinite number of images, but only one or two will get published. This process begs serious questions about the way we construct the news. When the media are organizing all this death into “newsworthy” pictures, how do photographers and editors make these decisions? Because pictures craft boundaries with their frames, photojournalists and their editors must decide which aspects of reality to hide and which to illuminate. As a technical matter, photojournalists must decide when to selectively narrow their focus. After choosing which pictures to make, photojournalists then funnel a selection of their cache on to their editors, who must quickly decide which among these images will circulate publicly. They reject the vast majority and pick just a precious few. With each catastrophe, photo editors at major news organizations will examine thousands of images of devastation, looking for one that will make the cut. Margaret Sullivan, New York Times public editor, reflects, “Editors constantly make decisions about what to include and what to leave out.” The selection of the seemingly right image can be a fraught 1

2

| Introduction

process, burdened with representing parts of the event that are considered essential, or the entire event, as well as the larger symbolic implications of the event. Daniel Okrent, another public editor at the New York Times, explains that when tragedy strikes, they search for the pictures “in all ways commensurate to the event.”3 But what defines the commensurate image of death? Okrent adds that some pictures seem “to perfectly convey the news” while others seem “unfit.”4 But how does an editor distinguish between the “fit” and “unfit” image of death? To address these questions, I gained behind-the-scenes access to see exactly which pictures are rejected. During this process, photojournalists and editors also shared their personal perspective in private interviews, where I promised anonymity to encourage frankness on this controversial topic.5 In addition, a team of researchers carefully tracked which pictures appeared in the news over a thirty-year period. Because images of death have not been studied in this way before, and because certain myths about the news media are persuasive, the answers are often surprising. What we learn challenges conventional wisdom about our news culture because much of what we presume is inaccurate. The truth is even different from what the news editors themselves claim when explaining what influences their own judgment. The kinds of images they say they value differ from those they actually select. The following chapters expose the algorithms determining the final product, thereby bringing some transparency to the behind-the-scenes decisions. What is uncovered demands a new perspective on the depiction of death, opening up new ways of thinking about how it is portrayed and, more broadly, the pervasive editorial forces, never stated explicitly, that persistently construct the news. This book attempts to explain these unwritten rules.

A Preview: Assessing Photo “Fitness” According to conventional wisdom, the bar for deciding which images of death should be shown in the news is set very low, where just about anything goes. All kinds of sensationalist images of death seemingly abound in the news, provoking audiences to condemn them for indiscriminately trafficking in the morbid. Even photojournalists and their editors have strongly criticized their industry’s apparent fixation on death.

Introduction

|

3

The news industry is said to be driven by an exploitive “if-it-bleedsit- leads” mentality in which commercial success depends on the shock value of blood-splattered film. Powerful economic incentives are believed to demand attention-grabbing images, making the documentation of death a remunerative activity. In return, the industry’s allocation of its vast resources seems destined to favor the bad-newsis-big-news formula. Photojournalists, in particular, are considered indispensable to coverage of a crisis, and so, by almost any means necessary, they go swiftly to the front lines. Related expenses are viewed as a profitable investment that will be well rewarded in the competitive media market. By seeping into the most esteemed corners of journalism, “tabloidization” is blamed for sensationalizing the news, making once-taboo images of death now commonplace. In her book Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War, and Death, Susan Moeller blames the “market-driven, tabloid-style” news for creating increasingly frequent corpse images and, consequently, an audience that has seen too much death to care. Howard Kurtz, the media reporter and columnist for the Washington Post, has argued that the crisis of “tabloidization” has infected quality papers like his: “We are complicit,” he alleged.6 Other critics (as discussed in the following chapter) have shared outrage over what is described as a horrifying trend. As noted throughout this book, there are several reasons to expect that dead bodies will frequently appear in the news. But are such images indeed common? The answer is actually no, as explained in chapter 2. Despite a purported epidemic of “graphic” death spectacles, images of the corpse, also called postmortem pictures, are actually exceedingly rare. This has been the case for at least three decades. Despite the transformations of quickly changing media formats, as the news has spread from print and broadcast to newer technologies, each platform remains unlikely to visually document death. Digital and broadcast news media abstain at least as much as traditional print news because the newer media share the older media’s aversion to corpse images. Regardless of the novel technology, a reluctance to display death remains steadfast. One may question whether the types of images that get published are limited not by reluctance so much as by feasibility. Perhaps photojournalists have very few opportunities to document dead bodies. For

4

|

Introduction

example, the police may arrive first at the scene and tape it off, prohibiting photojournalists from getting close enough. Other logistical challenges can arise that would make these photographs hard to obtain. Can bad timing or insufficient access explain why deaths are rarely seen? The answer is no. Instead, there appears to be a strong editorial drive to hide these bodies, and the first half of this book (especially chapters 3, 4, and 5) makes this case. Paid staff photographers will risk their lives to directly document death, only to have their editors reject the resulting images. Photojournalists eventually learn to take pictures that conceal the corpse using camera techniques that the industry otherwise shuns. By creating a variety of images (which chapter 3 categorizes) that obliquely convey death, they indirectly and imaginatively suggest a body without actually showing it. When they produce these euphemistic pictures of death, it is not because they have nothing else to show. Sometimes editors decide to run a picture that originally documented a dead body, but before publishing it they spend impressive effort digitally extracting the dead from the image. When powerful camera lenses zoom in to reveal a dead body, editors reverse course by employing postproduction Photoshop strategies to mask the evidence. Typically, the evidence is distorted beyond recognition with enlarged pixilation, or blurred with a digital smear. As editors carefully apply these techniques, they labor to undo the camera’s documentary achievements. This is notable for an industry that strives to provide an accurate account, and claims to forbid photographic manipulation. With understandable skepticism, some may challenge the argument that the press is broadly aversive to showing death. That is, some may question the extent to which the press, in general, prioritizes restraint. One could reasonably argue that restraint is likely to be found only at the most reputable news sources, like the New York Times and Washington Post. After all, these esteemed news organizations are expected to be relatively restrained compared to the least-common-denominator appeal of television news and tabloids like the New York Post. In contrast to upscale news products, the popular press is described as especially likely to pander to debased, morbid interests. Presumably, the bottom-feeding news media, as they are disparagingly characterized, are guilty of trading eagerly in lurid fare.

Introduction

|

5

But is the accusation grounded in fact? Do the oft-maligned popular media actually show death more often than their respected counterparts? The answer again is no. Overturning conventional thinking, the patrician press, like the New York Times, runs substantially more photographs of corpses than do tabloid and television news outlets, where the dead are all but invisible. We see (in chapter 8) that the corpse is exceedingly rare in the media most suspected of sensationalism because, despite their reputations, tabloids are the most reluctant to exhibit them. In fact, compared to the patrician press, tabloids use postmortem images less frequently and less prominently. One may expect that photojournalists and their editors, who work diligently at their craft on a daily basis, would have fairly accurate insight into their decision-making processes. They are the ones immersed in the 24/7 production of the news, where they must rapidly decide among hundreds of images, and they are the ones whose livelihood depends on getting it right. It would be reasonable to assume that, given their intimate experience producing the news, their account of what they do would avoid major misconceptions. But do industry insiders have a realistic understanding of their own news practices? The answer, again, is no. Editors and photojournalists apparently endorse the same myths as do the rest of us. For example, photo editors also believe that corpse images are common in the news media, especially in tabloids like the New York Post. It turns out, we all get it backwards.

Exceptions to the Rule After documenting the systematic and widespread self-censorship in the news, the second half of this book examines the relatively rare occasions when death is depicted directly, showing the body. Certain types of death are considered worth viewing, and these exceptions highlight the importance of nationality, race, and age, although not in the ways often expected. Yet, with a new, simple formula, the exceptions are remarkably predictable. Once we realize how firmly the norms of disclosure are set, the exceptions are easy to foresee. In prior studies of U.S. news media, scholars have concluded that the death of an American is much more likely to be considered newsworthy

6

| Introduction

than that of a foreigner. But these conclusions are based on studies of written or verbal reporting, after analysis of things like headlines and story copy, because the research was focused on what the news communicates through words. This prompts us to ask, do images in the news follow the same formula? The answer is, not really. The deaths that are most likely to be judged fit for word-based reporting are least likely to be judged fit for pictures. As illustrated in chapter 9, American deaths are paid the most attention, as measured by words, but their bodies remain nearly invisible. Therefore, on the rare occasions when pictures of the corpse do appear, they document foreign fatalities. Race also influences what gets considered newsworthy. Given that we associate the abject corpse with foreigners, it would be reasonable to expect that racial hierarchies also have an effect. One might expect that postmortem pictures are most likely to show the world’s dark-skinned victims, but pictures of Caucasian victims are, by far, the most common. They are the most common overall, and they are also the most common when coverage of foreign and domestic death is analyzed separately. Consider figures 1.1 and 1.2, which include photographs published in December 2016 on the home page of the L A Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. These pictures document the slain Russian ambassador to Turkey. Such images illustrate the industry’s inclination to judge pictures of foreign fatalities most newsworthy, especially those documenting light-skinned victims. As discussed later, there are other factors that predict when a postmortem picture will get published. In particular, the size of the tragedy, which is often defined by the number of lives lost, has a large effect, but again, not in the way expected. The news industry claims that images of dead bodies are used judiciously, reserved for the most horrific tragedies. The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, reasoned that the “hardest-hitting images” help convey “the magnitude” of a tragedy.7 Like many editors, he insists that large death tolls demand such images. But is this actually the case? Often it is not. Nearly all published news images of foreign corpses do indeed represent events claiming many lives, but editors virtually ban corpse images representing large American death tolls. In the very rare case when a news image shows an American dead, that picture is likely to depict an event that killed a single

Introduction

| 7

Figure 1.1. A widely published photo shows a Turkish assailant and the Russian ambassador to Turkey, whom he has shot and killed at an art gallery in December 2016. Unwritten rules predict the publication of this picture, and others like it. Photo by Hasim Kilic/Hurriyet/Reuters.

person, or just a few. (See chapter 11.) The American bodies seen also represent actuarial anomalies striking a lone victim, such as a woman killed when her apartment walls collapsed, or a man felled by an exploding ice machine. When domestic death tolls swell, the news cameras quickly avert our eyes while photojournalists and their editors contend that “positive” images tell the story best. For example, instead of revealing the defeating finality of death itself, editors select images of first responders aiding

8

| Introduction

Figure 1.2. Another angle of the Russian ambassador’s death published by various news organizations again shows the slain body. AP photo.

the injured and alive victim, highlighting acts of recovery. The pictures focus on life, documenting how Americans restore order from disorder, and how the nation’s strength overcomes adversity. This kind of photojournalism showcases a sanitized, redeemable victimage in place of images that may flatten a nation’s self-image. Although large death tolls do not generally predict when postmortem images are judged newsworthy, there are other ways we can measure the scale of a tragedy. In particular, the innocence of victims could be equated with the magnitude of the event, and thereby explain why some postmortem pictures are deemed newsworthy. Indeed, editors and various pundits maintain that we must take special notice when innocent victims, especially children, the most vulnerable of all, are put in harm’s way. When natural disasters, violent conflicts, and accidents take the lives of the littlest ones, the sense of loss is profound, but are children’s deaths actually predicting when the postmortem picture appears in the news? They are not, and this is the case because (as chapter 10 details) dead American children are made invisible. Pictures of these children are off

Introduction

|

9

limits and, as a result, essentially all news images of dead children reveal the bodies of foreign youth. Only when other countries lose their children do these heartbreaking pictures become newsworthy. Meanwhile, the dead American child generates a great deal of media coverage as measured by the number of stories, their prominence, and their length. Tragedies involving American children—like the 2013 Newtown massacre of young students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School—generate media storms spanning several days, even weeks. The death of just a single American child, such as the mysterious slaying of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996, can immediately saturate the news, and then haunt it for years, amassing thousands of stories. These deaths are considered unfit for photojournalism, but they are otherwise judged most newsworthy.

Words and Pictures We know precious little about news images because classic studies of the news, along with more recent investigations, focus on the use of words. However, there has been growing interest in understanding the influence of images. As a form of communication, pictures matter greatly because our brains generally prefer pictures above words. Eye-tracking studies show that people read very few news articles but do pay a lot of attention to the accompanying photographs.8 Vision is our dominant sense, and because we are intensely visual creatures, the images we see— and those we don’t—can dictate our perceptions of reality. Pictures can influence not only which events we think about but how we think about them. Psychologists find that “the impact of the story is more often determined by the photograph than the story itself ” because images “stir emotions and foster public outcry like no other means of expression.”9 Studies also suggest that “images persist in memory longer and more vividly than text and verbalizations, all while exerting a stronger influence on perception and judgment.”10 The popular adage, “Pics, or it didn’t happen,” may seem like a flippant refrain, but it became a common catchphrase because it is a telling account of influence. In tacit recognition of the importance of images, the news generates a constant supply of pictures. Images are not only abundant but also prominent, because editors give them priority treatment. The availability

10

|

Introduction

of particular images can influence editorial decisions about which stories will lead the news, or whether the stories will run at all. Television news producers will drop a story entirely if they don’t have accompanying images, while a riveting picture can compel them to run the story up front.11 This book argues that it is important to understand how the news media use images because, from their inception, they take on a unique role. These images do not follow the same rules as words do, and in fact, there is a fundamental disconnect, generating two distinct trajectories of newsworthiness. When editors decide a photo is newsworthy (or not), they make assessments that are not generalizable to the rest of reporting, and what holds true for words does not for images. The story and picture are eventually packaged together, but each has been shaped by very different editorial forces. In our news culture, there is a strict division of labor between images and words, and explicit communication about death is often assigned to words alone. Stories about death saturate the reporting because, more than any other event, death demands this public accounting. Such stories are considered highly legitimate, and inherently important. To make the fatal facts widely known, the headlines boldly announce body counts while the accompanying stories provide grisly details. While the words sharply focus on the death toll, the pictures that would corroborate these accounts are not permitted. This book considers how these extremely frequent omissions have important implications because they routinely shape the news and ultimately affect us all.

The Photo’s Failure Photojournalism is that profession and set of technology that has long been charged with revealing the central facts, thus helping a dispersed public clearly see the evidence. Death is one of life’s most important events, and the corpse is evidence of that event. But death upends the conventional role of photojournalism as an eyewitness, and suddenly we want a camera that knows not how to expose but how to conceal. With these reversals of fortune, the camera’s ability to copy, which is usually its greatest asset, is now an anxiety-provoking liability. Indeed, the more revealing an image is, the more likely it is to be omitted from the public record and kept out of sight. Photojournalism

Introduction

|

11

now withholds the most relevant information, intentionally making pictures evasive because restraint and innuendo are prioritized over disclosure. If a picture shows the dead, the camera’s documentary work, which is otherwise cherished for its faithful verisimilitude, is now despised for “sensationalism,” as if it distorts reality with wretched excess. Although camera pictures are typically admired for being more “powerful” than words, editors reject the image that specifically documents the dead for being “too strong.” These pictures are rebuked for “attacking,” “hitting,” and otherwise “traumatizing” people. To signal their transgression, we also rely on sexual metaphors, labeling these photographs as “pornographic” and, by extension, “exploitive.” Some even vilify the documentation as “snuff porn,” implying that the news industry is complicit in a crime. The prejudice is so intense that even images that show no blood or gore are described as “brutally” or “extremely” graphic.12 Many of these pictures could be interpreted as depicting a sleeping rather than a dead person (if not for the clarifications provided by headlines and captions), yet they are treated as cause for alarm. Being a “graphic image” is an offense even though all images are graphic, by definition, due to their pictorial form. In this most ironic turn, even the fundamental nature of photojournalism as picture-based reporting is scorned. Or, in another twist of fate, instead of complaining that these pictures are excessively revealing, editors insist that they are not newsworthy because they reveal nothing: the picture documenting a death is reproached for “providing no information.” Ordinarily, editors endorse the cliché that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” but rather than applaud the fact-filled relay—the bragging rights usually afforded photojournalism—they condemn the postmortem image for failing to relay at all. (Chapters 6 and 7 contend with these ironies.) Regardless of the rhetoric we use to justify the censorship, our underlying contempt is remarkable given that images of death—including gory ones—are mainstays in many forms of entertainment that attract large audiences. We support a massive market for violent entertainment, and the U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that by the age of eighteen, the average American has seen over forty thousand screen deaths. Dead bodies are shown in dramas, action adventures, crime fiction, science fiction, and even comedies. Such imagery has

12

|

Introduction

long been common among a wide array of genres, including those in film, video games, and fairy tales.13 Americans are not squeamish, and yet, even highly sanitized images in the news quickly ignite disgust and outrage.

Prized Pictures The same editors who passionately argue that corpse photographs are not newsworthy believe that a select few are actually “essential.” Apparently, there are those images that should never be seen, and those that must be seen. Most postmortem pictures are regarded as wickedly perverting journalistic ideals, but some are cherished as means of “bearing witness.” Instead of being lambasted as pornographic, these striking exceptions are even fêted as Pulitzer Prize–worthy. Consider the several years of civil war convulsing Syria. When reporting on the crisis, American news coverage has sometimes promi-

Figure 1.3. This photograph of a dead Syrian child was in the New York Times and elsewhere before winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize. This book explains why some postmortem pictures are judged Pulitzer Prize–worthy but others are censured as “pornographic.” The photo is by Manu Brabo/Associated Press.

Introduction

|

13

Figure 1.4. After a three-year-old Syrian boy was found dead on a beach, this picture and similar ones were widely published and commended for what they exposed. Typically, however, editors prioritize the pictures that conceal the dead. This photo is by Nilüfer Demir.

nently pictured corpses, and editors have regarded these images as not only legitimate but indispensable. Even U.S. presidents hailed their importance while imploring all of us to look. The Pulitzer Prize committee also honored several of these images. A picture of a bloody boy, lying dead in his father’s arms, received a 2013 Pulitzer Prize because it was judged to embody the profession’s ideals. (See figure 1.3.) That same year, a picture taken at night, as a flashlight revealed a young Syrian man lying dead in a field, also grabbed acclaim. (This image appears in the last chapter, where it is discussed further.) During the summer of 2015, American news media widely disseminated pictures from a Turkish beach of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy. (Figure 1.4 was a particularly popular one.) The news declared them a “necessary” and “stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy.”14 Whereas many postmortem pictures do not make it past editorial gatekeepers, who earnestly denounce them, a few get escorted through

14

|

Introduction

as heroes, and the evaluations of these images swiftly shift, depending on the nationality of the deceased. When American lives are lost, it seems unconscionable to document the dead, but during major international tragedies, images of the dead seem ripe with promise. They are believed to improve the lives of millions by inspiring political action, ending wars, and correcting inequalities. The pictures of a small boy on the sand were credited with having “sparked international outrage over Europe’s migration crisis.”15 The images were also credited with triggering a lifesaving chain reaction in which “changed hearts can change minds and ultimately policy and history.”16 As foretold, the picture would “change the world,” and at the close of 2016, Time magazine honored it as one of the “turning points in our human experience.”17 The promise placed in such pictures becomes their justification, which can be problematic. If we equate the newsworthy image with the one that will have very positive social effects, this logic demands that editors pick only the ones that will achieve good, even though the effects of a specific image can never be predicted. At press time, an editor has no way of knowing what changes, if any, will be triggered by publishing a particular picture. Even in hindsight, we lack proof of what an individual photograph accomplished. With so many other historical factors to consider, it is nearly impossible to trace the effects of a single image, leaving us to infer causality where it might not actually exist. The argument that a picture is newsworthy because it will better the world puts the bar ridiculously high, and we have used this lofty ideal to justify the censorship of images documenting American death. Although news editors and audiences tend to have faith that there is value in bearing witness to foreign tragedy, fantasizing about the potential benefits of seeing these images, we do not imagine that the domestic depictions could have positive effects. Instead, we expect that pictures that happen to reveal domestic deaths will cause great harm if published. Despite our convictions, the positive and negative effects have yet to be established scientifically. (It is unclear, for example, whether pictures of Sandy Hook Elementary School fatalities could advance gun control policy to save lives.) The tendency to justify a picture as newsworthy if it promises to achieve great good also reveals how we make heavy demands of photojournalism while expecting relatively little of word-based reporting.

Introduction

|

15

When the news uses words to inform us of the death toll, editors feel no need to defend the language choice as one that will right a wrong and save lives. When reporters use words to relay who has died—and where, how, and when they died—these particulars seem inherently important and naturally newsworthy. In contrast to the corresponding images that we often judge odious, when they are announcing a tragedy, the words seem without sin, as if they are duty-bound to transmit the facts. For these reasons, the words about death need no justification. Like the words, pictures could be considered broadly legitimate and, like words, they could be valued simply as a record of an important event. But their fates have diverged dramatically.

Our Photo Fetish The celebration provoked by some images, and the deep anti-picture prejudice provoked by others, are two sides of the same coin. Whether we are glorifying its power to change the world or criminalizing it as snuff porn, we endow the postmortem picture with a magical power. We are convinced that some images harm while others heal, some violate while others liberate, and some embolden evil while others defeat it. As we fetishize, the image inspires quickly shifting fantasies and fears. Although the thinking is magical, it is applied quite systematically. The difference between a “fit” and “unfit” postmortem photo conforms to certain patterns, which editors absorb and translate into practice. Editors lack objective criteria (such as scientific insight into a picture’s actual effects) when deciding which image should be published, but with great reliability, editors make similar decisions each day, and what they learn to reproduce, audiences learn to expect. Yet, with a mass audience numbering in the millions, the fantasies and fears of some will not always perfectly align with those of an editor, and in these moments, controversy erupts. These are heated controversies, where fears reflect an exaggerated sense of danger involving loosely defined conceptions of harm. But whether the threat is real or imagined, when fear is heightened, protection becomes more important. In response, we perceive a need to be vigilant against the threat, creating a persistent sense of a crisis in journalism, which in turn breeds an inexhaustible need for control. The controversial picture of death

16

|

Introduction

sparks intense fights over the purpose of the press, the role of evidence, and even the nature of truth. With each controversial image, we argue over who can know what, and through what means it can be known. With a sense of desperation, we scramble to defend vast notions of taste, decency, privacy, and ethics. Mix in other important distinctions, like those involving nationality, race, and class, and there is even more at stake. The pictures provide irresistible opportunities to wrangle with really big issues because, in our deliberations over death’s depiction, our preoccupations reverberate. With so much meaning at play, it makes sense that we obsessively police these images. Here, then, is the story of perhaps the most contested news practice: picturing the corpse.

2

Alarming Images

When tragedy strikes, the news cameras draw close, provoking descriptions of photographers as vultures descending on the carcass of misfortune and carnivorously thriving on others’ demise. Writing in the Baltimore Sun, social commentator Gregory Kane sharply criticized news media for the pictures provided by the cruel “media feast” on tragedy.1 In Carnage and the Media: The Making and Breaking of News about Violence, Jean Seaton posits that “both butchers and newsmen . . . like their product raw and fresh.”2 Another media expert complains, “At breakfast and at dinner, we can sharpen our own appetites with a plentiful dose of the pornography of war, genocide, destitution and disease.”3 Purportedly, the industry has a “seemingly endless appetite for extreme images.”4 Other unflattering analogies and metaphors are also used, but they all speak of crisis, and one that is said to be intractable. Without providing evidence, historians contend that news images of the dead are rampant. One such historian argues with great conviction: “In the contemporary world, only an anchorite or an Amazonian tribesman can avoid” the “regular barrage,” and as a result, “Almost every child in the civilized world has seen the immediate aftermath of real-life killing on the screen, before he or she can read.”5 Other academic accounts similarly disdain the “seemingly endless catalogue” of “graphic images of death.”6 Yet others reflect on “the many images of the dead and dying shown in the media,” which are presupposed to be a staple of American photojournalism.7 When sharing their opinion, ordinary audience members also complain that the corpse appears frequently in the news. In focus groups, participants agreed that the dead body is ubiquitous in photojournalism. One focus-group participant offered, “We don’t need to see that reality,” but “we see that every day [in the news].” Exposing the moment of death “is not what I consider kosher,” another added. Another critiqued the seemingly

19

20

|

Alarming Images

endless images of death when rhetorically asking, “Why are you [in the press] so exploitative and showing all of these murders?” Another stressed, “Dead is dead. Leave them alone!”8 Even professionals working for the news media believe that their coverage habitually depicts bodies. An editor complained that the reader is “presented with images of grotesque violence on a daily basis.”9 He gave an example of a recent front-page photo of a dead Palestinian in the New York Times. Relying on other anecdotes, a prominent editor within the National Press Photographers Association described the news media as providing an “endless scroll of videos of beheadings in Syria by ISIS and in Mexico by drug cartels; photographs of lynchings of adolescent rape victims lynched in India; and mass executions of Christians who are trapped in Iraq.”10 Howard Chapnick, who served as the chief of a leading worldwide picture agency for five decades, also believed that photojournalism commonly displays death. He explained how “editors revel in bang-bang pictures and readers are fascinated by them.”11 During individual interviews for this project, photo editors from around the country also stated that published pictures of corpses are plentiful. For instance, as one photo editor commented, “Lots of these pictures are out there. Lots. Just look at the track record, and the [news] industry produces more each day.” Another photo editor summarized, “Those images just proliferate.” A photographer similarly reflected that such images were incessantly presented to the public, appropriately provoking exasperation: “From California to Virginia the public is screaming ‘sensationalism for the sake of selling newspapers.’ ”12

A Crisis and Its Causes Fearing that the situation is worsening over time, accounts of an expanding crisis blame a massive moral decline. “What was once taboo and totally unheard of is now commonplace,” insists the deputy director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Carl Gottlieb.13 “One of the worst trends in news is the increasing number of pictures of dead bodies, sometimes piles of them, in newspapers and magazines. This used to be taboo and should be again in my view. . . . It’s sensationalism of the most gruesome kind.”14 When Professor Jean Seaton estimates the

Alarming Images

| 21

extent of the current problem, she warns that news images of death in the news media “have become harder to escape than at any previous time in history.”15 Contemporary photojournalism, as others describe it, gorges on an “increasing diet of death.”16 As media historian Steve Stark concluded, these ghoulish pictures proliferate, as “standards don’t exist anymore.”17 Related to these arguments, critics frequently complain that these images are now prevalent because they have lost their ability to excite or have any other dramatic effect. A media critic ridiculed, “[I]t’s perfectly acceptable, if not mundane, to show [these photos].”18 The problem is traced to a numbing effect. Conceivably, as the Washington Post cultural critic Philip Kennicott explains, “The slow numbing effect of the past decade, which also included devastating images . . . may simply have lowered the threshold of what is acceptable to show.”19 Meanwhile, other psychological arguments lament that these images are prevalent not because they numb us, but for essentially the opposite reason: because they excite us. For example, in several of his books, media scholar John Taylor states that cold bodies are hot stuff because “photographs of the dead carry . . . the heat of the news.”20 As claimed, “Editors demand impact or shock-value” from photojournalism and so do audiences, because images of dead bodies “stir the blood of the living who . . . can contemplate the proof of others’ mortality.”21 In this accounting, we are irresistibly attracted to these photographs.22 Other accounts blame changing technology. The Washington Post contends that Internet technology has made it easier and more acceptable for the news to rely on graphic images: “The easy availability of the most graphic photographs and videos online may have changed the equation for everyone.”23 Echoing similar sentiments, the New York Times published this warning: “In an era when most people have a camera in their hand or pocket, mass shootings will be memorialized on cell phone videos and ubiquitous security cameras will dish up fresh horrors.”24 The same culprits were identified by the International Business Times: “Gruesome imagery is increasingly becoming part of the everyday news cycle in an age when each of us is equipped with a portable camera at all times.”25 The account concluded, “Now more than ever, professional and citizen journalists alike are capturing everything from

22

|

Alarming Images

altercations to police beatings to homicides. That, combined with news outlets’ ever-growing appetite for readers and ratings, means there will always be temptation for journalists to opt for the easy shock.”26 Some believe instead that the problem lies in the business model and its bottom line. The industry’s commercial strategy purportedly depends on “blood-splattered film” because the commercial pressure is “intense, as are the rewards and the penalties.”27 Financial motives are said to motivate the publication of postmortem pictures, generating a process described as the “media commodification of the grotesque and tragic.”28 It is argued that editors cannot resist because they “figure that there is no such thing as media overkill, especially if it gets higher ratings and sells more papers.”29

The Body Count As we deplore a seemingly incessant production of morbid spectacles, we offer various and sometimes conflicting accounts of what fuels this rise. Although we feel great conviction about the existence of the problem, and offer plausible accounts of its cause, none of the claims have yet to be substantiated by anything other than anecdote. All this begs the question of whether there really is a problem. Is there a crisis in journalism, or just a perceived one? Just how common are these photos? It turns out that, actually, pictures of dead bodies rarely appear in the news. Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, the news includes very few corpse images. Such images are, in fact, rare among print newspapers, their online versions, and television’s broadcast news. Meanwhile, news critics and scholars, professional journalism associations, and advocacy groups have sounded the alarm and rushed to stem an epidemic that does not even exist. Many careers and more than a cottage industry have been dedicated to fighting a crisis that exists in our imagination only. The exact number of corpse images that make the cut depends slightly on the definition used, but about 1 percent of newspaper photographs qualify.30 Every month major newspapers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune,

Alarming Images

|

23

the New York Post, and the Philadelphia Daily News, carry several hundred photographs and, on average, only one or two of these images document a dead body.31 Smaller, local newspapers are even more likely to steer clear of the postmortem picture. If one accepts that these images are rare overall, it is still possible that the news media are increasingly relying on them, which could justify the fear that a problem is growing. However, when our research team tracked over thirty years of newspaper production, we found that the use of corpse images over time has not significantly increased. (The variation over time is further discussed in chapter 8.) Despite changes in technology, such as cell phone cameras that ubiquitously capture images and the Internet, which makes them quickly available, the likelihood that news coverage includes a corpse image has not been rising. If there has been a technological assault on privacy and a decline in decency, as we tend to fret, these moral shortcomings have not increased the news media’s reliance on the corpse image. In other words, regardless of technological and other shifts, the news has remained averse to using these images. Among the digital news media, postmortem images are at least as rare as they were for several decades of print publishing. Editors seem to make similar decisions about the “newsworthy” image regardless of whether they are considering the picture for a newer or an older medium. A large survey of news professionals nationwide also suggests that picture preferences are mostly stable.32 When they were asked to make a decision about whether to run graphic images, their answers did not vary substantially according to whether the image was considered for a print or a website edition, demonstrating that newer technology did not seem to influence which images were considered newsworthy. Our team found that the rates of postmortem pictures can be even lower online than among print news outlets because digital media host so many images in general. Websites pack in photos using slide shows and multimedia options, and as a result, the proportion of images that document dead bodies is often very small. In fact, with the expanded use of images online, often less than 1 percent of photos and videos reveal the corpse. When they do, they are typically denied prominence; for example, the rare corpse image is likely to be placed near the end of a long slide show that includes up to two dozen images. Presumably,

24

|

Alarming Images

because they lack prominence, they are unlikely to be seen. These images are not prominently displayed in print newspapers either. In fact, overall only 11 percent of all corpse photos are published on a front page, meaning that the vast majority are cautiously tucked inside. Online content aggregators, like Google and Yahoo News, also rarely depict fatalities, which makes sense given that they are consolidating content from other news sources that typically avoid this kind of documentation. For example, when we examined 112 days of news coverage from Google and Yahoo (in 2013 and 2016), no corpses were shown. Consider the summer of 2013, when Egypt suffered some of the worst violence in its history. Headlines on Yahoo from USA Today and other news organizations tracked the quickly rising death toll as hundreds were killed when Egyptian forces attacked protesters. As the loss of life grew, the stories were updated frequently to reflect the new fatalities, but the images accompanying the stories revealed only the security forces and demonstrators who were clearly alive and uninjured. In the ongoing coverage spanning several days, the reports included many pictures, but avoided those depicting the fatalities. Television news is perhaps most dependent on pictures, leading NBC’s Jim Lederman to conclude that “television news is enslaved to images.” Despite the fact that television news is flooded with images, depictions of the dead are often rarer than they are online or in print newspapers. The evening news from major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) includes thousands of videos and still photographs, but when we studied 112 days of news coverage, these images did not appear to reveal any corpses. Stories about death commonly air, and often lead the broadcasts, but newscasts refrain from showing corpses. Even in a medium dominated by images, death is rarely shown.

No Show, Just Tell Although images of these bodies are rare, the news media offer many stories about death. Classic and more recent studies of news values repeatedly conclude that, across a range of news organizations, bad news is judged more newsworthy than good news. Because editors give negative events more importance than positive events, the negative stories outnumber the others, while winning more space and

Alarming Images

| 25

prominence.33 An average month for a large newspaper includes over 260 death-focused news stories, but, as noted above, only two corpse photographs, at most, will be included. Therefore, less than 1 percent of these death stories contain a photograph of a corpse. That is quite a contrast, and the rates are even lower for many news outlets, including the smaller newspapers. Although newspapers do not run photos with each story, photo editors often select at least one photo and, as one photo editor summarized, “The bigger the story, the bigger the images,” meaning that photographs increase in size and frequency. Pictures are a staple of the news, and they are especially abundant during coverage of bad events, when the space for visual documentation enlarges.34 But, as photojournalism’s space grows, the camera stays restricted in what it depicts.

Summary: A Controversy Reconfigured Those inside the news industry and beyond complain that the news is fixated on images of others’ demise. In turn, various culprits have been blamed for this picture problem. Despite our substantial anxiety, such images prove to be extremely rare. This is true whether print, broadcast, or online content is considered. Over several decades of news coverage, even as media technology has dramatically changed, this remains the case. Online formats are no more likely to run corpse images than their predecessors. Although the rise of the cell phone camera could allow easy documentation of death, and the Internet could permit the instantaneous transport of such images, the press continues to keep them away. Mass media technologies evolve, but resistance to showing the dead has endured. The implications are considerable since major social problems have been attributed to the purportedly abundant postmortem picture. As Susan Sontag feared, such pictures “deaden conscience.”35 Similarly, a Time magazine essay worried about the audiences awash in these images: [I]t may not always be doing them a service to burden them with one’s own most visceral sense of horror, at least not on a continual basis. . . . Should a large number of those victimized by violence be confronted by a

26

|

Alarming Images

reader looking at one wrenching image after another . . . the larger world may seem so senseless and repugnant that the reader tries to disconnect— hardly the result that an eyewitness would want.36

In this scenario, the news images have damaged our ability to feel sympathy or sorrow for victims. Even the National Crime Prevention Council warns that “increasingly horrifying and graphic pictures are shown daily in the news” and argues that these news images cause viewers “to become aggressive, desensitized to violence, and have less empathy for others.”37 They suggest that bans on these images would help prevent crime. Although science has not actually proven any of these claims, including whether such images cause us to become impervious to others’ misfortune, we can resist the temptation for alarm since these pictures are actually scarce. But the fear is likely to persist. On the rare occasions when corpse photographs do appear, we may be especially inclined to remember them, making them seem more common than they are. This might be the reason why the cultural critic Vicki Goldberg concludes that the news media are obsessed with images of the dead after recalling, “Piles of bodies in concentration camps. . . . A dead American dragged through the streets in Somalia. A tangle of bodies thrown into a river and washed down by the current in Rwanda.”38 Goldberg aptly recalls instances of corpse photojournalism, but the salience of a few images should not be taken as evidence that corpse photos appear frequently. In fact, these anecdotes prove to be exceptions to the general rule. Death may also continue to figure prominently in our imagination because our memories play tricks on us, leading us to inaccurately recall what we actually saw in the news. For example, a journalist reflecting on the coverage of 9/11 terrorism recalls, “On that day, most of the nation—indeed the world—sat riveted to live television coverage and endless replays of the day’s most gruesome moments.”39 A newspaper publisher similarly recalled coverage of 9/11 as “gruesome and grotesque images.”40 But the 9/11 photojournalism was actually highly sanitized. Our memories may suggest otherwise because the words used in 9/11 reporting gave us unflinching descriptions of death, and the unrelenting verbal focus on death may have been conflated with the photojournalistic meekness. Television reporters’ announcements insistently updated

Alarming Images

| 27

the death toll while ticker tape at the bottom of the screen, known as the “crawl” in television argot, dutifully tracked the rising number of dead. We may recall “gruesome” news images, but they were actually not there. As catalogued in the next chapter, the news industry relies heavily on a set of alternative images.

3

Alternative Images

When a big story breaks, announcing an earthquake, terrorist attack, or other crisis, the news reports breathlessly about the hundreds of lives lost. In addition to the words, the coverage is packed with pictures. However, the news seldom includes images of the dead, as the last chapter explained. What, then, do these images depict? Editors embrace images that present no specific evidence of death and, at most, hint at death. Such photojournalism includes five major types of images that depict (1) the dead when they were still living; (2) destruction of inanimate objects; (3) injury and aid; (4) witnesses or mourning survivors; or (5) a closed casket, body bag, or otherwise entirely shrouded body. Each of these five image types, as summarized below, offers visual proxies that indirectly convey mortality without exposing it. 1. Pictures of the deceased when they were alive: This type of image is most commonly used, and it is the most sanitized because the dead body is displaced by its opposite. In a nostalgic turn, these photographs typically present a healthy, happy, and youthful person, and they are especially voluminous when a public figure dies. Since these pictures show a living person, they are the same as those used to illustrate various types of news stories not about death. Only the accompanying words in headlines, captions, or story copy can clue the reader in to whether the portrait represents someone still alive or actually now dead. 2. Pictures documenting the destruction of inanimate objects: In reports on death, another extremely common type of image used is that of the ruined home, crumpled car, or other damaged property. During reports of fatal bombings in the Middle East, for example, the accompanying photographs often show piles of rubble beside a building’s few remaining walls. Perhaps most famously, news 28

Alternative Images

|

29

coverage of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City pictured a mountain of debris topped by the leaning skeleton of the World Trade Center’s girders. The patchwork of beams that stood amid heaps of wreckage became the event’s main icon. 3. Images of injury or aid: These images, which depict the injured and those who rescue and provide aid, circulate widely in coverage of various tragedies, ranging from natural disasters to school shootings. Such images showcase human agency, instead of the intractable inertness of death. Yet, the presence of those physically wounded reflects the severity of the situation and suggests that others may have been less fortunate. As a result, such images indicate tragedy without revealing the dead, often making mortality salient, although never directly evident. 4. Images of witness or mourning: News coverage of death frequently includes images of those who are neither dead nor injured, but who were emotionally affected. Often, early in the news cycle, the images focus on shocked witnesses as they recount fatal events. For example, images of distraught bystanders on the street accompany the breaking-news accounts of violence, accidents, and natural disasters. Other pictures show those laying candles, cards, flowers, and teddy bears at makeshift sidewalk memorials. Later in the news cycle, during news coverage of funerals, the surviving family and friends of the deceased display death’s continuing emotional toll. 5. Pictures of a closed casket, a body bag, or an otherwise entirely shrouded figure: These images keep the corpse completely concealed. For example, photojournalists covering funerals for fallen police officers often encounter an open casket, but they wait until it is closed to take the pictures that will get published. Although these images completely conceal the bodies, they also make death palpable. Perhaps because they do clearly signal death, these images are substantially less common than the other types listed above. As categorized, the different types of images are not always mutually exclusive, and news coverage of a major event often includes multiple pictures of different types. Consider news coverage late in 2015, when

30

|

Alternative Images

terrorism in Paris, France, killed 130—the highest toll in France’s postwar history. In response, the American news media relied heavily on photojournalism, incorporating each of the above types of images into their coverage. The early images documented damaged buildings, as well as some first responders, and then coverage turned to images of flowers piled at sidewalk memorials and some snapshot portraits of victims depicted when still alive. The photojournalism was careful to avoid directly depicting death. Online, the Los Angeles Times announced “Full Coverage—Attacks in Paris: Europe’s Worst Terrorist Attack in More Than a Decade.”1 The photojournalism was anything but “full,” and it prioritized images highly incongruous with the fatal shooting and explosions. The first image in the accompanying slide show, which appeared large under the story’s headline, was captioned “Presidential Palace,” and it showed a man taking a cell phone picture of Paris’s architectural grandness (figure 3.1). The

Figure 3.1. In news coverage, fatal events are illustrated with incongruent images, such as this one depicting a leisurely activity. After one of the worst terrorist attacks in Europe, the American reporting included this picture of the Presidential Palace in Paris, which seems appropriate for an article on architecture or tourism and travel. Photo by Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times.

Alternative Images

|

31

image seems likely to accompany any news report on European tourism or even a promotional travel brochure. But the story highlighted violent turbulence from a political struggle between the French government and the Islamic State. The next image in the slide show again portrayed a section of the Presidential Palace behind a black town car while a few police officers and men in suits milled nearby. Later in the slide show, individuals are seen again taking cell phone pictures of the city’s famous structures. A handsome young couple hugs under the Eiffel Tower—an iconic structure that appeared in much of the event’s coverage. Yet another published picture shows the Eiffel Tower illuminated by lights matching the colors of the French flag (figure 3.2).2 The slide show revealed little of the loss, and perhaps the most explicit image was one placed towards the end of the series. It suggested that tragedy had punctured the city’s romance: two wine glasses sat side by side on a cozy café table, next to a window that was pierced by two bullet holes. These images of the Paris terrorism exemplify coverage of other tragic events. Consistently, the images hide death, and sometimes they even refuse to visually allude to it. When we consider what the news images actually document, it becomes clear that they leave much to the imagination. To further illustrate each type of image, the following examples from U.S. news reports show how they visually displace death.

Figure 3.2. A large terrorist attack in Paris is illustrated by this French architectural feat, as seen at night, awash in lights. Photo by Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times.

32

|

Alternative Images

Pictures of the Dead When They Were Still Living To represent death, the news often relies on perky portraits of delighted men and women. Recently, Alison Parker, a reporter, along with her cameraman, Adam Ward, grabbed headlines when they were slain on live television while conducting an interview. Despite the fact that their deaths were newsworthy in large part because they were captured live on television, the subsequent coverage preferred the photographs of the deceased when still alive and well. USA Today ran the story with pictures documenting broad smiles (figure 3.3).3 This pairing of a fatal event with an image of vibrant life is common. When Hollywood icons, sports legends, and other revered persons die, the news becomes saturated with such visions. When Princess Diana of Wales was killed, at age thirty-seven, in a 1997 car accident, weeks’ worth of U.S. news coverage shared images of her living self. It was one of the first major news stories to break on the Web, where online sites were still in their infancy.4 The intensity of the coverage also shook the traditional media landscape as television stations suspended their regular programming and advertisements to provide a stream of

Figure 3.3. Again illustrating the incongruence between the words and the pictures, smiling portraits are paired with a story about a gun slaying on live television. The USA Today caption accompanying the above pictures reads, “Reporter Alison Parker (L) and photographer Adam Ward (R) who were shot and killed by a gunman while interviewing a woman on live television in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.” Photo credit: WDBJ7 / HANDOUT, EPA.

Alternative Images

|

33

Diana’s living portraits. Newspapers dedicated large portions of their publication to the same and included special sections packed with more of these portraits. Photojournalists at the scene of the high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel did actually document the victims pulled from their vehicle, but the press was reluctant to show them. Instead, pictures taken long before this event were judged to be most newsworthy. When covering the death of an older beloved public figure, the news media typically repackage the most flattering images that depict the subject significantly younger and far from demise. When the Oscarwinning Hollywood actor Marlon Brando succumbed to death after lung failure, most news coverage included only images of the actor in the early 1950s. The pictures repeatedly showed a man at least thirty years younger than the one who died at eighty, helping immortalize the deceased in a state of prior vitality. These kinds of pictures direct attention away from the current reality, and nostalgically push into the distant past. Although portraits of the deceased when living are used commonly, they oppose conventional norms for breaking news coverage. These images are often decades old, whereas the news ordinarily strives to document a breaking event. While the news industry typically relies on pictures created by professional photojournalists, here those works are replaced with casual family pics or commissioned beauty shots. In addition, as alluded to earlier, although the stories announce demise, these images pictorially depict the opposite: They visualize life and, in this act, they visually belie the mortal facts. By contrast, if news coverage of events typically relied on images documenting states prior to the event, the images would seem incommensurate with the journalistic intent to inform the public of current events. It would seem odd if news coverage of, for instance, the Berlin Wall collapse only depicted the wall intact. To document this event, the news images revealed the wall as it was destroyed, and the crumbled aftermath. Similarly, it would seem peculiar if news coverage of remarkable weather events, such as snow storms, only pictured the landscape before it was blanketed in white. Because the news media do typically try to document the event deemed newsworthy, news coverage of hurricanes and other sources of flooding shows water-logged streets, rather than restricting our view to the dry ones that preceded.

34

|

Alternative Images

Although the news is criticized for gruesomely morbid spectacles, photographs of the living frequently perform a highly sanitizing function. In fact, these images are no different from the images used to depict those who are still alive. For this reason, the images stand free of any a priori morbid symbolism. The images can only indirectly indicate death if accompanied by words that identify the subject as deceased.

Images of Inanimate Objects When photo editors choose which type of photograph to include with a story about death, there is a good chance they will select one that focuses on damaged inanimate objects. Natural disasters, for example, are likely to generate innumerable news images of this kind. U.S. news coverage of the devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China—which left approximately seventy thousand confirmed dead—dedicated itself to documenting the destruction of inanimate objects. It was the deadliest earthquake to hit China since 1976, and to give a sense of just how many lives were lost, one rescue team reported only twenty-three hundred survivors from Yingxiu, out of a total population of about nine thousand. Despite the massive loss of life, the published images depicted the crumbled buildings and infrastructure. For example, the Los Angeles Times captured the remains of a bridge in Hanwang, China (figure 3.4).5 Broadcast, online, and print news also fixated on images of flattened schools and piles of rubble that used to be homes. Images of debris filled the news again in March 2011, after a powerful earthquake and massive tsunami demolished entire towns in Japan. For days afterwards, U.S. news coverage of Japan’s devastation burst with video and still images of wreckage. In fact, during the first day of disaster coverage, the images almost exclusively focused on the debris and rarely showed the human figure, whether alive or dead. During subsequent days of coverage, the U.S. news coverage showed survivors navigating the wreckage but still refrained from depicting the dead. Pictures of damaged buildings, vehicles, and infrastructure also commonly illustrate news coverage of fatal storms and floods. For instance, although a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Hurricane Frances framed the significance of the event in terms of fatalities, the photo-

Alternative Images

|

35

Figure 3.4. Even after one of the most deadly earthquakes, photojournalism focuses on debris. When an earthquake in China took the lives of many thousands, published images documented infrastructure, like this badly damaged bridge that a woman crosses. Photo credit: Oded Balilty/Associated Press.

graphs focused on property damage. One photograph documented a new blue sedan trapped under a massive magnolia tree, and a second photograph revealed a few wooden beams with a door dangling precariously from what once constituted a business office.6 Again illustrating the preference for images of destroyed objects, photo editors at the New York Post paired a story entitled “A Lost Treasure” with an image of an overturned Chevy Camaro (figure 3.5).7 The news editors never interpreted the trounced vehicle itself as part of the “lost treasure.” Rather, it functioned as a place holder for the fourteenyear-old girl who had been thrown from the car. As the caption for the image explained, “Tragic: A Junior-High Valedictorian Died When She Was Thrown from This Flipped Chevy Camaro on the Belt Parkway.” Like coverage of accidents and natural disasters, coverage of war and terrorism also relies heavily on these images. For example, U.S. news coverage of the battles in Iraq during the Gulf War provided many images

36

|

Alternative Images

Figure 3.5. When reporting on death, photojournalism prefers to document wrecked property, like this flipped vehicle, that can only hint at the real loss. Photo credit: G. N. Miller, New York Post.

of violently demolished military and civilian surroundings. Broadcast and print images frequently documented missile strikes in Baghdad by showing a collection of rubble that had once been a road or a market. The pictures also documented the charred remains of cars and the broken bits of a building.

Injury and Aid Photo editors also prefer to publish images of the injured and those aiding them rather than the dead. These images represent the protection of life. By focusing on the efforts of medical and law enforcement authorities to restore health and order, these images capture the hopeful side of tragedy. Coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, one of the deadliest rampages by a single gunman in U.S. history, was careful to avoid showing the thirty-three dead and instead included many images of first responders helping wounded students. For example, an image provided by Time and CNN online depicts rushing rescue officials carrying an upright, alert young woman (figure 3.6).8 Interestingly, while this image focuses unambiguously on the living, this effect was carefully crafted. The image used by Time and CNN is actually a detail from another picture provided by the Associated Press wire service. The original, unedited image included an additional victim that could

Alternative Images

| 37

Figure 3.6. Images are carefully cropped to erase elements that may be interpreted as depicting death. When the news depicted one of the deadliest shooting rampages in U.S. history, it focused on those individuals who clearly looked alive by cropping out substantial parts of the actual photograph where another victim looked less fortunate. To the left of the woman, in the original photograph, a male victim is carried with his head hanging upside down, creating a grimmer scene. Photo credit: Alan Kim/ Roanoke Times via AP.

be interpreted as dead. In the original image, officials carried the female victim on the right side of the photograph while a cluster of officials on the other side of the image dragged out a male victim, with his head hanging. Editors subsequently cropped him out. Images of injury also pervaded news coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, a major 1995 terrorist attack aimed at the U.S. government. In fact, coverage of the bombing generated one of the most well-known images of an injured victim: the photo of a firefighter cradling a baby (figure 3.7). From this picture, which ran in many breaking news reports, it is actually impossible to tell whether the child was injured or dead, which made the captions critical. When this image first ran in the press, the reporting assured us that we were not looking at death. For instance, when the New York Times ran the photograph, the caption stated, “Emergency

38

| Alternative Images

Figure 3.7. Photojournalistic coverage of American tragedy prioritizes images of heroic rescue, like this one, which was believed to depict an injured but surviving victim of the Oklahoma City bombing. Photo credit: Charles Porter, AP.

workers remove a child injured in the explosion.” In the New York Post coverage, the caption stated that “a firefighter cradles a child injured in the explosion.” Captions printed in other sources also assured the public that the child was injured and not dead, indicating that the child was now out of harm’s way and under protective care. This photograph became the iconic image of the event, appearing on the front page of nearly every U.S. newspaper and in most broadcasts. It was used with the understanding that the fireman was not carrying a corpse and, only later, after the initial round of widespread publication, did the news media discover that the child pictured in the fireman’s arms had died soon after the explosion. Upon learning that the child had quickly died, news professionals grew concerned that the child might have actually been dead when the photograph was taken. Because it was difficult for news professionals to make a confident determina-

Alternative Images

|

39

tion, they dumped the image and quickly adopted other photographs in their follow-up coverage. For example, in continuing coverage, the New York Times substituted a family snapshot of the same child when she was still alive and looking healthy in a lacy dress. Ironically, the story copy labored to describe the photograph that pictured her in the fireman’s arms. The goal was to help readers recall the image instead of publishing it. In other coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, the New York Times ran a large front-page photograph of a young injured woman who lay trapped deep under rubble. With an understanding that the woman would soon be rescued, the photographer inserted a camera into a pocket through a narrow passageway, next to her head, to capture her lying on her back. In addition to the technological feat, the image was instructive because it demonstrated the eagerness of news professionals to provide extremely up-close and intimate coverage of the soonto-be rescued victim. Those who are less fortunate are very unlikely to be shown at all. News editors again favored images of injured victims and rescue workers when covering the 2007 interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis at the height of rush hour, which drowned drivers in the Mississippi River. Although the tragedy was measured in the loss of life, as with many other crises, the bodies themselves were not shown. Even three weeks following the collapse, reporters’ words were still focused on the dead, particularly the recovery of missing bodies. On August 20, 2007, a CNN online headline announced, “Last missing body in bridge collapse found.” In the accompanying picture, six rescue workers stand by, some holding a cord to the diver, who has climbed into the window of a half-submerged car (figure 3.8). The photo’s caption noted, “Desperate Search: A rescue worker looks for a victim in a half-submerged car.” The body emerged from the water, just as the headline announced, but it remained unseen. When the New York Times offered a 2004 online story about death in eastern Baghdad, Iraq, entitled “34 Killed, including an American, in Sadr City Clashes,”9 the accompanying photograph (figure 3.9) displayed those with much better outcomes. It documented an Iraqi civilian who lay wounded with his left arm wrapped in white dressing and a line of oxygen taped to his nose. The image captures the attentive hands of a medical professional adjusting the injured man. This patient has a chance at life,

Figure 3.8. Photojournalism kept death concealed in the aftermath of a Minneapolis crisis. This picture accompanied a CNN headline announcing, “Last Missing Body in Bridge Collapse Found.” Despite the attention given to this recovery, the published pictures hide the body that is the story’s focus.

Figure 3.9. Photojournalism pivots away from death, even when the rest of the reporting centers on the many who have been violently killed. Here an injured survivor, who represents a relatively fortunate fate, is under the care of a doctor. Photo credit: Ali Abbas/European Press Photo Agency.

40

Alternative Images

|

41

which many others lost while fighting in a Baghdad slum and, as is typical of U.S. photojournalism, the headline and copy focused on the fatal nature of the events while the picture portrayed efforts to restore health.

Pictures of Witness and Mourning When choosing which pictures will illustrate news accounts of death, editors also pick those highlighting horrified witnesses and distraught kin. These images fix attention on the living and their emotional suffering. They recast death in anguished or melancholy terms by showcasing death’s psychological effect on the living. Images of distressed survivors tend to focus on weeping women who, while not physically wounded, dramatically manifest psychological pain. This effect was illustrated by a large 1997 front-page photo in the Washington Post of a wailing woman, and another at her side attempting to provide comfort, as they reacted to the news that “as many as 200 people in a suburb of Algiers” had been massacred. Similarly, a photograph in the Philadelphia Daily News from 1986 pictured a Shiite Muslim woman in Beirut screaming with her arms raised in anguish after learning that six relatives had been killed. A woman may also be shown mourning later, for example at a funeral, illustrating how death further imprints the survivor. Frequently, closely cropped images bring the newspaper reader face to face with the bereaved survivors. Detailed close-ups are so visually intimate that they may even reveal small tears. For example, coverage of the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid included an image of a woman crying with a hand covering her mouth as she left a hospital, having just determined that a relative had died (figure 3.10).10 Creating a revealing portrait of grief, the camera zoomed in, capturing tears rolling from her puffy, bloodshot eyes. After ten bombings ripped through commuter trains in the morning rush hour, close to two hundred had been killed. Somewhat discordantly, news coverage of death also contains photographs of survivors who show relatively little emotion. A large photo showing high style and tanned young vacationers illustrated a 2002 terrorist attack on a nightclub described as “the most stunning attack since September 11th.” The New York Times’ front-page headline read, “Long Lists of the Missing in Bali and Many Bodies without Names.”11

42

|

Alternative Images

Figure 3.10. Although photojournalism is generally unwilling to show the dead, it does allow intimate portraits of death’s emotional impact. After what was then the deadliest terrorist attack on a European target since World War II, a survivor was pictured up close while she cried over a lost relative.

The paper’s two leading stories focused on the accounts of terror, while the photos depicted a tranquil setting and healthy-looking, composed vacationers who exhibited no signs of distress. The words chosen for the caption, headline, and story copy explained that a placid tourist destination had turned deadly. The photograph, however, could have been used to illustrate just about any travel and leisure story. Another example is provided by a Philadelphia Daily News photograph showing half a dozen teenagers casually perched on rocks overlooking a calm lake where lush foliage and sunlight abound. The picture appears to capture an idyllic, pastoral outing, and could easily be interpreted as an illustration of leisurely contentedness. However, it accompanied a story entitled “Flood Toll Rises: ‘Must Be over a Hundred Dead,’ ” and, as the story noted, bodies were still being discovered at press time. When the New York Times’ front page covered a 1995 flood in northwestern Europe that “killed dozens,” the accompanying photograph revealed a relaxed-looking resident of Germany. The same front page told of a car bomb explosion that ripped through an Algerian street and left thirty-eight dead. The accompanying photograph captured a few survivors strolling down a debris-filled street. With each story, the head-

Alternative Images

|

43

lines and story copy focused on the fatal event, but the photojournalism switched our attention to the seemingly unruffled survivors.

Closed Caskets, Body Bags, and Other Shrouded Figures On rare occasions, news outlets provide images of closed caskets, body bags, or makeshift shrouds. Like the other images described above, these make the body invisible. However, unlike those catalogued above, these images unambiguously index the dead. Closed coffins are sometimes shown amid processions when funerals are documented, like those of police officers, firefighters, and other public servants who died in the line of duty. When a small boat packing explosives blasted a hole in the USS Cole in 2000, resulting in over a dozen deaths, news images showed the Air Force honor guard carrying a sailor’s flag-covered coffin. Mostly, however, these military coffins are kept out of public view. Celebrity deaths sometimes inspire closed-coffin coverage. The Philadelphia Daily News ran ample photo coverage of the 1992 death of Jerome Brown, a popular professional football player for the Philadelphia Eagles. The chosen photographs included a picture of a closed casket. Even though, as the copy noted, the casket was open during most of the service, Brown’s body was kept out of the photo coverage. Instead, other images captured teammates leaving Brown mementoes, including thirtyfive of their neckties, plus dozens of flowers piled in a farewell tribute. On rare occasions, news images also document the body bag or sheetdraped corpse. After a Connecticut Lottery accountant killed three of his bosses, the lottery president, and then himself, the New York Times ran a front-page commercial portrait of the lottery president, showing him when he was alive. Alongside this photograph, another picture revealed a man standing on the distant horizon of a field, past a parking lot. The man stood bent over, looking at something like a white sheet on the grass. What he was looking at was not obvious because the photographer, rather than zooming in, placed the scene in the far distance. The caption explained that the accountant chased the president through the office before killing him outside, where an investigator now stood. Readers could therefore surmise that the white pile in the grass was some kind of shroud for the body.

44

|

Alternative Images

During the Washington, DC–area serial sniper shootings of 2002, a front-page story in the New York Times ran with a photo that showed two law enforcement men standing in the forefront and a number of vehicles behind them. While it was not visibly obvious, the photograph did contain a wrapped body, and the caption noted this fact, referring to “the body of a woman who was fatally shot in Falls Church, Va., last night.”12 The shroud, when it is included in a news image, is likely to be placed in the picture’s distance because, although the corpse is covered, death is made visually salient. In the event that the shroud is pictured in the foreground, editors may diminish it by cropping out part of or digitally erasing the details. In 2001, a South African stadium stampede killed approximately fifty soccer fans, and when U.S. news editors selected pictures for the story, those images that pictured a shroud were likely to place it in the distance. In related coverage, a front-page photo in the Washington Post originally included a shroud in the foreground. It also depicted a man consoling a young boy as they stood before the covered victim. The makeshift shroud, apparently consisting of a thin sheet, revealed the contours of the body, which prompted the Post to digitally blur the shroud. In addition, the shroud was truncated by editorial cropping of the image. Even though the body is not visible through the shroud, editors deem it important to add yet more visual ambiguity.

Summary: Death Dispossessed Because images revealing the dead are unlikely to make the cut, this chapter discusses the most common types of images that are instead used to illustrate news coverage of fatal events. Often, the images that make the cut depict life and do not even hint at death. In fact, many of these images focus on the victim when alive and well, and thereby remove the individual from the fatal context that is newsworthy. We have come to expect these images, but the practice is akin to restricting news coverage of traffic congestion to pictures of deserted streets, or excluding pictures of vandalized property when reporting on this crime. In addition to the many images of the deceased taken long ago, when looking vivaciously alive, news coverage of fatal events commonly includes evocative images that hint at death, but they still do not directly reveal evidence of a fatality. They show a pile of rubble that was once a

Alternative Images

|

45

home, but not those who lived and died there, or they show a crumpled car, but not the fatally injured occupants. These images directly reveal a destructive, but not necessarily deadly, force because debris can amass without any deaths and a car can crash without taking a life. Instead of documenting death, the images capture other sanitized subjects, like the ribbons, flowers, and teddy bears laid where the bodies once did. Although the pictures created by a camera are intricately referential, the images used in the news repeatedly block a transparent window on the real horror. These “newsworthy” images can only signal a death through a visual proxy of it, turning photojournalism into an emblematic enterprise, where the goal is to represent allusively rather than mimetically. Even when a corpse is completely shrouded, camera lenses zoom out to make it almost undetectable. As news professionals attest in the next two chapters, photojournalists are quite capable of documenting dead bodies, but their editors vastly prefer these acts of dispossession.

4

Industry Access

It is worth considering whether images of dead victims are rare simply because photojournalists have few opportunities to make such pictures. Photojournalism requires immediate access to the action because, unlike writers, “a photographer is tied to a machine” that must be present at the event.1 Whereas writers’ stories come largely from others involved (e.g., witnesses to a car crash or war-time refugees), photojournalists have no secondary sources—their work is only as good as the positioning of their lens. To catch war, natural disasters, and other tragedies, photojournalists find the action. A photojournalist covering riots in Newark, New Jersey, remarked, “A newspaper guy can huddle in a doorway or get it over the phone. But we’ve got to be in it to get it.”2 In this chapter, it becomes clear that logistical challenges are not the problem. In fact, major resources are leveraged successfully to assure that photojournalists achieve immediate access. Given the copious resources devoted to granting photojournalists immediate access, the missing images reflect an editorial drive to conceal the corpse. The gaps in the visual record are an artefact of choice— an act of self-censorship.

Images from Wire Services During a press conference in 1987, Paul Vathis of the Associated Press was one of the photojournalists who captured a public suicide. He and many colleagues gathered in the office of R. Budd Dwyer, the Pennsylvania state treasurer, who had just been convicted of bribery. The press was expecting him to resign. Instead, Dwyer did much more. After a rambling speech, Dwyer pulled out a .357 magnum long barrel pistol from a large envelope and waved back reporters. He placed the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger, killing himself. His desperate act was photographed, from start to finish, and distributed 46

Industry Access

|

47

to news organizations throughout the country. Vathis recounted that even after Dwyer pulled the trigger, “I kept shooting pictures during the whole sequence.”3 However, editors rejected the postmortem images. News editors instead published images showing Dwyer at the press conference when still alive. Editors at the Miami News made the unusual decision to publish a photo of Dwyer with the gun barrel in his mouth, before the trigger was pulled. Most editors selected photos from much earlier in Vathis’s sequence, before Dwyer put the gun in his mouth, and some even considered these early images too controversial. For example, the Evening News serving Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the event occurred, ran a photo of the press conference before the shooting and even before Dwyer pulled the gun out of the envelope. Wire services, like the Associated Press and Reuters, cover newsworthy events around the world, producing a steady stream of pictures to subscribing news organizations. Subscribers use the news wire pictures to substantially supplement the work of their in-house staff. News wires provide reporting for many events that newsrooms around the country would not otherwise cover. The wire services provide pictures in all formats, including still images and videos, and the coverage distributed to subscribers typically includes multiple images for each story, allowing editors to select which images will be used. When selecting images for the news of Dwyer’s suicide, editors across the country described their decision not to publish the shooting’s moment of impact or the aftermath as “easy.” Nearly two thirds explained that their editing choices did not involve “tough” decisions, and 73 percent said they “immediately ruled out the use of all images depicting the moment Dwyer put the barrel of the gun into his mouth” and those that followed.4 One editor for the Evening News claimed he made the decision “within 10 seconds of having the available photos described to me. I didn’t even look at them. Didn’t have to.”5 Four other editors also said they made the decision not to publish the photos before seeing them because “in their minds all questions were [already] resolved.”6 Even though the images in the sequence were not gory—the last frame showed only a small dark spot on the wall presumably made by blood— photo editors felt that the early images told the story better. Whether they told the story “better” can be debated; what is clear is that editors

48

| Industry Access

had a variety of images to choose from and they dismissed those revealing death. Whether the deceased is a public figure, as in the case of Dwyer, or a private citizen, photo editors repeatedly reject pictures of the dead body made available through wire services. Explaining this, a photo editor emphasized, “We see lots of those [corpse] pictures on the wire, every day. . . . By and large, I am against using those pictures. Almost 99 percent of the time I am against using those pictures.” To illustrate the availability of such images, he pivoted to his computer screen and started surveying the Associated Press wire service images currently available. He directed my attention to a particularly grisly image by pointing to a photograph depicting the fatal outcome of a San Salvador earthquake. A dead body mostly covered in mud and blood appeared in the foreground, revealing that the legs below the knees had been ripped off, leaving ragged stumps of flesh. He then explained that he generally rejects even highly sanitized corpse images: “This is a very gruesome image but I mostly reject all of them.” Similarly, a Washington Post photo editor summarized, “There are many, many pictures that come over [the wire] that are just too gruesome to show.”7 A high-speed bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx borough of New York, during the spring of 2011, left fifteen passengers dead. The bus, returning to New York from a casino in Connecticut, flipped onto its side and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign. As described by an Associated Press account appearing in the Boston Globe, “The bus scraped along a guardrail, toppled, and slid into a sign pole that sheared it end to end in a horrific scene of blood, jumbled bodies, and shattered glass. Some of the dead were tangled up with the living.”8 It was a grim scene, attested passengers such as Chung Ninh, when recalling that he had been asleep in his seat, until he suddenly found himself “hanging upside-down from his seat belt, surrounded by the dead.”9 Associated Press photographers on site documented the scene for hours, as emergency workers sorted the dead from the living. However, the wire pictures selected for public consumption did not reveal the corpses. Instead, news outlets selected images showing only the bus and rescue officials (figure 4.1).10 Various news outlets, such as Yahoo. com and AOL.com, shared video footage from the Associated Press that focused up-close on the bus and on rescue officials, plus a short segment

Industry Access

|

49

Figure 4.1. Insufficient access does not explain why photojournalism rarely bears witness to death. After a high-speed fatal bus crash, photojournalists were present as the dead were extracted and laid out—a scene the published images concealed. This picture shows the bus on its side as emergency responders look beyond the frame at the bodies cropped out of public view. Photo credit: David Karp, AP.

with a witness. The pictures represented the fatal scene without revealing the dead. One may question why wire services continue to provide a type of image that is frequently rejected. When asked, a photo editor at the Associated Press wire service explained, “It’s an ongoing controversy . . . [but] who are we to manage the news? We’re just saying here’s a photo, and if it is too gory, then don’t use it.”11 He acknowledged a sense of responsibility to document the dead “in case some editor will decide to run the photo.” In other words, those at the newswire feel a sense of professional duty to document the corpse and they strive to document a robust set of facts for each fatal event, knowing well that the vast majority will be suppressed. In addition, there is no economic incentive for the wire services to stop providing corpse images, because newspapers do not pay by the photo. News wires distribute these images to subscribers in exchange for a yearly fee. Under this arrangement, neither party perceives any substantial

50

|

Industry Access

financial stake if the wire services continue to provide corpse images that subscribers typically discard.

Social Media and Online Images An American freelance radio-tower repairman, Nicholas Berg, went to work in Iraq shortly after the U.S.-led invasion. There, he was held hostage and decapitated, as shown by videotaped footage posted on the Internet. Editors around the country decided to lead with news of the amateur documentary video. However, the coverage steered clear of the actual images documenting Berg’s last minutes alive and his death. During some of the most turbulent weeks of the Iraq war, there were several related images online that U.S. news organizations often deemed unnecessary and too horrific to display. These included the beheading of Nicholas Berg, the murder and dismemberment of American contract workers in Iraq’s strife-torn town of Fallujah, and some pictures of torture taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. In response, many Americans specifically sought out what the mainstream media refused to show. According to a survey, approximately one quarter of Internet users, or more than thirty million Americans, went online and viewed some of these graphic war images.12 In addition, about half of Americans polled feel that, depending on the circumstances, graphic war images can be appropriate.13 The summer of 2011 offered another example in which editors rejected politically salient images circulating widely online. After the toppling of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, Syrians mounted a new revolt. Covering this uprising, the U.S. news reported that images of children killed (in a government crackdown on protests) circulated widely on YouTube, Facebook, and opposition websites. In the American press, these pictures were much discussed but unseen. Repeatedly, U.S. news coverage only allowed words to relay the visual information that was at the center of the story. One NBC story online opened with this account: The images grow no less shocking with time—a gaping wound on a tiny skull, the hair matted with blood; a gunshot that pierced the skin of a small torso and went straight toward the kidney; and finally, the broken

Industry Access

|

51

neck and severed penis of a 13-year-old boy, his mangled body contorted on a plastic sheet. . . . his neck broken. The body, lying on a plastic sheet, appeared pink and the eyes were mottled with bruises and black marks.14

In addition to detailing the contents of the censored images, the reporting highlighted their symbolic importance. The images kept from American viewers had turned into “a symbol of the Syrian uprising.” The reports described the political power of these images to stoke rage against the Syrian government regime, provoking large demonstrations challenging the Assad family’s forty-year rule. Therefore, while continuing to conceal them, the news reports emphasized how important these pictures were.

Staff Photographers “Hurry Up and Wait” Editors reject the graphic images disseminated by wire services, the Web, and even their own staff photojournalists after they are assigned to capture a fatal scene. Because photojournalists closely follow police scanners that provide breaking announcements of local tragedies, and they rush to fatal events, it is not unusual for a photojournalist to arrive first on the scene, before medical and law enforcement authorities.15 As recounted by a staff photojournalist for the Daytona Beach NewsJournal, Jessica Webb, “As news photographers, tragedy is something we see often. The [police radio] scanner chirps, crackles, a siren sounds, and we run to be the first on the scene with good access and a compelling picture.”16 The industry demands that photojournalists arrive early on the scene to capture the moment when lives end, but the images deemed newsworthy by editors are typically those taken much later, after the body has been removed, or at least concealed. In turn, photojournalists start taking pictures of the dead but instead of then leaving the scene, they wait until police arrive and, often hours later, cover the body. Once the body is covered, photojournalists have an opportunity to take pictures of the concealed corpse, which editors are more likely to judge newsworthy than those depicting the actual body. Photojournalists wait a long time for this opportunity because, despite the pressure to arrive early on the scene, photo editors rarely select the images revealing the corpse.

52

|

Industry Access

During an interview, a Los Angeles photojournalist summarized, “Each time, I hurry up and wait.” Ironically, only after waiting for long periods of time until the scene has been fundamentally altered to obscure the evidence do photographers take the pictures that are likely to circulate in the news. The photojournalist spoke of some recent cases like this: We’ve gone on stories where there has been a gang shooting where they have driven down the street and shot literally everyone who was walking down the sidewalk. There will be five or seven dead bodies lying in the middle of the sidewalk, cars have driven over them—it’s been like a war zone. We’ll stay there and cover it but [we’ll] wait until the coroners start bagging the bodies up. We know what will get published and it’s sometimes [the photographs of] the body bags, but not the actual bodies.

These cases highlight a tension between the news culture that prioritizes the photojournalists’ quick dispatch and a news culture that demands photojournalists sit around and wait. A staff photojournalist for another California newspaper gave an example of editors rushing to dispatch him to the scene of a likely suicide. In San Diego, I photographed one of those suicides—a guy who sat on the edge of the dock, with a gun to his mouth. They sent me out and I sat there for two and a half hours. I actually photographed the moment that he shot himself and fell off the dock. I came back and they said, “Oh, we can’t run that!”

Referring to the inefficient and seemingly contradictory behavior of editors, he wearily reflected, “They will do that.” He also offered an explanation: “It is newsworthy to some degree and so they want us to go, but then they do not want to put it in the paper.” As he surmised, the suicide is generally considered newsworthy, although photographic evidence of the death itself is not. Another photojournalist reflected on how unusual it is to have photographs published if the dead are rendered visible. He noted, “We go [to the death scenes] but they very rarely run the pictures [of the corpse], very rarely,” and added, “I take some pictures [depicting the corpse],

Industry Access

|

53

but they usually don’t make the cut.” He went on to say, “In fact, I don’t remember any actually running.” Two other photojournalists listening to our conversation agreed. In a trade journal’s discussion of ethical news practices, the News Photographer noted a case in which Nick Oza, a staff photographer for the Macon (GA) Telegraph, ended up at the scene of a murder-suicide and “had his photos before the yellow police tape went up.”17 One of his pictures showed “a police officer with a concerned look on his face, bending over the prostrate body of a young woman . . . checking for a pulse.” When the picture was taken, the woman was alive, but in case she was in the process of dying, Oza decided to wait around at the crime scene to make “less objectionable” images of the shooting. Waiting allowed him to photograph the obscured corpse that was more likely to get published. Later, when editors discussed Oza’s photograph of the victim, they explained that their decision about which to publish would hinge on whether the person pictured is dying imminently. Oza’s editors concluded that the paper “can’t use that [photo]” if “she’s [now] dead.” The subject’s health status “makes a big difference . . . a big difference” in terms of whether a photo would be considered appropriate to publish. When faced with a picture of a possibly fatally injured person, the newsroom worked to determine whether the subject had since died. In the meantime, the editors devised plans whereby “if the victim dies, [they] use a less offensive image” instead of the “stronger, more graphic picture.” Oza’s colleagues agreed that if it is an image of a victim who dies, it would not be considered newsworthy; if it is an image of a victim who almost died, it would be judged newsworthy, even though the picture itself doesn’t change. One editor in Philadelphia stressed that it is wise for his staff photographers to wait at the scene until it is possible to take a picture that conceals literally all of the victim. To clarify, he shared a recent case in which a young boy had been left lying on the street after being killed by his parents. His paper ran a story about this event but decided not to publish photographs in which the victim was almost entirely covered by a blanket. He rejected them because the blanket failed to hide a small part of his pants. Nothing else was visible—not a bit of the skin was visible, but because a little of the victim’s clothing was, the editor decided not to run the image.

54

|

Industry Access

Suppressing the Accidental Image Chased by police, Daniel V. Jones raced his truck down a Los Angeles freeway while a local NBC affiliate aired live helicopter feed. Suddenly, Jones stopped, stepped out, and unfurled a banner protesting health management organizations. He proceeded to set his truck, his dog, and himself on fire, and then raised a shotgun and fatally shot himself. The live coverage culminated, mistakenly, in close-up footage before there was time to zoom out or cut away. Then the television station issued the statement, “We did not anticipate this man’s actions in time to cut away, and we deeply regret that any of our viewers saw this tragedy on our air.”18 As they attested, the death was accidentally revealed. Reinforcing the sincerity of their apology and the perceived severity of the transgression, the station provided viewers with telephone numbers to call for free psychological counseling. The then-editor-at-large at CNN, Ted Turner, called the broadcast a “ghastly” low for TV, and those personally responsible offered multiple apologies. Richard Schwarzlowse, a professor of media ethics at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, described the full coverage as an abandonment of professional principles: “Unless you’re exercising judgment and taking your tape and editing it, you’re not being professional. You have to have that control as a journalist. You’re not just a stenographer out there.” Fundamentally, “This isn’t news,” he argued, referring to the controversial footage.19 As Schwarzlowse’s comments reveal, the technical capacity of the camera to unblinkingly transcribe the death event defies the profession’s current commitment to concealing the corpse. In later evening broadcasts, national reporting included the story but used footage that cut away just moments before the violent climax. Newspapers across the country also chose to depict the man before his death. The New York Times, for instance, published a video still of Jones that showed the trucker walking on the highway, and the attendant caption claimed it represented “a television image of Daniel V. Jones . . . minutes before he killed himself.”20 Live television in 2003 captured a bizarre tragedy in Philadelphia’s tony Washington Square neighborhood. In this case, an argument between a career criminal living with his law professor girlfriend overtook

Industry Access

|

55

the Hopkinson House, an apartment complex. An argument between the couple—about gas in the car—led Louis Rogers to furiously hurl furniture from their twenty-fifth-story balcony and then set two apartments on fire, forcing residents to evacuate. Meanwhile, a SWAT team made its way towards Rogers. The local news crews were on the scene, capturing the stream of furniture Rogers ejected, including a leather couch, a set of box springs, an armoire, televisions, and a computer. The news cameras were there recording the possessions as they fell from the sky. The cameras were also rolling when Rogers plunged to his death from the balcony, after trying to escape from a SWAT officer. Whereas live footage captured the man plunging to his death, the later coverage was quickly reworked to exclude these moments from subsequent broadcasts. Newspaper editors also had the luxury of editing out these images. In 1998, KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas, contended with dramatic aerial video of a knife-wielding woman who was shot multiple times as she rushed three police officers. The station’s “Air 11” helicopter had been following her as she fled in a stolen police cruiser and crashed at an interchange between two freeways. The camera zoomed in on the vehicle as the woman emerged holding a large knife and then ran towards the officers. Their gunfire stopped her, literally dead in her tracks, and the cameraman had zoomed tight on the woman, making her clearly visible in the frame. After she fell, the police officers charged closer, with guns still drawn. The footage was not broadcast live, but the incident left little time for the station to decide which parts of the video would publicly air. The news director at the time, Joe Duke, had to decide how to handle the moment of death during the quickly approaching 5:00 p.m. news broadcast. It actually was not a hard decision, he explained. The video provided an account that was judged too comprehensive, so Duke decided to “blot out” the image of the woman the instant before she was shot.21 The broadcast footage did not reveal her fatal collapse since the piece was edited to resume viewing only after those at the scene covered the woman’s body. “For me it was a relatively easy decision,” claimed Duke, adding that it is hard to justify showing a tape of a person being killed. Subsequent broadcasts later that day and the next examined this fatal incident, investigating whether the killing was justified. For each

56

|

Industry Access

broadcast, Duke refused to show the woman being shot. To fill the gap and provide visuals for the broadcast, reporters and photographers reenacted the scene. Consequently, the news was able to broadcast a recreation of the events without showing the real death. Interestingly, the news director and others involved considered the decision common sense and took it for granted that the real events did not belong in the news. In coverage of another fatal event, aerial footage taken from a helicopter showed a Mercedes with its emergency lights blinking. The car sat on the side of a Los Angeles highway while the camera moved in to reveal a prone body. The footage, shown on CNN in January of 1997, captured the son of the entertainer Bill Cosby, lying dead in a pool of blood. Ennis Cosby, just twenty-seven years old, was on break from his doctoral work at Columbia University and traveling to visit a friend, when he stopped to change a flat tire. That is when he was shot in the head by Mikhail Markhasev, an eighteen-year-old with a previous criminal record and ties to a racist gang. Although word of the murder was reported instantly and widely, the corresponding footage was considered much less newsworthy. Even the station that shot the tape, KTLA-TV, decided against showing the body. CNN was an exception, and this they called a mistake. The footage aired at 2:02 p.m. and, after taking a commercial break, CNN anchorwoman Bobbie Battista went on air at 2:28 offering a public apology. Referring to “some tape” that aired of Ennis Cosby’s body, she announced, “It was inappropriate to air that. We apologize for that, and to his family as well.” CNN’s supervising producer, Mike Klein, ordered the apology. CNN spokesman Steve Haworth emphasized that the footage did not belong on the air: “We are not in the business of showing gratuitously violent material on air.” Visual omissions will be planned in advance when death is expected, and such plans were in place on June 29, 2000, when American television news covered the Guatemalan government’s execution of Amílcar Cetino Pérez and Tomás Cerrate Hernández. For this event, access was limited to two U.S. networks—Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo—and the television branches of the Associated Press and Reuters. The Associated Press Television News and Reuters Video News provided footage of the execution and its related proceedings on their wires for subscriber stations to use in their news broadcasts. News edi-

Industry Access

|

57

tors in other countries aired uninterrupted footage, but when local and national broadcasters in the United States aired footage, the moment of death was carefully extracted from the footage shown.22 Reflecting on this choice, an editor remarked, “Showing people dead or dying isn’t news. It’s actually just voyeurism.”23

Summary: Available but Averted During a recent, deadly epidemic, Washington Post’s Michel du Cille explained that his photojournalistic duty required this: “Telling the Ebola story in Liberia means being near, within shooting range, of the ravages of the virus.”24 He and other photojournalists stress that access is indispensable to their profession because their tasks cannot be accomplished from a remote location. They have to be there, physically present, to make their pictures. Michel du Cille reflected that he needed to be “face to face” with the 2014 epidemic, which made him fear for his life. Indeed, photojournalism is a profession requiring one to put his or her life on the line, and photojournalists frequently work elbow to elbow with first responders. Photojournalists work close to the center so that they can depict front-line activity where “sudden death can be highly visible and, as a result, vividly photographable.”25 “Photojournalism will put you in the heart of protests, disasters, wars, and a rapidly changing political environment.”26  The news industry uses its vast resources to give photojournalists ample access to the dead, but pictures documenting the bodies are generally not considered newsworthy. Ironically, news organizations prioritize swiftly dispatching photojournalists to hot spots so they can arrive early on the scene with unfettered access to the life-threatening events. However, editors want them to then wait at the scene—even if it takes hours, which it often does—until law enforcement authorities conceal the dead with a body bag or other covering. To make the “newsworthy” image of a suicide, photojournalists rush to the scene of death, only to wait much of the day until the body is bagged before aiming their cameras. Then, they take the pictures that will “matter.” Relatedly, when a terrorist’s bomb blasts a busy street corner, photographers charge into the chaos, penetrating the inner zone, but then purposely zoom out their camera lenses and visually displace the dead.

58

| Industry Access

Photojournalists have plenty of access to death, and sometimes this leads live filming to accidentally document it. On the very rare occasions when television news broadcasts do show the corpse, it is often by mistake. Those in charge try to move the body off air as quickly as possible. There are even apologies by television news professionals reminding the public that they know these images are not newsworthy. As editors scrub the photojournalism clean, the absence of corpses from U.S. news media is not an accidental omission but, rather, a very deliberate one.

5

Intentional Ambiguity

When covering a potential suicide, an exasperated editor complained that “the helicopter camera people have to be constantly told to wide-out the shot, to take it wide instead of close in.” The editor stressed, “In case it looks like a guy is going to kill himself, we would rather have a wide scene setter instead of a close shot of the person.” The photojournalists need to be reminded to widen their camera perspective because conventional news practices value close-up images. After being trained to get close up, they can find it hard to remember to do the opposite. When asked why the wide shot is now encouraged, the editor responded, “With a wide shot you really can’t see it . . . but they still have the stuff.” Instructively, the viewer “can’t see” the dead but can infer the body’s presence from the headlines and photo captions. Although photojournalism is traditionally prized for clearly documenting the evidence, here ambiguity is intentionally created. And when photojournalists fail to make an ambiguous image, editors will undo the camera’s eyewitness technology using Photoshop techniques to make the body undetectable, or at least “unreadable.” The pursuit of ambiguity results in an unusual kind of photojournalism—one that is fundamentally different in style and content from technically good photojournalism, as commonly defined.

Zooming Out Good photojournalism is typically believed to keep the subject relatively front and center, helping to focus the reader’s attention. Referring to the standard ideal, the sociologist Barbara Rosenblum describes the “special signature” of news images: “The center of the composition is nearly always occupied by the key newsworthy figure [which] is . . . in focus, clearly identifiable, and almost always in the situation which, itself, has been identified as newsworthy.”1 To achieve this look, photojournalists 59

60

| Intentional Ambiguity

rely on telephoto lenses to bring them visually close to their subject. These lenses also have the added advantage of softening the focus for competing elements that may otherwise distract the eye. Reflecting on her career as a successful photojournalist, Dianne Hagaman recalled the industry’s old saw that “if your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough.”2 She stressed that “[a]ll my training as a photographer had been to step forward, to get closer, to frame tighter, to have one center of interest with no background distractions.”3 As Hagaman explains, the goal is to eliminate competing compositional elements so that “the reader’s eye won’t be confused with the clutter.”4 She continues, “If you’re forced to step back on a newspaper assignment, you just switch to a longer focal length lens,” which is generally referred to as a “zoom” or “close-up” lens because it gives the effect of being “zoomed” in, positioning the subject within the immediate proximity of the viewer. The photojournalist who defies the typical prescriptions would craft an image that gives a “look with no obvious point of view” because it is not “pointing to any one thing through composition.”5 And it is exactly this alternative aesthetic that characterizes the way photojournalists learn to obscure the dead. In this alternative aesthetic, the dead are not part of an “obvious point of view,” and there is no compositional structure to direct the viewer’s attention. In fact, the missing point of view is intentional because it helps assure that the viewer’s attention does not fall on the body. While photojournalists usually render the background out of focus so that the centrally placed and up-close subject “pops” and remains “distinctly separated,”6 they now treat the subject as part of the cluttered background. Pursuing the goal of hiding rather than revealing, they zoom out with the camera lens, reversing years of training that demanded close, clear portrayals. In a personal interview, a photo editor explained that when choosing between images of dead Albanian refugees, he decided that the ideal image will reveal that “other things are happening.”7 As he explained, There were about half a dozen pictures from that scene that we considered. We used the picture where the bodies are more in the background and where other things are happening in that picture. Some people were

Intentional Ambiguity

| 61

walking through. Some of the other pictures that we had to choose from really showed bodies. They were very strong. We decided not to use those.

As acknowledged here, in coverage of a fatal event, editors prefer visual ambiguity and reject the visually clean, “strong” images. The image selected placed the subject in the background and the “other things” in the foreground. It was the preferred image precisely because it did not tightly frame the subject. Zooming out with the camera lens invited perspective distance, rendering the subject a small figure in the vast distance. The wide angle also incorporates competing content that distracts the eye, further diminishing the body. A photojournalist discussed his options for making the body clear or essentially unreadable: “Sometimes the police get to the scene first; they rope off the scene with yellow tape, keeping the press back, but we do have lenses powerful enough to shoot [the corpse] close in that we don’t use.” By design, photojournalists place the corpse in the background, as a small, unrecognizable object, while further masking it among numerous points of focus. Another photojournalist explained that the corpse in the background can be further offset by competing content in the foreground: “Having someone in the foreground, throwing the background out of focus, is a way to soften that up a bit.” He added, “I mean, you still get it, but you don’t have to be hit over the head with it.”8 He emphasized that the call of duty now actually demands obfuscation: “We’re professional photographers. There’s a way to do it.” Paradoxically, photojournalism otherwise stresses that “simplifying things” is “a matter of doing your job,” and defines it as “decomplicating the scenes so that people get it quicker.”9 In the face of death, however, the visually complicated message is preferred over the clear picture. The ambiguous aesthetic defines the choices made by the New York Times when illustrating a 1997 story on a fatal crash of a military plane in Denver. The coverage included a photo depicting a helicopter over a picturesque mountain backdrop, and if it were not for the photo caption, one would probably interpret the image incorrectly by assuming that is all it depicted. The caption read, “A body, believed to be that of the pilot of a missing A-10 Thunderbolt, was recovered yesterday from the site in

62

|

Intentional Ambiguity

the Colorado Rockies where the plane crashed.” According to the caption, this was not just a picture of a helicopter amid beautiful mountains because, apparently, the picture also contained a body believed to be that of the missing pilot, but this is not clear from the image content. Upon close inspection, one may notice a very small, dark mass suspended below the helicopter, just below the mountain ridge. It is easy to miss, or to assume it is a piece of the mountain’s rock, but the caption implies that death is somewhere captured by this picture. To produce this photograph, the Air Force mission was shadowed by another helicopter commissioned by the Associated Press. The procedure involved lowering, then raising, a rescue worker along with the corpse in a slow-moving maneuver. During this stunt, the Associated Press photographer was capable of zooming in for the up-close shot. Although an intimate perspective is conventionally preferred by photojournalism, the image selected for publication instead places a great distance between the victim and the viewer, essentially eclipsing any sight of the subject. The ambiguous aesthetic again defined how the New York Times illustrated that “at least 32 people were killed” in 1998 when a bomb exploded on board a Sri Lankan bus. The published photojournalism made the dead invisible by creating a wide-angle aerial view of a street crowded with living people and a few destroyed vehicles. There is no single point of view for this image, as it captures many clusters of people, and other competing points of interest, bringing none of them into the image’s foreground. Upon careful inspection of the image, one may note that multiple clusters of standing people appear to be looking down at something. They surround the object of curiosity, blocking our view. Due to the distance and the obstructed views, it is impossible to discern what they see, but a photojournalist interviewed explained that they were looking at dead victims.

Blocking the View Quite deliberately, photojournalists take pictures at that moment when someone or something is blocking the camera’s view of the dead. To hide the dead during photojournalistic coverage of the U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq in 2004, the news camera was lowered to knee level just as

Intentional Ambiguity

|

63

Figure 5.1. To block the view, the camera is carefully lowered close to the ground. Photojournalists intentionally abstain from revealing the dead, instead preferring indistinctness or complete occlusion. Ironically, pictures are frequently judged newsworthy because of what they keep out of sight. Photo credit: Lynsey Addario, New York Times.

a thick tarp was pulled up by two soldiers (figure 5.1).10 In the resulting image, a tarp sags with the weight of an unseen corpse. The soldiers look down at the body and a higher camera position—like the ones usually taken at eye level by an upright photojournalist—would have revealed more. The words describing the photograph declared, “The al-Rashid road was littered with the scene of carnage that has become increasingly familiar after more than a year of violence.” But because the bodies were hidden by pictures like these, the so-called familiar carnage was actually quite unfamiliar to the American public. Photojournalists use other objects, like an ambulance or other emergency vehicle, to block the dead from our visual perception. The blocked view is treated as an accomplishment, as a photo editor explained in a personal interview: You can show the coroners putting the stretcher into the back of the truck but maybe the vehicle has a back door that is open and blocking it. So you see the worker and his or her hands and the emergency vehicle, so there is an implication that someone has died and that is what is happening.

64

| Intentional Ambiguity

While giving additional examples of how a photojournalist should court objects that block our view, this editor acknowledged that a photojournalist can picture “a body bag being carried.” He recognized that pictures showing body bags provide another means of visually blocking the body from sight, but he added, “That’s a little more graphic.” Of course, the body is not actually visible but the image suggests it exists. He summarized, “So there are all sorts of variations here that can imply what is happening.” In each case, he noted, the goal is to “let the reader assume that this is what is happening without actually showing them what is happening.”

Removing Information by Pixelating and Blurring In the event that photographs do directly depict the dead, the news industry may rely on postproduction techniques to censor the subject matter. These techniques pixilate and blur images, partially or entirely erasing their contents. In a technological reversal, the manipulation carefully undoes the camera’s view. When a pregnant Pakistani woman was stoned to death in 2014 by family members, some newsrooms pixilated images of the body. Meanwhile, other accounts were very clear: “I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it.” This is what a father in Pakistan explained to reporters after killing his twenty-five-year-old daughter. The young woman was stoned to death in a so-called honor killing outside a courthouse because she was supposed to marry her cousin but instead married the man she loved—an action that some Pakistani families believe shames the family. News accounts described how male family members beat her to death with bricks and clubs. The woman, who was three months pregnant, was a few yards from court, where she was going to contest an abduction case her family had filed against her husband, when as many as twenty men from her extended family attacked her, including her father, two brothers, and her former fiancé. She was killed in front of a crowd of onlookers on a main downtown thoroughfare. To represent her death, a close-up picture was altered for publication (figure 5.2) so that it reveals only her shoe and a sheet alongside a cement curb. The rest is made unreadable by light- and dark-colored

Intentional Ambiguity

|

65

Figure 5.2. Digital manipulation carefully reverses what the camera had revealed. To block sight of the subject that was documented up close for clarity, a high-profile “honor” killing is represented by a pixilated mass. The camera’s technological achievements are undone because visual vagueness, or erasure, is now the coin of the realm.

pixels. Some editors picked images (like figure 5.3) that zoomed out to include a group of men gathering around the body, but many of these still pixilated the dead woman. (Some editors avoided pixilation by selecting pictures where the body was fully shrouded and therefore imperceptible.) In contrast to the pixilation obscuring her death, the words in the reporting were used to crisply communicate the tragedy. News reporting repeatedly defined the event as a “brutal” slaying that shocked even Pakistanis who track violence against women. The news also emphasized the scale of the tragedy by highlighting the frequency of “honor” killings, and identifying them as an important human rights problem. In this vein, Time.com referenced the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which reported that 869 women were murdered for this purpose in 2013. Pictures were also pixilated for publication in 2015, amid an ongoing migrant crisis, when photographs of a drowned Syrian boy surfaced. He lay on the beach (as shown in chapter 1, figure 1.4) near the water’s tide,

66

|

Intentional Ambiguity

Figure 5.3. During other coverage of the “honor” killing, the deceased originally pictured in the center of this picture is not only pixilated but placed in the distance by the camera’s wide-angle shot, further limiting documentation of the subject. Photo: Reuters.

reflecting the desperate predicament of many other refugees. Some, like the New York Times, ran a story about the tragedy but decided to exclude the picture.11 Meanwhile, other news outlets in the United States and elsewhere included a heavily censored image. For example, as shown in figure 5.4, enlarged pixels let editors technologically annihilate the boy’s little body. Ironically, a bold-font claim superimposed across these images contends that they “laid bare” the sad reality, when in fact they were carefully manipulated to achieve the opposite.12 When confronting the biggest story of 2011, the news industry had plotted to rely on pixilation. Early in May of that year, United States forces hunted and killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind a major terrorist attack on American soil—the September 11, 2001, attack. He was the founder of al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization also responsible for numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets, including the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings. From 2001 to 2011, bin Laden was a major target of the War on Terror, and he

Intentional Ambiguity

|

67

Figure 5.4. News organizations that normally strive to reveal the central facts manipulate pictures to make them murky. During news coverage of the Syrian migrant crisis, some deliberately erased the camera’s clarity while claiming (in a bold-font caption) to lay the reality bare.

remained in hiding during three U.S. presidential administrations. He was fatally shot inside a private residential compound in Abbouttabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives in a covert operation ordered by President Barack Obama. As a part of this operation, President Obama commissioned postmortem photographs to document bin Laden’s death. The White House debated whether to release these images and, after days of deliberation, President Obama decided not to. The president believed that the images would “spike the football,” prompting the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, to explain that the government would withhold “all visual evidence” of bin Laden’s death.13 The government effectively assigned the documentary task to words alone. Before the White House reached the decision to withhold all visual evidence that bin Laden was now dead, news professionals were planning for the possibility that an image would be released. Some considered it likely that the government would release an image. The CBS News national security correspondent, David Martin, reasoned that the documentation “is history” and contended that “eventually the photo is going to have to be released.”14 This possibility that a postmortem picture would be released required that the news media devise plans for handling the image. As Martin explained,  I’ve had it described to me and it does sound very gruesome. Remember, bin Laden was shot twice at close range, once in the chest and once in the

68

|

Intentional Ambiguity

head, right above his left eye, and that bullet opened his skull, exposing the brain, and it also blew out his eye. So these are not going to be pictures for the squeamish.15

Other news media insiders had also concluded that the graphic images would be too hard for news audiences to stomach and had decided that, once the pictures were released, they would use them without actually revealing their contents. One editor indicated that if the White House released a corpse image, his programming would shrink it on the television screen so that the graphic contents could not be discerned by viewers. More commonly, editors explained that postmortem images would be disguised using pixels. One editor who vowed to disguise the content with pixels announced, “We will show the photo, but viewers won’t be able to see anything.” Another editor proposed that “much will be left to the imagination” because large color blocks would cloak most, if not all, of the image. Viewers would have to trust that the images published did actually depict evidence, because it would not be visually apparent. For that reason, the government’s decision whether or not to release the pictures had very little material effect. Either way, the contents would remain invisible.

Prioritizing Proof Although the news media are comfortable digitally manipulating postmortem images, and do so without apology, the National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics emphatically instructs, “Do not manipulate images.”16 According to “widely accepted ethical standards,”17 manipulation (for example, using Photoshop) to obscure or enhance visual elements is not only “unnecessary” but also wrong.18 In the code, the reasons for leaving photojournalism’s documents “relatively untouched are fairly obvious.” (Perhaps because they seem so obvious and compelling, the specific reasons are not articulated.) Conventionally, photographic technology has been valued for its mimetic capacity, and news images have leveraged the profession’s longstanding dedication to witnessing the central facts. Indeed, since the

Intentional Ambiguity

|

69

early use of photographs, the press has capitalized on the metaphor of the photograph as the objective beholder of truth. For instance, the New York Herald declared itself “the daily daguerreotype”; a religious publication that carried no illustrations of any kind called itself Sunday-School Photographs; and a magazine that had no relevance to photography went by the name Daguerreotype.19 Metaphors like these worked because the camera is renowned for its seemingly effortless ability to render reality in objective terms. Today, the same rhetorical intent is exemplified by the titles of television news shows such as Eyewitness News, See It Now, Live at Five, or As It Happens.20 These titles celebrate the news camera’s privileged proximity to the facts, and the witnessing lens that makes literal accuracy possible. News media watchdogs also capitalize on the metaphor of the photograph as the bearer of light. Using the cleverly chosen acronym CAMERA, a group called the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a website which depicts a light source pouring in through the camera’s lens, presumably enlightening the public.21 The acronym equates the power of the “truth-telling” camera with the mission to provide an alternative to “media distortion, bias, and misinformation.” Neither cameras nor photographs are centrally featured in the reporting, as this is mostly a word-based media review of verbal reporting, but the metaphor works because it is familiar enough. Traditionally, photojournalism tries to provide eyewitness evidence, as made manifest by the profession’s willingness to publish even outof-focus or otherwise technically troubled images. If parts of the image are not clear, they will be published despite this, not because of it. For example, when reporting on crimes (both fatal and nonfatal), the news media have spent decades relying on ill-composed and fuzzy images from security cameras. Technically poor images produced by amateurs’ cell phones are also now commonly used to document evidence when professionals are not on hand. To help audiences read these fuzzy images, producers superimpose bright circles or arrows to highlight the key evidence referenced. A recent online news video that captures an abducted seventeen-yearold student who jumped from a moving car onto the side of the road provides an example of how digital enhancements are used to add clarity

70

|

Intentional Ambiguity

Figure 5.5. In contrast to their treatment of dead victims, news reporting on living victims uses graphic techniques to highlight the subject. In this case, above the superimposed word “victim,” a bright yellow circle draws our attention toward an abducted teen who escaped from a moving car. If the victim had instead been dead, the goal would have been to add ambiguity.

(figure 5.5).22 Fortunately, the student escaped after being lured into the car while on the way to school. To help decode the low-quality image, an editor has superimposed the word “victim” in bold red font while circling the survivor in bright yellow. These efforts help bring clarity to an image that otherwise is hard to read. Similar tactics were used to visually highlight the bomb used at the 2013 Boston Marathon massacre. To help direct the viewer’s attention, a circle of light is added to a picture shown by Channel 7 News to distinguish the weapon within a visually cluttered field (figure 5.6). Various online news media also relied on this enhancing technique to make images of the suspects clearer (figure 5.7). Typically, American news media strive to capture proof at any cost, allowing fuzzy, ill-composed pictures to play an important role despite being technically poor. What has been known as the “Zapruder film” is perhaps the most famous example. Using a home-movie camera, an amateur named Abraham Zapruder filmed a silent, color, motion picture sequence as U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, thereby unexpectedly capturing the president’s assassination. Zapruder’s camera lacked the stabilizing device standard in professional cameras, but his shaky camera work became one of the most-viewed films. In fact, the technological flaws were cast as an asset. They were interpreted as a sign of

Intentional Ambiguity

|

71

Figure 5.6. When the deceased are included in a camera’s frame, lots of competing visual information is leveraged to clutter the view. In contrast, photojournalism typically tries to reduce the clutter and focus the viewer’s attention. For example, a circle of light is imposed on a visually congested image to help reveal the Boston Marathon bomb.

Figure 5.7. Many news outlets used graphically enhancing techniques to help audiences view the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

the unadulterated truth. The “grab shot” is “quite literally grabbed with the less-than-perfect lens, distance, angle, or composition,” notes media scholar Sheila Reaves.23 The grittiness of the image, and other technical flaws, can “signal to the viewer that there was no time to reflect and compose, and therefore individual or cultural influences are minimal.”24

72

|

Intentional Ambiguity

Summary: Attention and Its Prevention Photojournalism has the ability to lay the facts bare and, normally, the profession’s goal is to do so. However, when covering a fatal event, photojournalism inverts this goal. It now becomes important, by any means necessary, to conceal proof, and images are newsworthy because of what is not clearly seen. Opacity is purposively substituted for clarity as editors censor the film’s rich relay. But editors pretend to still value the camera’s eyewitness role: “We will show the photo, but viewers won’t be able to see anything.” In some cases, the evidence is masked when newsrooms employ software, like Photoshop, to manipulate the postproduction image. The pixels in the image are enlarged until the subject is undecipherable. Postproduction manipulation is not always used because photojournalists also learn to block the camera’s view, employing things like ambulance doors, bystanders, and other physical barriers to hide the postmortem subject. Photojournalists also rely on wide-angle shots to distance the dead and add competing visual content. An executive producer, John Reiss, explains that the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams strives to have “the body covered in such a way that you can’t see there’s a body in there. And we can say there’s a body in there. But we don’t have to show the body.”25 Similarly, a photojournalist explicitly acknowledges his interest in concealing visual evidence: “With a wide shot you really can’t see it . . . but they still have the stuff.” Another attested that the news media strive to “let the reader assume that this is what is happening without actually showing them what is happening.” Ironically, photojournalists are outfitted with expensive and powerful zoom lenses designed to create unambiguous images, and they are trained and otherwise rewarded for making clear, up-close images. Photojournalists are not formally trained to mask the corpse. In addition, news organizations generally lack written policies banning certain types of images, and those interviewed were not aware of any formal guidelines or written procedures that teach photojournalists how to portray death. However, photojournalists do learn on the job when their editors reject their most revealing work. Photo editors have notions about what makes a good picture, and photographers absorb these ideas. As a result,

Intentional Ambiguity

|

73

staff photographers often realize that there is little point in making many pictures that directly document the dead. The kinds of images that make the cut do so because of what they refuse to show. The visual documents that relay less information about the dead are said to have more news value. When reporting on death, photojournalism seeks indistinctness, with the goal of critically obscuring, if not completely erasing, the postmortem subject. Consequently, the logic and style of documentary photography turns inside out, and without irony, news professionals justify the new order, wherein “much will be left to the imagination.”

6

Layers of Resistance

During the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, when members of the news media learned that American prisoners of war had been executed, they breathlessly reported on the who, what, when, why, and how. They also had access to footage of the fatal event, but newsrooms rejected the images. In March 2003, CNN stated that the tapes of the executed prisoners were not to be aired because they were simply “not newsworthy,” and other news organizations offered similar arguments. In the years before and since, during times of war and peace, editors frequently conclude that images of the dead are “not newsworthy.” In fact, they make this judgment several times each day. The decision has become quite routine, begging the question of why images like these are generally not considered newsworthy. What judgments motivate this common conclusion? During individual interviews, members of the news media reflected on these kinds of questions.1 Their responses were impressively consistent, typically touching on the same set of themes, which can be organized into three main concerns. One concern they share is that images of the dead lack “good taste”—that nebulous aesthetic quality that is judged to have a pleasing effect on our senses. A second shared concern claims that the problem with a postmortem picture is more than bad taste: in this case, editors switch aesthetic critiques for charges of unethical or even criminal behavior, claiming that these images are “victimizing” because their content inflicts physical or emotional injury. The third type of concern takes an entirely different approach, claiming that the problem with the corpse photo is actually that it contains “no information.” Oddly, the image that is otherwise considered to be highly offensive because of its content now gets accused of lacking any content. When the editors explain why this kind of image is not newsworthy, they offer various and sometimes incongruous reasons, but we gain insight into their layers of resistance. We also see that these concerns are not limited to editors, or even those who work in the news industry. 74

Layers of Resistance

|

75

Rather, their concerns are shared by many others, reflecting widespread anxieties that coalesce around a particular set of objections, as further discussed here.

Good Taste: Aesthetically Pleasing Images of Tragedy When news media professionals try to explain how they decide that images of bodies are not newsworthy, their responses reveal aesthetic evaluations. Specifically, a photo editor of a large newspaper explained, “You try to exercise good taste. You try not to offend people.” Another editor explained that his news organization wanted to serve its audiences with restrained images that were more visually pleasant and “not gross.” Many other editors also stated that the postmortem picture was not “tasteful.” By borrowing the language of aesthetics, media professionals cast the corpse photo as an impolite form—an indecent one that offends our senses. This concern with aesthetics reflects the news industry’s interest in creating a pleasant experience for the audience, despite the dire misfortunes that have befallen others. As Marcy McGinnis, the senior vice president for news coverage at CBS News, admitted, “It might sound odd to use the term ‘good taste’ in a situation where thousands of people are having these horrible times,” but “we’re trying to show restraint in terms of just good taste as we tell that story.”2 She acknowledges that the industry is normally committed to revealing “what’s happening on the ground” but still maintains that aesthetic aspirations justify the self-censorship. When talking of taste, they dismiss the postmortem image as “sensationalism”—a term that is defined as that drive “to excite and please vulgar taste.”3 In an interview, an editor criticized “gratuitous, sensational images that we don’t need.” Another reflected on a picture of a slain man, whose death had made the news recently, and argued, “That’s not reporting.” When asked to explain, he added, “It’s just sensationalism, and it’s not useful for any reason.” As if describing pornography, which has become synonymous with bad taste, some oppose end-of-life pictures as “salacious” because they offer a “blunt, dirty pleasure.”4 Kevin Z. Smith, a journalism instructor and chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee, has

76

|

Layers of Resistance

expressed strong opposition to end-of-life images, complaining that such images pander to “lurid curiosity” and thereby fail to “show good taste.”5 Some simply condemn the images as “pornographic.” Mike Drago, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, describes these images as “death porn.”6 All these terms—“lurid,” “salacious,” “sensational,” and “pornographic,” plus others like them—get employed as another word for bad taste, and in each case, the aesthetic violation can be summarized as the “too much” problem. The problem is one of excess and, as a solution, editors explain that they prefer the “restrained” image of death. To achieve a subtle effect on the senses (namely, the sense of sight), they opt to conceal death, even though documentation is otherwise a goal of the press. The case of the unseemly picture is sometimes described using auditory metaphors that help illustrate the “too much” problem. Editors usually insist on images with high “volume” because attention-grabbing material is vastly preferred by the news industry, but in reports on death, the choice images are often those that are judged “quiet.” In one interview, an editor described the different “levels of volume” that he attributed to various pictures documenting a funeral for a teenage boy killed by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littletown, Colorado—a mass shooting by two students that left fifteen dead. Regarding the choice between images that could be used to document the boy’s funeral, he explained that pictures are like decibel levels that range from low to high; they can have a largely imperceptible impact or a shockingly unpleasant one. While reviewing various images supplied by the Associated Press and Reuters wire services, he considered how some pictures effectively turned up the dial to increase stimuli whereas others helped turned it down. He had narrowed his choice down to nine images, one of which he would choose to run in the paper the next day. He categorized those pictures that showed the body in the open casket up close as having the “highest volume,” and he judged them “too loud.” He described those images that made the body less prominent as having a “lower volume.” He decided that these “quieter” images were more appropriate because their sensory impact was “gentler.” After rejecting all the images of the figure showing it as clearly dead, he picked an image that he described as only “hinting” at death because it zoomed out on the funeral scene, providing a wide-angle image filled with lots of visual clutter that helped disguise the body. In his opinion,

Layers of Resistance

|

77

this image was ideal because it “had the least amount of volume”; he described it as having “the volume level of about three,” on a scale ranging from zero to ten. He was satisfied that the picture chosen was effectively “turning down the knob on what sort of emotion the picture is going to evoke and how strongly.” One of the most common critiques dismisses the postmortem picture as a “graphic” one. Complaints that a photograph is “graphic” have become shorthand for concerns that an image visualizes too much. Rocky Mountain News editor Janet Reeves summarized that there are many images that are not shown to the public because they are deemed “too graphic.”7 David Carr of the New York Times concluded bluntly that “photographs of the dead are graphic.”8 The common critique of the postmortem image as “graphic” is yet another way that editors disparage the image for its purported excess. By definition, however, a photograph is a graphic object. When a photojournalist is not reporting on a fatal event, the “graphic” image is actually considered ideal because, by standard definitions, the term means “detailed,” “realistic,” “accurate,” and “clearly set forth.”9 The condemnation of the graphic image implies that the image’s faithful rendering is a liability, and even a grave problem, rather than an asset or an accomplishment. Even when they do not show blood or other gore, but simply an intact body lying prone, postmortem images are labeled “graphic.” In one interview, a photo editor discussed a picture of man who was accidentally killed and labeled it “very graphic” even though there was just a man seen lying down, his body completely intact. If the fatal circumstances were not explained, the image could have been interpreted as documenting a living, recumbent man. Yet the editor objected that “[h]ere is a very graphic image of a tragic act.” He continued, “Is it newsworthy?” Answering his question, he explained, “The story is, but the public doesn’t need to see something so graphic.” Using the same language, USA Today described a 2015 news video of a Virginia reporter shot on live television as “graphic” even though the video showed no blood or wounds. The video only showed the “seconds before she was shot up until the moment when it appears the first bullet hits her body.”10 The victim does not dramatically fall back or collapse, and the only visual sign of an attack is a slight one: a quick, minor jerk that the reporter makes.

78

|

Layers of Resistance

We even censure news images as “graphic” if they show a corpse that has been elaborately prepared by a funeral business for open-casket viewing. To court aesthetic ideals, undertakers dress the body in formal or semiformal attire, meticulously apply makeup, and delicately arrange the deceased’s hair. They labor for hours, attempting to make the body resemble the appearance of a living person comfortably resting. After the American singer and actress Whitney Houston died, she was presented to a massive funeral gathering, in an open casket. She lay in repose, polished with a healthy-looking glow, dressed in a designer suit, and adorned with jewels while looking relaxed, as if she were asleep. But a tabloid’s photograph capturing all this was condemned as horribly “graphic.”11 Other news media warned readers not to look at the “crude” image. Even though there was no organic blight visible and she looked indistinguishable from her living self, the image was described as “really unsettling and not for the faint of heart.”12 The postmortem picture was also slammed as “morbid,” and judged to be in disastrously bad taste. In contrast, the four-hour funeral that included the open casket was never criticized as morbid. The crowds gathering in the streets, waiting for a glimpse, were also interpreted as admiring, rather than morbid. Meanwhile, CNN provided about six hours of coverage, including over two hours without commercial interruption, and attracted an average audience of five million viewers. The Associated Press’s live stream of the funeral had two million viewers. This intense media coverage was judged to be another form of reverence, and was not deemed offensive. When hundreds of star-studded friends and family members directly viewed Houston’s body in the casket, this wasn’t considered morbid either. Instead, they were said to be “paying their respects.” Despite the many in attendance who intimately viewed her body up close, a commentator on Fox News argued that the postmortem picture should never be published because “no one needs to remember Whitney preserved in formaldehyde.”13 To this critic, and many others, it was perfectly acceptable to view the formaldehydeinfused body in person (if attending the funeral), even though it presents a no less “graphic” sight. These are the nuanced boundaries of “good taste,” and it is the untiring work of culture that makes these deeply subjective, aesthetic matters seem like common sense to us, as if good taste were based on some natu-

Layers of Resistance

|

79

ral law. Editors speak confidently of these distinctions, and it is their job to reflect the current standards, but the judgments are as arbitrary as any aesthetic assessment (although we use them to claim higher ground). As revealed by historical research, postmortem photographs were not always branded improper. In fact, they were once a cherished memento.14

Protection from Harm In interviews, editors spoke passionately about the absurdity of publishing a corpse photo, arguing repeatedly that these photographs are in bad taste, and when pressed to explain further, they emphasized the corpse photograph’s “powerful impact,” which they repeatedly warned against rather than coveted. Ordinarily, journalism relishes the powerful image. But fearing its impact, one editor summarized that photographs of the corpse, even when the body is mostly concealed, “don’t belong because they are far too powerful.” When articulating why being “powerful” is a problem, editors claim that postmortem pictures are so potent that they cause viewers emotional distress and even physical harm. Explaining what is at stake, they claim that the images have dangerous effects, and demand gentler images as part of an ethical imperative to protect the public. The images “are just too much, too much emotion,” stated one editor. Another simply remarked that he rejects most photographs of corpses because of “their emotional impact.” Complaining about their physical impact, one photo editor said he excludes corpse photos because they are guilty of “torturing” viewers and argued, “I don’t think our job is to torture people” (emphasis his). Other editors also invoked the rhetoric of violence: they described corpse photos as images that destructively “slice,” “sear,” “push,” and “hit.” To illustrate the purported violence, one editor represented the damaging force of the postmortem photo by slamming his tightly closed fist against his other hand’s open palm. Explaining why a corpse photograph was not selected to illustrate a particular story about death, he recounted, “I chose not to approve [the corpse photo] because I thought it was too much. There is that line.” Then he paused to mimic another violent gesture as he again punched his palm. When asked to articulate the risk of doing “too much” he replied, “We didn’t need to go that extra

80

|

Layers of Resistance

step.” He added that a photograph of the body bag was chosen because it was deemed to have a less violent effect on readers: “We had the body bag [photo] and that was the level of impact we wanted to have. The picture of the body bag was a very high-impact picture and that was as strong as we needed to go. You don’t want to painfully shock.” In a separate interview, another photo editor at a different news organization also compared the image’s effect to being violently hit. He was recounting how he decided which photograph should be used to document a terrorist bombing in Pakistan that killed Americans. He shared three Associated Press photographs that he had been considering for publication. Two of the photographs, which he described as the “hardest hitting,” clearly pictured corpses. The other image focused on the bomb’s destruction of a vehicle. In a personal letter (sent after our in-person conversation), he explained that he decided not to run either of the two images that clearly revealed corpses. Instead, he decided to run an image that “would not be hitting the readers over the head with a 2 x 4.” By eliminating the other images, he envisioned his audience would be protected from a potential assault. Another editor described images of the dead as an “ambush” on the viewer because they seem like a “shocking, quick attack.” Building on the violent metaphor, he said viewers have “little chance of escape,” thus increasing the sense of vulnerability. Even members of the “casual viewing public,” like the “passerby” who only catches a glimpse at the newspaper stand, are thought to be in need of protection from “hurtful” images.15 The ability to widely and swiftly share information is usually thought to be ideal for a media company, but here it is believed to forcefully violate viewers. A different editor described a compelling sense that, with brute force, the corpse image “thrusts us into another place, into another reality.” In this scenario, the viewer is vulnerable because the corpse image violently pushes audiences into the reality depicted without consent: “When you open the paper up and there is a dead person [pictured] there, you haven’t had a chance to decide if you don’t want to go there. You are just there, even if you don’t want to go there.” When asked to articulate where, exactly, the pictures “move” the viewer, he explained that the viewer is traumatized by the terror of being transported into the image,

Layers of Resistance

|

81

alongside the wretched corpse. Similarly, one industry insider offered that when an image pushes the viewer to confront a body, “You say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to be here.’ ” She labeled the problem as the “horror of being there,” and she elaborated by discussing a corpse photograph of a California county’s murdered sheriff: There is so much presence there; you are present in that one still moment. Maybe people did not want to go there. Maybe people did not want to be there with that dead sheriff. Maybe they feel that is too much. You can tell me that he was there, you can describe the scene, but I do not want to go there with him. In the photo you are there with him. You are there with the photographer looking down and you don’t want to see it [original emphases].

In this account, the ideal image is one that allows the viewer to remain at an emotional distance from the subject. Although, as further discussed in the next chapter, the camera is generally championed for stirring our emotions by serving up a slice of “reality”—as if it creates a direct portal— here it is ruled unsuitable for exactly these reasons. Whereas news images are ordinarily credited with bringing the viewer to a sometimes distant reality, when they picture death, this transportation seems transgressive, as if it is wrong for a photograph to imaginatively inspire a sense of proximity. Usually, editors are pleased by images that are compelling and memorable, and it is otherwise a badge of honor if a picture is considered “unforgettable.” As a Washington Post piece stated, a picture’s importance can be measured by the sense that it “will lurk in the subconscious,” adding that the valuable ones are those “images that cannot be easily erased from our minds.”16 Still, editors reject many corpse photographs for fear that they will “stick in people’s minds.”17 A photo editor rejected a photograph documenting a number of bodies because she “was haunted by it,”18 as if it was unshakable. Whereas editors usually prioritize pictures that are expected to make long-lasting impressions, their communicative ideals are now turned on their heads, as they ban an image because it threatens to resonate over time. The potentially intractable influence of an image is no longer welcome.

82

|

Layers of Resistance

Finding “No Information” in Photos Although editors protest that the postmortem image has potently offensive content—so powerful, in fact, that it risks physically and emotionally harming viewers—they also argue that this kind of image has no content. As one editor summarized, images of death “fail to provide any information.” Another remarked that these photographs contain “little or no detectable information” and thus have “little or no worth” as news. These arguments assert that the pictures are essentially nonimages, conveying nothing, and rather than being charged with doing too much, the pictures are now dismissed as simply impotent. Editors often made these arguments in response to being asked to explain how the concealment of corpses can be reconciled with the conventional duty of photojournalism to serve as an eyewitness. In interviews, they were asked, if a fatality was deemed important enough to generate any news coverage, why should the camera abandon its evidentiary duty? In response, editors now argued that postmortem images are not newsworthy because they communicate nothing, as if the camera technology failed to transcribe. Reflecting on a corpse photo, an editor explained that he couldn’t detect any information: “The pictures that we publish, we want them to have content, we want them to have a reason to be published and very rarely we’ll show, for example, a dead body. That’s not going to enhance the news content of the newspaper. So we wouldn’t do that.” To elaborate, he added that he is more likely to attribute news value to photos that represent a body once it is entirely covered, perhaps by a body bag or blanket. By denying the viewer certain visual information about the body, he stressed, a photograph has more, rather than less, “content.” It is unclear how the facts about a fatality are made more evident in a picture that has hidden death, but such contradictions were common. In another example, one photo editor described his profession’s general commitment to the eyewitness role of the news photograph when attesting, “My photographers are shooting for the guy [who] doesn’t have the ability to go see the things that we get to see. So, we’re like the reader’s representative with a camera.” However, when specifically asked why so few photographs of bodies accompany news stories of death, he

Layers of Resistance

|

83

declared, “That’s not our job. . . . Our job is to show the readers what happened.” In an attempt to justify how these images somehow lack the ability “to show what happened,” he added, “We choose a photo because of the news value. If [a photo] tells the story then it has large news value. There are gory photos moved on the newswire every day that we would not even consider because there is no news value to them—there is no information.” Then, when reflecting on a picture of a publicly slain young man that had been published recently by another newspaper, he claimed, “The story gives information but the image doesn’t.” A similar argument was made by Time’s managing editor, Jim Kelly, when he explained why the magazine did not run some pictures of those killed in the Iraq War. Kelly commented, “I had stuff that I thought was more germane to what was going on that week.”19 Somehow, the corpse images in question failed to provide information that was considered “germane” to the fatal news event. The claim that postmortem photos have no information (or at least not germane information) is a problematic attempt to rationalize a media practice. Their claims reflect the industry’s concerns with what classic sociology (by Gaye Tuchman and others) has referred to as the rituals of objectivity—whereby news workers believe they mitigate the risks of the trade by being able to claim their work is “objective.” In fact, “objective” filters can be so ingrained in news professionals that they are seen and presumed even where they do not exist. The press has long championed the photograph as proof, and even as an “actual moment of reality.”20 Surpassing a merely technical feat, the photographic medium seems transparent, like a window to the actual event, and the referential picture typically gives the news image a great deal of authority.21 As a result, photographs “not only support the credibility of the newspaper as an accurate medium . . . [but] also guarantee and underwrite its objectivity.”22 Indeed, since photojournalism’s early days, the camera’s pictures have succeeded at embodying the news industry’s ideal of objectivity.23 When some are willing to claim that a postmortem picture does not contain information (or at least not relevant kinds), they invoke this familiar, objective criterion, but use it for disqualification. For example, an editor tried to explain the utility of applying objective criteria when de-

84

| Layers of Resistance

ciding how photojournalism should depict funerals. He explained that it makes good sense to publish stories if a funeral is deemed important, and that the news coverage should include both words and pictures. In decisions about which picture to run, the editor emphasized, it would be wrong to include a photo of the corpse in an open casket. He stressed, “Here is a good example of when you want to run the story and not the photo.” When he was asked, “What makes one newsworthy and the other not?” he replied, “I can’t think of any reasons why you would want to show a picture of someone in a casket. I cannot see any reason for that” (emphases his). He then repeated, “I cannot see any reason for it.” Attempting to explain this conclusion, he added, “The person is already dead, for one reason.” He was referring to an informal “rule” of news selection by arguing that “[t]he event hasn’t just happened if a person is in a casket. It’s not breaking news.”24 This contention was an appeal to objective news selection criteria (specifically, timeliness), but it ignores the fact that he judged the story about the same event to be newsworthy. He was hoping to demonstrate how objective criteria rule out the picture, but not the words. However, the argument is unconvincing since it only emphasizes the double standard by which the same subject is considered either newsworthy or not, depending on whether it was represented by a picture or by words.25 In light of these inconsistencies, I asked if one reason for excluding the corpse might be anticipation of reader disapproval. In response, he and others emphatically insisted that audience complaints are not a reason to exclude a photograph. In fact, they stated that news professionals must ignore the public’s protests. “Readers will complain about many things, so you can’t use them as a guide,” commented one photo editor. “Some complain even when we show a spouse mourning at a funeral. They think it’s inappropriate.” He added, “You can’t follow their lead. It’s not good news practice to chase opinions.” Instead, he stressed, news professionals need to follow objective news-selection criteria: “You can’t sacrifice professional standards.” Putting a finer point on it, he stressed, “You have to be objective about it.” But this insistence on objectivity cannot be reconciled with their many calls to honor good taste. Matters of aesthetics, of course, are fundamentally subjective ones.

Layers of Resistance

|

85

The Press and Public Share Concerns Those who work for the news media are not alone in their angst over these images. In many letters to editors, Twitter exchanges, and blogs, the general public expresses many of the same opinions as the industry insiders do, and conveys them in similar terms. Like the press, the public complains that this kind of photojournalism offends aesthetic senses with its “bad taste,” and that it even victimizes the viewer. Like the press, audiences also insist that these images fail to offer any information, while also labeling them “graphic” and “pornographic” precisely because they reveal too much information. Offering a typical aesthetic critique, some audience members complain that images documenting death offend their senses even when the deceased is fully intact and unbloodied. Sometimes the aesthetic offense is described in visual terms as “unsightly” or “disgusting,” suggesting that communication about death should be highly sanitized for a more attractive look, or completely censored.26 Offering another aesthetic metaphor, one newspaper reader explains, “My critique is about the tone” of an image showing a body.27 Through this auditory reference, the image is judged by its unpleasant sound to be like a failed musical performance. Some audiences disapprovingly describe the images as “sensational,” “vulgar,” and “gratuitous” because they seem to abandon restrained “measures of decency.”28 In a telling complaint, a reader carped that “I do not mind realism in photojournalism. But I do mind sensationalism.”29 Here, the picture is accused of violating the verisimilitude of realism; it is as if the camera technology has reached a tipping point, where it suddenly fails to accurately relay the facts. Dubiously, the reader contends that realism requires substantial masking. As photojournalism is criticized for its disclosure, audiences dismiss their images as “pornographic” or “snuff porn.” When documenting a death, some judge photojournalism “obscene,” again because of the “too much” problem. The public also pejoratively characterizes these images as “graphic,” as if the camera’s mimetic technology is a flaw. Indeed, faithful documentation seems to be a sin. Similarly to editors who claim that pictures of the corpse have a power to “sear,” “slice,” “cut,” “punch,” “stun,” and otherwise harm viewers,

86

|

Layers of Resistance

audiences speak of being “attacked,” “shocked,” or “bludgeoned” by a picture’s powerful content. Responding to coverage in the New York Times, a reader protests, “Now we have to worry about what images may assault us while we are sipping our morning coffee.”30 Relying further on the rhetoric of violence and victimhood, viewers of images published in the Washington Post complain that the corpse photo wields a brute authority: they were “forced to look” and had “no choice.”31 Using similar language, another reader contends, “It is nothing less than an assault to be confronted with images we are not prepared to see.”32 Surely, these images do not physically harm viewers, and some people more accurately complain about emotional effects. For example, a reader objects to a corpse picture illustrating a major tragedy when pleading, “Some of us just want the facts, without emotional coloring.”33 This reader implies that the goal of news coverage should be to communicate facts about a horrible event without emotional implications, as if this were ideal or even possible. Another reader argues that images of death are not newsworthy because they stir deep, disquieting “gut feelings.”34 Similarly, a letter to the editor rhetorically asks, “Is it really helpful to force readers to feel the pain and suffering distilled from all four corners of the earth?”35 Another observer agrees that this kind of imagery “inflicts upon us a burden that weighs heavily on the psyche.”36 He and other viewers hope to avoid these encounters, which are said to be so disturbing that they become “a traumatic memory etched on the conscience.”37 In the aftermath of a major earthquake, a viewer complained that a postmortem picture “leaves us helpless” because it “is not a picture of rescue; it is a farewell.”38 He added, “The image leaves us as helpless as the soldiers clearing concrete and steel.” In his account, we feel helpless because we are not vicariously involved in saving a life. Certainly, feeling helpless is not a pleasant experience, but other types of news coverage do not fundamentally afford us more control. Those who learn of a fatality without seeing any images would also admit that they lack control to change the earthquake’s death toll. When we are told of a death by a newscaster or read it in the headline, we are still unable to change the awful past. When we villainize a picture for these kinds of painful realizations, it seems as if the ideal news is the kind designed to gloss over troubling information.

Layers of Resistance

|

87

Sometimes, viewers even feel emotionally harassed by images that are visually indistinguishable from an image of a prone, living, and fully intact body. After viewing other images published to document victims of a major earthquake, a New York Times reader raged against the way the story was “spectacularized by blood-and-gore photographs.”39 But contrary to the reader’s perception, the pictures published in this case did not reveal any blood or gore. Perhaps, as we passionately protest a type of picture, we envision what is actually not there and end up resisting something that is not real. At the same time that audiences imagine so much excess, they also argue that the corpse image fails to contain content. A reader contends that the corpse image is not newsworthy because it is not communicating anything and therefore “isn’t accomplishing anything.”40 Others describe the image as “adding nothing,” even though it contains much—so much that the specificity of a photograph can never be reproduced with words alone.

Summary: Reversals of Rhetoric When we consider the layers of resistance to postmortem photos, a whole mess of anxieties seems to arise. Photo editors—those whose responsibility is to disseminate visual evidence—have an intensely fraught relationship to these images, just like the rest of us. Conventionally, photojournalism’s news images are celebrated for robustly documenting their subject, but when documenting death, a photograph’s fidelity is now unwelcome. With this pivot, the ideal aesthetic is that visually discreet image that veils its subject rather than directly documenting it. Instead of celebrating the camera’s technology for its fidelity to detail, we now pejoratively label images “graphic” and demand that fidelity be restrained. Verisimilitude is seen as “sensationalism.” Postmortem pictures are even condemned as “pornographic.” Labeling them as “porn” spares us the burden of looking, and even considers looking away to be morally superior. And as if only pleasing images are newsworthy, the picture is dismissed as “unsightly,” “gross,” and “offensive.” Revealing our delicate sensibilities, we warn against “bad taste” for images that merely show a body completely intact with the same benign appearance as a sleeping subject.

88

|

Layers of Resistance

Adding a greater sense of urgency, we sometimes argue that the picture is guilty of physically harming us. Aesthetics morph into ethics as pictures are charged with being abusive: the viewer is imagined to be the victim of an “assault” as an unwelcome reality “slices,” “hits,” and “punches.” Described as having brute force, the images are imagined to even “torture.” Meanwhile, the intrusive “in your face” attacker—that violent agent—is just an inert object. Photographs do not actually physically harm, but we invoke these threats because they stir uncomfortable feelings. The camera’s consideration of death can lead to painful realizations, but it is far from clear that the news should be sampled to spare us. As an item of faith, it is also claimed that corpse pictures provide “no information,” which is unlikely for any type of photograph, but especially for one that documents an event as important as death. It is also a fascinating claim given that the alternative images used (as catalogued in chapter 3) frequently provide less information about the fatality. Factually speaking, those images that document death are highly germane. The images that commonly appear in the news because they conceal the dead, such as those showing a pile of debris, can be used to illustrate a wide variety of stories that may or may not involve fatalities. An image of debris can signal death, or it can merely document intentional acts of demolition, or even a site the community has neglected, allowing it to crumble over time. The picture of debris can only hint that something may be amiss. Displaying our various and often contradictory reasons for resistance, we damn postmortem pictures for their potent or “graphic” content, even while we accuse them of “failing to communicate any information.” Whereas a photograph is normally praised for its mimetic relay, it is now judged devoid of information and therefore unfit. On the one hand, we believe the postmortem picture relays “too much,” and on the other, we say it transmits “nothing.”

7

Word versus Image

In 2014, news media released an elevator security video of Ray Rice, a high-profile NFL football player, knock-out punching his then-fiancée in the face. In Atlantic City, Rice deals a direct hit to the head of Janay Palmer, whom he soon after married. The punch throws Palmer off her feet and she falls to the ground, unconscious. Rice drags her limp body partway out of the elevator, and then leaves her on the floor (figure 7.1). Like the punch, the power of the image reverberated with much impact, serving a devastating blow to Rice’s reputation and career. Even though the assault was already public knowledge, the video generated intense attention. Shortly after the video was released, Bruce Handy, a cultural critic, observed, “The only new element this week was the visual.”1 The basic facts were well known already because several journalists had rehashed the punch that left Palmer lying unconscious. As the journalist Michael Powell had previously detailed in the New York Times, Rice “drove his hand into his then-fiancée’s head, knocking her cold.”2 Accounts by Powell and others also detailed that while Palmer was unconscious, Rice had pulled her body partly from the elevator before dropping her in the doorway. Prior to the release of the video, the couple even held a press conference, where these facts were not in dispute. Commentators tried to explain the nature of the difference between the words that already circulated and the newly released pictures—a difference that really seemed to matter. By way of explanation, many journalists commented that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”3 In fact, literally dozens of news reports about the Ray Rice video espoused this cliché, word for word, as the uproar triggered by the Ray Rice video inspired a clear tribute to the influence of images. Although facts had been disseminated previously by words, the video images fundamentally transformed the meaning of the story. In the New Yorker, Nicholas Schmidle summarized that “the video was 89

90

|

Word versus Image

Figure 7.1. The video of Ray Rice punching his fiancée and leaving her in an elevator doorway received major media attention and intensified his punishment, even though the information was already known. The media and the public considered these images not only legitimate forms of news but very important ones. However, we rarely treat pictures this way when the victim has died.

unimpeachable, and its impact was immediate.”4 Another commentator elaborated, “The release of the video dramatically changes the narrative of Rice, the gifted workhorse and star running back.”5 Indeed, hours after the video was made public, Rice was suddenly cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Prior to the video, only light punishments were announced. News commentators remarked that the video made the NFL’s original punishment appear extremely “feeble.”6 Many others agreed that it “alters the paradigm in terms of the sanctions administered against Rice, which now seems [sic] woefully insufficient.”7 The video was said to have “shaken the league ‘to its foundation.’ ”8 When addressing the media about the Rice video he had purportedly just seen for the first time, a few hours before, Coach John Harbaugh announced, “It changed things of course.”9 Put in other terms, “When you see that visually, it’s such a turn-off,” explained Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, in a television interview. As Kraft and others contended, compared to the words previously detailing this event, the pictures communicated better, triggering emotional and political responses that had formerly evaded the story. As praise for the power of pictures kept amassing, the story that unraveled was, in many ways, as much about the influence of the image as it was about violent behavior.

Word versus Image

| 91

Praising Picture Power Those in the press and beyond also paid tribute to images when news pictures documented abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the United States Army at the Abu Ghraib prison (figure 7.2).10 Accounts of torturing prisoners, most of whom were innocent, came to public attention through an international scandal. For over a year, there had been a trail of reports on Americans torturing prisoners in Iraq and Pakistan, but these reports were largely ignored, and it seemingly took the photographs of the abused bodies to grab attention and stir reactions. Like the Ray Rice incident, the Abu Ghraib story was not just about unethical behavior because it also revealed much about the nature of photography by affirming key distinctions that we commonly make between pictures and words. The press, politicians, and the public contended that the images accomplished what words could never. The pictures were believed to provide proof that words lacked. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch said, “It was only when the pictures made them irrefutable that they then began to take action.”11 Others admitted that the facts were previously made known by words, but that these words had not been sufficiently persuasive. Politicians who, prior to the release of the photos, had been given many reports detailing the torture, blamed the words for not being as persuasive as the images.

Figure 7.2. Images documenting the Abu Ghraib prison torture sparked another tribute to the power of images, which seemed to accomplish what words failed to do.

92

|

Word versus Image

That is, they blamed their previous inaction on the ineffectiveness of the word, compared to the photograph. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had long known about the reports of prisoner torture, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the photographs forced him to realize how serious the offenses were. Rumsfeld pleaded, “It is the photographs that gives [sic] one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don’t do it.”12 Political motivations aside, the secretary of defense accurately described a role commonly assigned to photographs. As Rumsfeld admitted, the facts had not changed, but the pictures’ emotional saliency now made them seem much more “serious” and “vivid.” The images were credited with igniting public opinion and finally demanding a government response (figure 7.3).

Figure 7.3. Despite earlier, written reports on Americans torturing prisoners, the case received little attention. Officials and the lay public demanded action only after the photographs surfaced. Unlike the earlier accounts, the pictures circulated widely, and were regarded as indisputable proof.

Word versus Image

|

93

News images were also extensively praised for their accomplishments during news coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Even journalists, who are professionally committed to the power of the word, lamented that their words were inadequate. A Washington Post journalist argued that pictures are the “most effective tool” and “tell the story best.”13 During rolling footage, news commentary was often absent as television news anchors paused and relied solely on the images. Seasoned reporters professed that the images broadcast could not be matched with words. A Los Angeles Times story, entitled “Groping for Words,” focused on the difficulty of “finding adequate words” due to “language’s disconnection.”14 Journalists bemoaned how others who work closely with words—poets, playwrights, and linguists— shared the sense that words were failing to describe the devastation.15 Meanwhile, newspapers burst with large, full-color images that spilled across many pages, where words typically reside in bulk. Pictures apparently write it best. The cameras were a committed witness, although they did steer clear of documenting the deaths. Even ten years later, during anniversary coverage of the September 11 attacks, journalists bemoaned the meagerness of words compared to pictures. An Associated Press writer opened with this apology for words’ shortfall: “For all the journalistic firepower gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Sunday, the small moments captured by cameras resonated most deeply.”16 Others in the news industry agreed that “it was the power of the printed image that burned those moments into our collective memory.”17 Photojournalism was also fêted for its communicative achievements in covering Hurricane Katrina, a massive 2005 tragedy that was described by some as “the black nation’s 9/11” because it disproportionately afflicted African Americans on the Gulf Coast. The hurricane overwhelmed levees with deadly consequences, exposing communities that were described as so poor the residents did not have enough money for a bus ticket out of town. During news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, pictures were widely praised for being better than words at communicating the terrible truths. A long-time news editor concluded that words alone failed and that the camera’s images were needed to expose the horrible facts “that can’t be denied.”18 Photojournalism succeeded, he argued, because it “flooded that reality onto the world’s front pages and now everyone sees it, the

94

| Word versus Image

whole world sees it, and it can no longer be ignored.” The photographs, he added, “are indisputable, showing the truth about human behavior at its best and at its worst, exhibiting the physical evidence of institutional and policy failure, and writing history’s first draft.”

The Emotional Mechanism Images are said to achieve so much and, according to news industry accounts, this is possible because images excel not only at capturing the facts but also at evoking emotion. Explaining how the industry judges the quality of a news image, the Digital Journalist website offers, “We recognize excellence when we see it. More to the point, we feel it.”19 Similarly, many professional handbooks state that “emotional content” is the most important attribute of a news photograph. In the Best Use of Photography Contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association, it is standard when judging news photos to praise those having “the most emotional impact” and having “evoked the strongest reaction.”20 Donald R. Winslow, who edits News Photographer, the magazine for the National Press Photographers Association, emphasizes, “Words make people think. But pictures make people feel.”21 When we pay homage to the image, we often describe it as having more “visceral” impact than words can. “We’ve known throughout history that we’ve told those stories through oral traditions, through writing and radio, but photographs have the power to impact people at a visceral level and change the hearts and minds,” argues Kenneth Irby, who is an industry consultant on photojournalism.22 Susie Linfield, who writes about culture and media, stresses that “[p]hotographs excel, more than any other form of either art or journalism, in offering an immediate, viscerally emotional connection to the world.”23 Even journalists delight in the camera’s ability “not just to document” but to stir “visceral emotions.”24 Emotional news images are idealized as a pathway to progress, and many have stressed that advances in history depended on them. A recent essay in the News Photographer emphasized that emotionally troubling pictures, like those documenting the struggles of Hurricane Katrina survivors, “play a pivotal role in changing society, in changing government, in changing wars, in changing the perceptions of entire nations, and in changing the lives of millions of Americans for the better.”25 It is

Word versus Image

|

95

suggested that, if we were to depend on words alone, the arc of history would have been fundamentally different. In his book about pictures from America’s civil rights era, Maurice Berger credits the emotionally “difficult” photojournalism depicting violence against civil rights activists as weapons that “forever changed a nation.”26 He honors images of the civil rights era as “innately powerful tools in the war against ignorance and bigotry”27 that played “a vital role” in transforming America. The cultural critic bell hooks has argued that the civil rights struggle for equal rights was inseparable from the images that made tragedy visible.28 Images—like those of protesters attacked by police dogs—are credited with raising consciousness and demanding political change, and it is suggested that the fight for justice would have far fewer successes without them. Reflecting on a world without these icons, a photo editor echoed the belief that the pictures set history on a special course: You can write about an incident but to see the photographs, they have such an impact. It’s like some of the photographs from the civil rights demonstrations. It’s one thing when you read about it in the paper that policemen were clubbing people but to see it in the photographs and on TV is very different.

He added, because “the tragedy and horror of an event” is represented much more potently in photographs than in words, the pictures invaluably advanced the struggle. During coverage of international crises, like the 1993 African famine, photojournalism has also been credited for images so emotionally disturbing that they made Americans finally act. In a Washington Post article entitled “Picture from Somalia,” Joanna Byrd described the “wrenching” news pictures of starving children that were “awful enough to rouse the world’s humanitarian instincts.”29 Diplomat Rozanne Ridgway stated that the images spurred American intervention when noting that pictures of starving Somali children “rightly encourage Americans to press their government to intervene.”30 Diplomat George F. Kennan wrote that news images of suffering Somalians did inspire American involvement.31 Speaking about the “powerful” pictures, David Halberstam concluded that American involvement in Somalia was indeed “foreign

96 |

Word versus Image

policy that’s driven by image.”32 Repeatedly, because they seemed to grab more attention for the victims than millions of words had, commentators and politicians stated that the emotional photojournalistic coverage of this African tragedy provoked government action with the (now admittedly unrealized) goal of benefiting millions in Somalia. In particular, the photograph by Kevin Carter of a vulture preying near an emaciated African child was characterized as an image that provoked “heart-wrenching” emotions. The picture first appeared in the New York Times with the caption, “Metaphor for Africa’s Despair.” It was said to capture the feeling of tragedy and subsequently induce a related distress in American audiences: “Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived.”33 In response, the newspaper followed up with an unusual special editor’s note explaining that “the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture,” but it admitted that “her ultimate fate was unknown.”34 News critic Tom Shales described the “shocking and heartbreaking” TV image as thankfully motivating American outrage.35 The picture of the child severely starved and imperiled augured no celebration, but it did win a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer Prize, the profession’s highest award, honors the images that are often described as unforgettable because of their intense emotional impact.36 When cameras exposed the African famine through pictures of starving but notably still alive children, the pictures were selected for publication, praised, and even awarded Pulitzer Prizes precisely because of their emotionally distressing impact. However, when death is pictured, we rarely see images as worthy of promotion.

When Success Becomes Failure When reporting on Hurricane Katrina, photojournalism was generally treasured. However, the pictures of the dead were specifically dismissed. Similarly, in news coverage of the September 11th terrorist attacks, photojournalism was generally given an esteemed position, elevated above the role of words. But the images of the fatalities were again dismissed as un-newsworthy, even though the words reporting on death were prioritized. When death is the subject at hand, the value we otherwise place on documentary pictures is often inverted. As illustrated by the above

Word versus Image

|

97

coverage of Ray Rice and Abu Ghraib, we welcome photojournalism for its “unimpeachable” documentation because it seems to provide irrefutable evidence. But, if the news camera documents death specifically, the pictures are now said to lack substance and evade truth telling. And just as the ideal news images are often described as those that are affectively stirring, as also discussed above, a postmortem photograph becomes un-newsworthy precisely because it is emotionally intense. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, the erstwhile achievements of the camera are now defined as failures, and the pictures are no longer judged to tell the story best. This is how picture pride turns into picture prejudice. As a photo editor summarizes in a personal interview, he rejects images directly documenting death because “they are often far more powerful than the written word.”37 Making this point, another photo editor noted, “You can’t say, ‘Well, geez, if we are going to use this copy about a death, let’s use this photo of the corpse,’ because they are different.” He emphatically reiterated, “They just are different. They affect people differently.” Elaborating on this point, he rhetorically asked, “Why the copy, and why not the pictures?” and answered, Because they are two different vehicles: photographs versus copy. Photographs are the conveyor of emotion, they are the vehicle of emotion and they are not the same [as copy]. You can be as descriptive as you want with words and it does not have, most of the time, as great an impact as a photograph. You’re talking about apples and oranges. We have to be mindful that pictures are different. They are often far more powerful than the written word.

He added that because images of the dead are emotionally “very dramatic,” they should be excluded, and then he stressed the point again by way of an example: “When you see the body of a child instead of just reading about a child who was killed, it has a much greater impact.” Although words may emotionally affect us, he explained, the reaction is “unlikely to be as immediate.” He concluded that, to take “feelings” into account, the postmortem photos needed to be withheld. He acknowledged that the newspaper industry conceives of the photograph as a standard complement to journalism’s copy, but he also emphasized the lack of synchronicity between pictures and words. He considered

98

|

Word versus Image

words to be a more rational and analytical mode of communication. He judged them legitimate and did not express concern with their detailed accounts. Similarly, a photo editor recounted a story of a woman reading about war crimes in Kosovo. The woman had read plenty of words about the deaths, but when she saw a photo of a corpse she jumped back, recoiling from an “attack.” The image was described as emotionally affecting her in ways that the stories about Kosovo never had. Building on this example, the editor explained that photographs like these are traumatic compared to the related copy because the latter offers readers a chance to turn away and avoid any unwanted information. He noted, “There’s something about reading and something about seeing it. Writing about it is different than a photograph because when you pick this newspaper up you have no choice but to see this photograph. You have a choice about whether to read the story or not.” To illustrate this point with another example, he then referenced news coverage of a fatal crime that once gripped the nation: the O. J. Simpson murder case that led to the most publicized criminal trial in American history.38 (It was “the biggest story I have ever seen,” said the producer of NBC’s Today, and the Los Angeles Times alone covered the case on its front page for more than three hundred days after the murders.)39 Simpson, a former professional football star and actor, was tried on two counts of murder after the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Reflecting on the murder case, the photo editor continued, “If you don’t want to read about O. J. slashing Nicole’s throat, you don’t have to read it.” He continued, “We had all the trial photographs—really bloody photographs—and we could’ve used them but we didn’t.” On the other hand, he felt that the details of the story were appropriate for the verbal reporting and explained, “You are giving the reader a choice as to whether to read the story or not.” A photograph, he concluded, “takes away your choice.” To him, the press would be wrong to show what the words discussed because “then you don’t have a choice about looking” (emphasis his). Images documenting death apparently seem dangerous because they communicate so much more quickly than words. As this editor and other ones claim, the postmortem photograph strips viewers of their volition.

Word versus Image

|

99

A different editor offered a parallel account again highlighting the unavoidably high impact of photographs and comparing it to the gentle effect of words: When you see something it is much more immediate. When you read, you can form whatever image in your mind you want to form. It can be distant or not. You make up your own images to go with the words. You can read the top of the story and say, “Okay, I’m not reading that.” If you don’t want to read another story about a dead person, you can just choose not to read it. But when you are flipping the page and a photo is there, you can turn the page but its impact is there already. It just has far more impact to see a photo of a dead person than to see a headline that says, “Person Dies.” When you read the headline you might not have a hurtful image in your mind.

Because of their slower burn, audiences can moderate the amount of information received through words. Audiences see the headline, and “then actively decide whether to read further,” and as they read the story copy, “they continuously decide whether to keep reading,” thus repeatedly consenting to further exposure. Editors argue that such choices are denied by the photograph’s instantaneous relay, which, in the case of corpse photographs, is said to immediately and painfully alter us.

Audiences against Images Like industry insiders, audience members believe that the news should use words but not pictures to document death. A reader expresses her outrage with newspapers that explicitly show “dying” and proposes a “rule” to prohibit this practice.40 Although she confesses to being informed and deeply disturbed by images such as the famous photograph of the 1970 Kent State fatal shootings, she argues that, in general, images of death should be prohibited. She concludes, “There is simply no need and no excuse to do so.” She claims there is much value in telling the story, just not in showing it. Pictures, not words, violate her sense of propriety. A newspaper reader who encountered pictures and words documenting death from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake implored, “Lead with letters the

100

| Word versus Image

size of eggs, use any words you see fit but don’t put a nightmare on the front page.”41 This critique further distinguished between words and pictures when adding, “I’m not criticizing journalists [who] talk about the facts of the earthquake.” The words were considered to express “the facts of the earthquake.” The photographic relay, however, was accused of failing to share facts. During coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, a reader pleaded with the news media to avoid “terror-inducing” images even though “there is no denying the newsworthiness of the event, which must be reported.”42 In his account, while verbal coverage of the fatal crisis is warranted, visual coverage must heavily censor itself to avoid certain emotional effects. By and large, his perspective was shared by those working for the press, who avoided publishing the images feared to be emotionally potent. A recent poll suggests that, when considering coverage of a tragedy, news professionals and their audience members similarly judge the relative value of words and pictures.43 Following a survey of several hundred news professionals and thousands of newspaper readers from most U.S. states, the summary report concluded that readers and news professionals “found value in unflinching descriptions” of tragedies but typically felt that pictures of dead bodies should not be permitted.44 Both parties polled considered photos directly documenting death to be inappropriate, even “offensive.” The research had been billed as part of an initiative “intended to help the media address the credibility crisis that exists with the public,” but, interestingly, readers and news professionals mostly held the same opinions about which kinds of content are legitimate.

The Work of Words Illustrating the industry’s anti-picture prejudice, those working at a television station in Texas during the mid-1990s advocated for an official ban on images of corpses. The station discussed how to steer clear of troubling material without shortchanging a story’s five Ws: the who, what, when, where, and why. One solution was to provide “a billboard-type graphic that would display such information without pictures.”45 They still wanted to share the information, but they wanted to do so through words only.

Word versus Image

|

101

When reporting on death, the station continued to use words to frame death as where “the story” really takes place. Doing so is typical of the larger television news industry, where newscasts dutifully lead with announcements of the death toll. Similarly, in newspapers, headlines make their focus on fatalities quite clear: “Fire Kills 283 at Supermarket in Paraguay”46 “At Least 80 Civilians Die in Iraqi Violence.”47 “Death’s Grip on Darfur”48

Each of these headlines is emblematic in two major ways. First, the deaths are considered a central event and treated as a key narrative element. Second, despite this focus on fatalities, the published accounts include no pictures of the dead. In the summer of 2014, reporters around the world announced the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident in history. All of the nearly three hundred people aboard an international commercial flight were now lying dead in a remote field in Ukraine. With headlines announcing the “Crumpled Bodies” at the scene, an online story published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and other newspapers began by describing the bodies that “fell from more than 30,000 feet,” explaining that, surprisingly, “many of the bodies strewn about in the smoldering wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were largely intact.”49 Although photographs of the bodies were taken, these images were excluded from the news and, day after day, the coverage continued to avoid showing the felled bodies. Words tracked the bodies from their fall out of the sky onto the field, where officials and volunteers searched to locate each victim. Stories described men combing through the field, searching, and then, when they encountered the dead, yelling “body!” Workers were then described as carrying the bodies on stretchers and collecting them under one large tent. In the news, it was the duty of words, not pictures, to track the victims. Anderson Cooper, on CNN’s 360 Degrees, also focused on rescue workers’ efforts to collect all the bodies. Cooper relied on a freelance reporter at the scene to chronicle details, such as the use of little white

102

|

Word versus Image

flags, mounted in the ground, to mark the site of each body. Throughout the coverage, the bodies in the field and under the tent were not revealed to the camera (despite the program’s purported interest in capturing all 360 degrees). Instead, the images focused up close on debris, plumes of smoke in the distance, and computer simulations of a plane flying among clouds before exploding. In newsrooms across the country, the words alone were given the responsibility to relay a sense of what these bodies looked like. They tried to paint a picture of the bodies at the scene: “A woman in a black sweater lay on her back, blood streaming from her face, her left arm raised as if signaling someone.”50 The report added, “Another victim, naked except for a black bra, lay on the field, her gray hair mixing with the green grass, one leg broken and her body torn.” Describing other bodies in the field, the report continued: Many of the victims were still wearing their seatbelts, attached to pieces of the plane. One man, still in his socks but without pants, lay akimbo on the field, his right arm placed on his stomach as if in repose. Others had personal belongings nearby. A young man in blue shorts, wearing red Nike sneakers but no pants, lay with his arms and legs splayed outward, his iPhone by his side.

There were multiple children killed in this crash, and their bodies were described too. For example, we learned that “[a] boy who looked to be around 10 lay on his side in the grass in a red T-shirt that read ‘Don’t Panic.’ ”51 Covering Flight 17 at the crash scene, ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer included countless images but none revealing fatalities. Despite the program’s slogan, “It’s Time to See the Whole Picture,” very little was made visible. Instead, reporters and eyewitnesses described the “bodies scattered everywhere” and the “carnage in the field,” relying on words to detail the “grim scene.”52 To further illustrate the division of labor between pictures and words, consider two of Japan’s most deadly earthquakes. In mid-January 1995, an earthquake measuring 7.2 in magnitude was the worst in Japan since 1923. Striking at dawn, it devastated Kobe, a city of 1.5 million, and killed nearly seven thousand people. Then, in early March 2011, Japan shook

Word versus Image

| 103

with its strongest earthquake ever, and one of the top five largest in the world since seismological recordkeeping began. A 9.0 magnitude megathrust earthquake in the western Pacific Ocean, followed by a tsunami with waves of up to ten meters (thirty-three feet), left over twenty thousand dead. After each earthquake, news wires provided newspapers and broadcasters with videos and stills depicting corpses, but U.S. news editors rejected them. The news images selected depicted destruction to inanimate objects, including buildings and infrastructure. For example, during the first day of coverage of the 1995 disaster, the New York Post’s front page included an aerial view of an elevated highway that abruptly ended when a section collapsed, leaving a bus precariously perched with its front wheels hanging over the roadway’s edge. Inside the New York Post edition, other photos documented a derailed passenger train, with plumes of smoke in the background. Close-range photographs captured the debris-covered sidewalks and a man staring at wreckage. The second day of New York Post coverage included several aerial views of the city burning in the distance, with the caption “funeral pyre.” Another published image depicted a large mound of rubble and an injured man who had been rescued from it. Notably, the photo caption focused on an invisible death: “Too late” it alerted readers, because the man’s “6-year-old son was not so lucky—he died moments after being dug out.” While words directly referenced death, the picture pointedly focused our attention solely on the boy’s father, the survivor. The victim killed, who was the focus of the words, was fully excised from the photojournalistic record. The New York Post coverage was hardly unique. In fact, coverage of the earthquake looked very similar across U.S. news outlets. For example, the New York Times coverage on January 17, 1995, used some of the same Associated Press wire photos found in the New York Post documenting damage to infrastructure. Other newspapers also selected images documenting the damage to inanimate objects. Likewise, broadcasters favored aerial views depicting demolished buildings and a collapsed highway, and when panning out, their cameras lingered on the smoke billowing over Kobe. Meanwhile, the television reporters urgently updated viewers on the number presumed dead. With giant headlines like “KILLER QUAKE,”

104

|

Word versus Image

the newspapers also relied on words to remind us about the most meaningful loss—the loss of life.53 For each day of coverage, which spanned weeks, the press continued to declare the latest death toll, announcing that hundreds and then thousands had died. Like the 1995 reporting, the 2011 coverage lasted several weeks and also offered daily reports about death. The photojournalistic coverage in 2011 initially focused on the debris, and later broadened to depict search-and-rescue work, although the bodies retrieved were not seen. Throughout, the headlines and story copy again focused attention on the death toll, while the pictures avoided depictions of exactly what was being counted. On March 14, 2011, news accounts reported that some two thousand bodies were found on two shores in Miyagi Prefecture, and as usual, photojournalism avoided this fact.

Vivid Details with Words When death makes the news, the words offer detailed descriptions of corporeal horrors that further highlight the pictorial omissions. Even the pictures that conceal the corpse have photo captions that describe fatally wounded bodies with pieces of flesh extracted and seeping blood. Paragraphs of story copy also strive to provide us a mental picture of the dead, which could be efficiently accomplished through photojournalism, if permitted. Consider the coverage of an accident where, in late February 2003, over one hundred people died in a Rhode Island nightclub inferno. Local newspapers, larger ones, and television broadcasts focused on the story for days. The New York Times ran two front-page stories and four inside stories that detailed the event. Each time, headlines poignantly focused on the dead: “96 Dead in Fire Ignited by Band at Rhode Island Club” and “Suddenly, Rock Show Turns Stage for Horrors.” In tales of revulsion, the reporting described how it was “like a battle zone” with bodies lying about.54 The reporting described people “literally without faces” clambering to escape while some had died with their flesh on fire and others had been mangled by the crush of the crowd. “People were bleeding, their hair was being burned off, their skin was just melting off, skin was just dangling,” declared a large newspaper.55

Word versus Image

| 105

Smaller newspapers, like the Hartford Courant, provided similar accounts of a survivor recounting a man who staggered by with “no face” because in the fire, “The skin had peeled off.” He screamed, “Don’t touch me.”56 While the reporting included plenty of verbal testimony detailing the grisly disaster, it shunned the photographic evidence. Despite the fact that photojournalists were on site, the photos documented only before-and-after scenes that pictured delighted dancers (before) and scared bystanders (after). Likewise, a subsequent report on the discovery of additional dead bodies came illustrated with photographs of debris and officials, but not of the discovery itself. In 2003, news accounts of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq informed Americans that coverage from the satellite television channel Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, depicted dead American soldiers. Many around the world were shown the images, but in the United States, news media condemned the graphic pictures, and government officials requested that news organizations not reproduce them. U.S. news professionals complied, and also chose not to disseminate the pictures after the government lifted the ban. While suppressing the pictures, U.S. news coverage did provide detailed verbal coverage. During this war, Al Jazeera news also shared pictures of civilians killed. In 2003, in a New York Daily News piece, reporter Michael Daly criticized the channel for having recently disseminated “horrific” imagery of a boy killed, but then attempted to capture the gory details verbally.57 Describing the photographic stills on the Al Jazeera website, Daly noted that a “child quite literally had his brains blown out. He is shown lying on a red blanket from an angle where you would be gazing at his crown if he had one. Only flaps of scalp cover the empty cranium.” After describing a couple of other images in detail, Daly continued, “As if this were not enough, the fourth still shows only the two fragments of skull and flaps of scalp.” Other reporters, like Joe Klein, graphically described the photographs that U.S. newsrooms were not willing to show: “I am looking at a photo of a dead American, courtesy of Al Jazeera television network. The boy lies diagonally across the frame, his head in the lower-right hand corner. His eyes are closed, and there is a bullet hole the size of a half-dollar in his right temple; blood puddles beneath his head and soaks his T shirt.”58

106

| Word versus Image

In other examples of verbal attempts to vividly describe war-time fatalities, the Los Angeles Times offered this account of children and others killed in a Baghdad car bombing: Hysterical mothers still bleeding from their own wounds beat their heads and pull at their hair, grieving over lost children. Victims lay in the street, tugging at the lifeless bodies of loved ones. Charred pieces of one bomb rested near the twisted remains of two red bicycles, the wheels of which were decorated with colorful feathers and plastic balls. “I picked up the body of my grandson,” said Rashid Salih, 67, who lives near the blast site. “He was cut in half. I didn’t recognize him.”59

The news seems to have an endless supply of words to describe death. In other coverage of the Iraqi violence, the gory details continue: The bombs, which exploded seconds apart, called forth a scene of dying children and grieving parents, some of them holding up blood-soaked clothes and howling in lament. Arms and legs lay in pools of blood, with survivors pointing to the walls of the sewer plant, now spattered with the flesh of the dead. Burned and blackened bodies floated past on the arms of the police.60

In news coverage of an Iraqi suicide bomber, another report describes the scene in which “[a] mangled body lay near a fire truck.” Meanwhile, “Iraqi police officers ran from the wreckage gripping a blanket that carried the charred remains of one victim.”61 As yet another example, the reporters’ words provided explicit descriptions of fatal violence when Egyptian forces killed hundreds of protesters during uprisings. On August 14, 2013, Yahoo News headlines included the boldface pronouncement, “DEAD B ODIES, SMASHED SKULLS.” Another announced, “Egypt Forces Assault Protest Camp, Many Scores Shot Dead.”62 As the reporting described the horrible facts, it shared detailed descriptions of the bodies, including that of a teenager lying in the street: After shooting with live ammunition began, wounded and dead lay on the streets near pools of blood. An area of the camp that had been a play-

Word versus Image

|

107

ground and art exhibit for the children of protesters was turned into a war-zone field hospital. Seven dead bodies were lined up in the street, one of a teenager whose skull was smashed, with blood pouring from the back of his head. At another location in Cairo, a Reuters reporter was in a crowd of Mursi supporters when he heard bullets whizzing past and hitting walls. The crowd dived to the ground for cover. A man was killed by a bullet to the head.63

In these and other accounts, reporters repeatedly discuss pools of blood and pieces of flesh as they try to create a picture in our mind’s eye.

Summary: When Words Reign During news coverage of various tragic events ranging from domestic violence to prison abuse, and from terrorist bombings to attacks on civil rights protests, images are treasured as important and even necessary, so much so that journalists—those whose livelihoods depend on the weight of the word—treat pictures as superior to words and claim that the pictures write it best. “A picture is worth a thousand words” was the cliché of choice when they appraised the value of the Ray Rice video. During coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and other crises since, they also championed pictures for achieving what words failed to accomplish. When the dead enter the camera’s frame, the value of the image dramatically plunges. Postmortem pictures inspire a remarkable antipicture prejudice. Whereas news images are typically valued for grabbing our attention, and immediately forcing us to confront the truth (about things like prison torture and domestic violence), images of death are off limits precisely because they force our attention. They are censured because they are believed to “take our choice away” and leave us “helpless.” Their brutish demands are a cause for dismissal. In contrast, the slower burn of the verbal reporting seems less victimizing. When its fortune rises, photojournalism is credited with an emotional potency that words lack. Pictures are said to make people feel, but postmortem pictures are actually criticized for trading in emotions. Their fault now lies in doing the very things that are otherwise considered ideal: confronting us with disturbing realities. Because they

108

|

Word versus Image

affectively stir us, images of bodies are ruled unfit. In contrast, the headlines boldly declaring death and the story copy relaying the gory specifics maintain their legitimacy. Indeed, the news media rely on words to frame fatality as a truly meaningful event and the center of the story.

8

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

In 1925, a housewife named Ruth Snyder began an affair with a corset salesman. Albert Snyder, her husband, inspired marital discord by hanging a picture of his late fiancée at their home and naming his boat after her. Ruth Snyder enlisted her lover in at least six attempts to kill her husband. Albert survived each, until on March 20, 1927, the couple finally succeeded by garrotting him and stuffing his nose full of poisoned rags. They staged his death to look like part of a burglary, but police grew suspicious when they found the valuables hidden in the house. At their trial, a jury convicted the lovers, and both were sentenced to death. When Ruth Snyder was led into the death chamber at Sing Sing Prison, her legs buckled as prison matrons assisted her into the electric chair. She cried, “Jesus, have mercy on me, for I have sinned.” After prison officials masked her and set the restraints, they sent a current surging through her body. Tom Howard, a photographer with a miniature plate camera secretly strapped to his ankle, caught the execution on film. The next morning, his picture filled the front page of the New York tabloid Daily News, accompanied by a bold headline declaring, “DEAD!” (figure 8.1). The publication of the execution photograph has been regarded as a seminal case of tabloid tastelessness, and in the many years since, critics continue to make fresh charges of sensationalism. A Washington Post blog by Abby Phillip explained that as a result of their indulgence in “graphic, tasteless” and “gruesome images,”1 she expects tabloids to offer “shocking sensationalism.”2 She argued that these images are par for the course for the low-brow news media, but still scandalous and worth scorning.3 Writing in the Los Angeles Times, a media critic similarly censured the “shameless tabloids that rarely shrink from vulgarity.”4 The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics encourages “sensitivity” in the use of photographs when covering tragedy; the goal is to “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”5 But “for tabloids, that can be a 111

112

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

Figure 8.1. In what has since become a symbol of tabloid “tastelessness,” a New York tabloid’s 1928 front page captures the electric chair death of Ruth Snyder, an American murderess.

challenge,”6 remarks a critic, adding that “the rule seems to be the more shocking, the better.”7 Sharing these perspectives, the Columbia Journalism Review writes that tabloids like the New York Post use images to “appeal to the basest” appetites.8 A media scholar summarizes that tabloid history includes “shocking and gruesome photographs, regularly featured large on their front pages.”9 A long-time newspaper editor, Charles Apple, similarly reflects that tabloid photojournalism, especially when reporting on fatal events, “breaches most of what I’ve read and learned about visual journalism ethics.”10 Joining the conversation, a reader responded, “Don’t know about you but I’ve never known a tabloid to be even remotely in good taste.”11 On social media, others condemn tabloids like the New York Post as the “most tasteless, disgusting, and despicable” because of their “sicken-

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

113

ing rubber-necking” photojournalism.12 On Twitter, tabloid photojournalism is also called “classless” and condemned for trading in “snuff.” The blogger Perez Hilton, writing on his eponymous website, dismisses “tasteless” tabloids and denounces their audience as “morbidly curious” and “crude.”13 In private interviews, industry insiders working for the upscale news media insisted that they resist the allure of morbid photojournalism.14 A broadsheet editor emphasized, “The photographs we choose are very, very different from those you will see in tabloids and they reflect our different values and our different mission.” He described tabloids as “more aggressive in the type of picture that they show their readers as opposed to what we show our readers.” When asked to specify what he meant by “aggressive,” he responded that his city’s tabloids “show more deaths, especially pictures with blood and guts, than we are likely to show. We don’t particularly show a lot of that.” He maintained that his newspaper, like other respected broadsheets, discriminates against such images and only publishes those photographs that are “more tasteful.” “Tabloid publications tend to be more grisly,” another upscale news editor stated. Yet another broadsheet photo editor declared that the tabloid “favors the gruesome, graphic kinds of death pictures.” Another specified, “Tabloids do [publish photographs of] people killed in traffic accidents, people who got their legs cut off from a train accident or any number of things. Unfortunately,” he added, “we all have that prurient interest as part of our makeup but [broadsheets] try to come a step above that.” A broadsheet editor also described the role of the elite press as that of restrictive “gate keepers.” He asserted, “We are gate keepers—that is our job. We have to decide what to cover and what not to cover.” By implication, the popular press was less committed to restrictive “gate keeping” and therefore more permissive of postmortem images. Another broadsheet editor likewise characterized his press, in contrast to tabloids, as “highly selective.” In other private interviews, tabloid editors also said that they are more likely than broadsheets to show dead bodies. One remarked, “We do death very differently,” referring to photojournalistic practices. Tabloid

114

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

editors characterized their news practices as having a permissive, “anything goes” style, which is contrasted with the patrician press’s highly restrictive gate keeping. One tabloid editor stressed, “We’re a menace,” and “it’s not always pretty.” Another tabloid photo editor summarized, “We always look to push the envelope, making everything more shocking.” Because of this, he concluded, “We’re likely to publish shocking photos others won’t.” In contrast to their upscale peers, the tabloids are unlikely to regard these practices as a problem. Instead, tabloid editors proudly talked about the decision to depict death as a defiant kind of politics that fuels a maverick agenda. A tabloid editor described his paper’s pictures as “outrageous and irreverent” and explained, “We use jarring photographs” of death, as well as other subjects, because “we really shake things up.” Another tabloid editor remarked, “We show striking stuff, and it’s showing you like it is, warts and all.” By way of analogy to an iconoclast, one tabloid photo editor described his paper as “a tabloid that strives to be like the New York Post,” where photojournalism was akin to “misbehaving like the crazy uncle who says and does all the things you’re not supposed to.” The “crazy uncle” that he envisioned refuses to follow the rules of polite society, and insists on confronting what others try to ignore; he is willing to communicate what has been effectively censored. According to him, photojournalistic coverage of death provided his tabloid an opportunity to demonstrate its renegade spirit by “showing what you’re not supposed to show.” Tabloids, he claimed, use pictures to communicate “the indecent things, the horrible things, and the wrong things.” As he saw it, the tabloid images expose certain truths and disturb decorum in pursuit of full disclosure. As tabloid editors envision it, their photojournalism challenges elite gate keeping, the politics of restraint, and the patrician status quo.

Testing Assumptions There appears to be a widespread consensus that tabloids court morbid curiosity through high doses of shocking material and that the elite press rebuffs what the tabloids embrace. Members of the general public, cultural critics, and even those who work within the news industry

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

| 115

assume that images of the dead body appear commonly in tabloids, and certainly more often than their respectable peers. But do they? To answer this question, a team of researchers closely examined over three decades (spanning 1975 through 2005) of published photojournalism.15 We compared the news coverage in large-circulation tabloids and broadsheets considered exemplary representatives of the popular and patrician press. Specifically, comparisons are made between two tabloids, the New York Post and the Philadelphia Daily News, and two broadsheets, the New York Times and the Washington Post “Tabloid” is a term that may inspire thoughts of supermarket periodicals, like the National Enquirer, but it technically refers to a singlefold format that has been historically popular with the lower classes.16 In contrast to the conventional broadsheet, which folds both vertically and horizontally, the tabloid is half the size and configured with a single vertical fold to create a poster-style front page. Wikipedia identifies tabloids such as the New York Post and Philadelphia Daily News as “gutter news” and “bottom-feeding journalism” and notes that when the industry differentiates between the “mud and the mainstream,” they are firmly classified as the former.17 According to media scholars, these are archetypal tabloids that embrace excess, sensationalism, and vulgar taste. In contrast, a protracted history of acclaim for the New York Times and Washington Post has rendered them unchallenged leaders. The New York Times and members of its staff have won more prestigious awards in reporting, editing, photography, and design than any other newspaper in the country. It is billed as “the nation’s most honored newspaper,” and it has received an unprecedented number of Pulitzer Prizes. The Washington Post also fares extremely well in this respect, with numerous Pulitzers and other awards for excellence. Reflecting a certain patrician status, the New York Times was nicknamed the “Gray Lady,” a sobriquet that implies a great deal of dignity and virtue. Its famous motto, “all the news that’s fit to print,” again implies a refined approach and, as summarized by its editor Max Frankel, the New York Times “frames the intellectual and emotional agenda of serious Americans.”18 Similarly, the Washington Post has been distinguished for its national stature as a “newspaper of record.”

116

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

Tabloid Restraint Despite all the conventional wisdom, we found that tabloids are less likely to publish corpse photojournalism. Among all published postmortem pictures, the tabloids contributed only 30 percent of them, meaning that the vast majority (70 percent) appeared in the esteemed news media. On average, the elite news media publish more than twice as many corpse photographs as tabloids, and in statistical terms, this is a highly significant difference. Among all postmortem photos published, the New York Times published 40 percent and the Washington Post published 30 percent whereas the New York Post and the Philadelphia Daily News published only 19 percent and 11 percent, respectively. The highly esteemed New York Times is almost four times as likely to publish corpse photographs as the Philadelphia Daily News. Disparate practices do distinguish the popular and patrician press, but not in the way expected. Even when considering a sample of supermarket tabloids, including the National Enquirer, the Star, and the Weekly World News, tabloids are still reluctant to show a corpse. They include even fewer postmortem images than other tabloids like the New York Post.19 The supermarket check-out items, which focus on the lifestyles of celebrities and extraterrestrial creatures, provide scant coverage of conventional news events, and are therefore excluded from other comparisons. It is far fairer to compare tabloids like the New York Post and the Philadelphia Daily News to the patrician press, since they all provide coverage of conventional news.

Picture Prominence The perception that tabloids fixate on death could be influenced not just by the frequency of corpse photographs but also by the prominence of these images. Therefore, even though corpse photographs are less likely to appear in tabloids compared to the patrician press, it is worth considering whether the tabloids are more likely to run them on the front page. If so, this would help justify the tabloid’s degenerate reputation. But, as it turns out, corpse images do not appear more prominently in the tabloids. Among the corpse photos published by tabloids, only 6 percent appeared on the front page whereas 13 percent of broadsheet corpse

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

117

photos appeared on the front page—a difference that is again statistically significant. (The odds of finding a front-page corpse photograph in the popular press is less than half the odds of finding a front-page corpse photograph in the patrician press.) These tabloid practices do not square neatly with their “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” reputation. However, in one more attempt to explain their reputation, it is reasonable to wonder about the size of these images. Conceivably, if tabloids ran their graphic pictures larger than those found elsewhere, size could influence the image’s morbid salience. In turn, as another measure of prominence, we compared the size of corpse images, but, once again, the decision to run an image large or small does not support the tabloid’s sensational reputation. On average, the larger the corpse photo, the less likely it was to appear in the tabloids and the more likely it was to appear in the upscale news media.20 When other types of photos are used, the tabloids do maximize their size to play up the visual, in keeping with their reputation as “picture press.” However, when it comes to the postmortem subject specifically, the patrician press is more likely to show it, and more likely to run it prominently, as measured in multiple ways.

Tabloid Practices over Time It is worth questioning whether the reputation of the popular press was once accurate. Perhaps the patrician press only recently began to publish more corpse photographs. For this reason, we extended our purview back to just before the mid-1980s, an era widely criticized for the rise of tabloidization and its lurid imagery.21 We examined whether, at some point during this thirty-year time period, tabloids published more postmortem photographs than their upscale counterparts. This was not the case. For several decades, photojournalistic practices at each press continued to belie their respective reputations as the tabloids continuously showed more “restraint.” When we look back, we see that tabloids were always more averse to publishing these images. Not only did they run fewer corpse photos than did the broadsheets, but the differences were often large: at most points, the elite press averaged at least two times as many corpse photographs compared to the tabloids. At the height of this discrepancy, in 2005, corpse photographs appeared nearly six times more often in broadsheets than in tabloids. Figure 8.2

118

| Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press 8

Corpse Photos (Average per month)

7 6 5

Patrician Press

4

Popular Press

3 2 1 0

1975

1980

1985

1990 Year

1995

2000

2005

Figure 8.2. By comparing the frequency of corpse photos published in the patrician and popular press over three decades (1975–2005), this chart shows that tabloids (represented by the lower line) are habitually less likely to publish such content.

summarizes this thirty-year perspective. Separately for the popular and patrician press, it plots the average monthly number of corpse photographs published. For example, during the first year examined, 1975, tabloids published fewer than two corpse photos per month, whereas broadsheets published nearly four corpse photos per month, on average.22

“Tasteful” Images In sharp contrast to the postmortem picture, which is considered exploitive and sensational, portraits of the deceased that were taken when she or he was still alive are considered tasteful and respectful. For this reason, the portrait serves as another useful point of comparison between the news practices of the popular and patrician press. Given widely held assumptions, one might expect that, in reports on death, living portraits would be more common in upscale news media than in the tabloids.23 To the contrary, we found that when reporting on death, tabloids publish living portraits of the deceased significantly more often. These portraits appear more than twice as often in tabloids. Over the course

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

119

of an average month, the popular press publishes approximately thirtyseven such portraits while the patrician press publishes only about seventeen such images.24 Looking at this another way, in the patrician press the portraits are about five times more common than corpse photos, but in the tabloids the portraits are about twenty-two times more common than corpse photos. In this regard, tabloids again demonstrate a far greater commitment to editing out the “exploitive” corpse and replacing it with something considered respectful. Illustrating this preference, tabloids provided an abundance of portraits when covering the 1983 terrorist bombing of a Marine compound in Beirut. The tabloids profiled many of the deceased through portraits that were less likely to appear in the elite press coverage. The Philadelphia Daily News ran a “16-page pullout tribute” with numerous living portraits of the deceased Marines. The tribute to the lost soldiers showed wedding photos and even their much younger Little League pictures, among other snapshots nostalgically documenting sentimental rites of passage. The collection of published images resembled the coming-of-age sequences from an ideal family photo album. Photo captions announced that the readers were left with the task of “stowing away the time” through a “collection of snapshots to keep memory fresh.” The Philadelphia Daily News thus instructed millions of readers to preserve newly created “memories” of people they never knew. As if they were one big family, the public was allowed to wistfully “recollect” the deceased.

“Respectful” Styles Comparing the use of living portraits by the tabloid and patrician press reveals not only quantitative but also qualitative differences. Stylistically, the graphic design varies, with tabloids sometimes encasing the portrait within a decorative border or trimming it into an oval. Signaling reverence for the deceased, they easily resemble the Victorian-style picture frames used at home to display loved ones. By contrast, all broadsheet portraits appear in the standard straight-lined and right-angled shapes, with unadorned borders.25 The tabloids are especially likely to use these stylized portraits when commemorating the death of famous figures. For instance, in 1983,

120

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

tabloids honored the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy with numerous photos of him when he was still alive. In one issue, the Philadelphia Daily News used many portraits in what was labeled a “Kennedy Album.” Again, the public was invited to collectively partake in these keepsakes as the traditional news layout was transformed into a family photo collection. Images were framed with a decorative border and pages were filled with a collage revealing the man in various stages of youth.

Media Myth Making Media scholars, reporters, editors, and the lay public were astonished in 2002 when the Boston Phoenix published the photograph of the severed head of a Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, and provided the Web link to the execution video. They were incredulous that a respected newspaper, rather than a tabloid, would provide these images. One reporter, reflecting on the “grotesque content,” was reeling in disbelief when she wrote, “The Phoenix, after all, is a responsible news organization . . . that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1994.”26 Another account echoed this point with the headline, “A Respected Paper Sinks to New Lows with Beheading,” emphasizing that “[w]hat is shocking is that the Boston Phoenix, a respected weekly alternative newspaper which once won a Pulitzer Prize, has deemed it to be journalism.”27 The implication is clear: this is the stuff of tabloids. Because of our misconceptions, we express genuine surprise when the esteemed press, rather than the suspect tabloids, publish a corpse image. Our expectations may continue to delude us because even when we encounter the corpse in the patrician press, we view it as an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment. We repeat the myth of the tabloid’s terror. For decades, the oft-maligned tabloids have been blamed for creating societal ills. In 1980, in an article entitled “Doing the Devil’s Work,” the Columbia Journalism Review judged that “the New York Post is no longer merely a journalistic problem. It is a social problem—a force for evil.”28 In 1998, those gathered for an industry forum were still fretting that journalistic and photojournalistic standards have been eroded by tabloid values. There was consensus among panelists that we must confront the tabloid-inspired cultural crisis.29

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

121

On the rare occasion that a tabloid publishes a corpse photograph, upscale news professionals are eager to shame them. But in doing so, they place themselves in the awkward position of deciding whether to document the source of the controversy: the picture itself. To signal their self-proclaimed ethical superiority when reporting on a controversial photo, some upscale news media will reproduce a version of the offending image after digitally manipulating it into a series of impenetrable color blocks. Others who refuse to show it at all still notify their audiences that the postmortem image is widely available online. When the New York Times did this, it explained, “We chose not to reproduce it here because tut-tutting about a salacious photo while enjoying the benefits of its replication seems inappropriate.”30 Today, news organizations like the New York Times continue to position themselves on higher ground, praising their “intelligent” handling of images during fatal crises as a “model of restraint.”31 Something is gained by repeating these myths. Myths tell us something about a purpose served by believing in them. As anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown note in their classic works, even incorrect beliefs contain value as socially significant facts. In the current case, the media myths maligning tabloids expediently denigrate lower-class culture and offer opportunities to police the lower class for their transgressions.

The Immoral Masses Animosity is directed not just at tabloids but also at those who look at them—the lower-class audience. As if operating under primitive instincts, the crude masses are thought to enjoy death’s spectacle, whether fictional or not—in fact, they are accused of commonly conflating the two. Writing in the Baltimore Sun, Paul Finkelman, professor of law and public policy at Albany Law School, argued that the common ranks confuse images documenting real death with a carnival. He contended that they do so today, just as they have done in the past, when treating public executions as a source of entertainment.32 In this view, like naïve children, those in the common ranks are an unsophisticated and fallible bunch that may imitate or misinterpret the meaning of death and its images because they lack moral aptitude. By

122

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

falsely collapsing class with morality, commentators like Finkelman warn that the pictures will fall into the “wrong” hands of the morally incapable masses. The lower classes are also diagnosed with a morbid fixation, but critiques like these offer no evidence that they actually are particularly keen consumers of death spectacles. They are, however, consumers of tabloids. As Gallup data demonstrate, compared with the upscale press, the tabloids attract those with much less money and education. Over recent years, the median household income for the New York Times’ readership has been more than 45 percent higher than for the New York Post’s. In addition, among readers of the New York Times, over 80 percent have attended or graduated from college. By contrast, about half of New York Post readers report reaching the same level of education. Similar educational and income differences characterize the readers of other tabloids and broadsheets. These differences persist because news organizations purposely pursue a certain class of readers as part of their market strategy and identity. As summarized by Debby Krenek, editor of one of New York’s tabloids, the Daily News, “A newspaper has to target a lot of different audiences, but our main thrust will always be the working-class.”33 Similarly, writing for the tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, the editorial page editor, Cheryl Reed, described the paper’s “working-class roots [as] a position that pits us squarely opposite the Chicago Tribune      the [broadsheet] paper over on moneyed Michigan Avenue.”34 At the same time, the elite press strategically targets groups with high education and income by offering itself as an upscale news product.

The Picture plus Bold Headlines The patrician and popular press cultivate many of their differences through the use of photojournalism. Tabloids embrace pictures, using them more frequently and prominently.35 Conscious of this choice, the New York Post has used a front-page graphic icon of a flashing camera along with the motto that the Post celebrates “picture power.” In addition, the New York Post’s local competitor, the Daily News, advertises themselves as “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” The tabloid’s front page is typically devoted to one large photograph. Inside pages reserve much space for additional photographs. In contrast, the staid Wall Street

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

123

Journal began to permit an occasional photograph relatively recently. For many years during the twenty-first century, the Wall Street Journal frequently refrained from publishing photographs on the front page, preferring instead to discreetly tuck them inside. More generally, the patrician press has restricted its use of photojournalism. As observed by media historian Karin Becker, the role of photography has been limited within the serious press because the direct appeal of the picture seems to threaten reason and pander to the lowest common denominator. Pictures are stigmatized as cheap thrills and “the most effortless food for the mind” of morons.36 As Becker explains, the “display and presumed appeal of the photographs are used as criteria for evaluating, and ultimately dismissing, tabloid newspapers as ‘merely’ popular.”37 Tabloids are disparagingly called the “picture press” and as if they cater to a juvenile audience, critics also deride them as “comic books.”38 The following formula represents the logic: “The tabloid = sensationalism = photographs.”39 On the basis of this logic, we may read tabloid pictures as being more sensational than they really are, which would help explain our misconceptions. The pairing of pictures with certain words in overstuffed headlines may also play a role. Tabloids run large, bold headlines that sometimes scream of tragedy. The front page shown in figure 8.3 exclaims, “TRAGEDY,” using a font size several inches tall, and adding that “ ‘15-bullet’ Cops Kill Teen Holding Brush.”40 Similarly, in figure 8.4, big front-page font announces, “Headless Body in Topless Bar.”41 Alongside a large picture of the “kickin’ and screamin’” suspect being taken into custody, the sidebar continues, “Gunman forces woman to decapitate tavern owner.” The story, and more pictures of the event, continue inside. More recent, online versions of the tabloids display the same temperament. In mid-September 2011, the online New York Post announced that a vintage World War II–era airplane flying in a Reno, Nevada, air show crashed.42 Thousands in attendance watched in horror as the P-51, flown by an experienced stunt pilot, suddenly jackknifed skyward, soaring hundreds of feet before twisting and abruptly falling. It headed nose-first into the crowd and slammed into the ground. The New York Post home page included a large photograph of the plane in its fatal plunge (figure 8.5). The headline cries, “NEW CRASH HORROR VIDEO.” Beside the plane, a bright red graphic imitating an

124

| Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

Figure 8.3. A New York Post front page includes large, prominent photographs and bold headlines about scandal and death. Meanwhile, pictures actually documenting a death are more likely to be published by the seemingly restrained patrician press.

explosive burst boasts of an opportunity to “WATCH SHOCKING FOOTAGE.” Below it, a link stresses that “[d]ramatic tape emerges of Reno tragedy as death toll rises to 10” and then emphasizes, “Dramatic new video released today shows the moment of the horrible crash.” Meanwhile, the pictures selected by the tabloid avoid any dead bodies. When covering the same plane crash, the New York Times’ online reporting took a more reserved tone with headlines like, “Death Toll in Air Race Crash Rises.”43 The smaller font size used to make this announcement also offered relatively less drama. In addition, the New York Times’ coverage initially offered no video or still images of the crashing plane, relying instead on words alone. Later, as shown in figure 8.6, coverage was updated to include the same photograph used in the New York tabloid, but cropped differently. The broadsheet caption explained, “A photographer captured the final moments of the P-51 Mustang that

Figure 8.4. One of tabloids’ most famous headlines screams death. However, the New York Post and other tabloids actually resist showing the dead.

Figure 8.5. Tabloids use words to emphasize “shocking” visual content and death’s “horror.” However, in this and most tabloid reporting, the actual deaths are not pictured.

125

126

| Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

Figure 8.6. The New York Times ran the same picture of the doomed plane as their low-brow counterpart, the New York Post, but the use of headlines and other words created a very different context for the images. Photo credit: Garret Woodman, AP.

nosedived into a crowd on Friday, killing 10 people.”44 The two papers published the same picture, but in the tabloid it may seem brasher because of the superimposed words promising audiences a front-row seat to witness the “horror” in “shocking footage” from a “dramatic tape.” If the effect of the words generalizes to the picture, heated alerts like these may influence how we perceive the picture’s content, and help explain the tabloid’s mistaken reputation. It is also possible that our misconceptions about tabloid images were once accurate, a long time ago. Our team closely tracked three decades of news coverage, but if we had gone even further back in history, perhaps today’s myths could be explained as very outdated conceptions of news practices that once truly existed. For instance, media critics often charge that 1930s–40s tabloid photographer Arthur Fellig, commonly known by his nickname Weegee, had a lurid fixation that helped create American tabloid culture.45 He followed the city’s emergency services, document-

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

|

127

ing their activity, and the resulting images have been described as “unflinchingly realistic scenes . . . of crime, injury and death.”46 As told, tabloids enthusiastically embraced Fellig’s photographs depicting victims in pools of their own blood. It has been implied that photojournalism in the patrician press took a more restrained approach, but there are no known comparisons. Therefore, it is conceivable that during the era of Weegee, or some other time in our distant past, photojournalism in the popular press deservedly earned its reputation. Nonetheless, if tabloids were once eager to show dead bodies, they have long shed the fixation, as it has not been evident for several decades. Either way, it may be time to revise our assumptions.

Summary: Rethinking the Usual Suspects Contrary to widespread claims that they thrive on morbid spectacles, tabloids consistently reject them. The New York Times and the Washington Post are said to represent the highest professional standards of journalism in the United States, but compared to tabloids, the upscale news media are actually much more likely to publish a postmortem picture. Compared to the elite press, tabloids are also less likely to prominently place the corpse on the front page or in a large picture. In addition, whereas the patrician press is thought to be restrained and respectful in its coverage of sensitive issues, tabloids are actually more likely than others to provide photographs conventionally considered reverential, like portraits of the deceased when still living. All these patterns fundamentally complicate our conception of the excess-driven tabloid—that unrestrained rogue pitted against the upscale, refined defender of delicate sensibilities. Purportedly, the common man and woman demands the thrill of morbid spectacles, and tabloid photojournalism is believed to crudely satisfy them. The imagined news practices say more about the entrenched nature of class hierarchies than the reality of news practices. By falsely collapsing class and ethics, the masses are blamed for spectacles that exploit the dead. Driven perhaps by a deep-seated bias against lower-class culture, many fear what is actually not there. Because we anticipate tabloid transgressions and confirm our suspicions even when the facts do not, misconceptions have flourished, and

128

|

Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

they will continue to do so, fueled by myths that seem worth repeating: an elite few are worth trusting as gate keepers of “good taste,” and the rest incessantly storm these gates. There is agreement on this point even among those who work within news companies, and therefore have intimate insider knowledge of industry practices. Because their professional involvement has not afforded them greater insight, they believe in the same myths as the rest of us.

9

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

“One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans.”1 This math estimates the relative newsworthiness attributed to deaths from different parts of the world, and it highlights how U.S. news media regard Americans’ demise as the most newsworthy. By a large margin in this formula, an American death places first. Several studies of U.S. news have reached this conclusion after finding that, when Americans die, the news media are more likely to report on the event and give the story more prominence. However, these conclusions were reached by studying the use of words, and measured things like the frequency and size of headlines and the length of copy. The pictures have not been a focus. How we literally view the world—what we do and do not see—may also be dictated by nationalistic impulses.2 Quite possibly, the geopolitical chauvinism shaping the use of words also influences the use of pictures. If the same editorial bias influences how editors select pictures, the news images would be less likely to focus on the foreign than the domestic death. But does photojournalism follow the same formula? To address this question, we examined three decades of news coverage in four large U.S. newspapers to track how often postmortem pictures reveal American bodies.3 For all postmortem photographs, we also noted whether editors ran the picture on the front page, because their prominent placement also reflects judgments of newsworthiness. In addition, we compared the role of nationalism in the patrician press to the tabloids.

Pictures Focus on Foreign Fatalities Nationality does powerfully influence which images are judged newsworthy, but in contrast to the words that focus on American death, the pictures mostly refuse to show them. Among news coverage of current 129

130

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

events, only 30 percent of photographs documenting a death depict an American victim.4 Even though most news stories report on American tragedy, 70 percent of the pictures documenting fatalities do so by depicting another country’s loss of life. In a heavily lopsided way, editors judge pictures of dead foreigners to be most newsworthy. The pattern is well represented by the Washington Post’s “Year in Review.” This is an annual feature, and each year, the images selected reveal judgments that some types of people are more newsworthy than others. For example, at the end of 2013, the Washington Post included an online slide show of the “best photos of the year.” For this purpose, editors curated eighty-six “eye-catching” and “striking” images that showed several foreign corpses, but no American ones.5 Of course, Americans did die that year. In fact, this was the year of several very high-profile American deaths, including those of the people killed by the Boston Marathon bombing. The same pattern is also illustrated by the “Year in Pictures,” an annual feature of the New York Times saluting photojournalism. Again, editors include images of dead foreigners, but they seemingly ban depictions of American bodies. In 2002, the “Year in Pictures” devoted three photographs to the story of Daniel Pearl, the former reporter from the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Karachi, Pakistan. Rather than show his murdered body, each of the images published depicted him alive. However, directly above a portrait showing Pearl alive, a full-color picture revealed a bloody non-American corpse, with large chunks of flesh missing. The picture of the victim—an Israeli man in Jerusalem—covered almost half the page. The caption explained that his “grisly” end came when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed herself. If taken shortly before death, even the picture of an imperiled but alive American risks being suppressed. Controversy erupted when, in the summer of 2014, some news reports were accompanied by pictures of journalist James Foley in the last few minutes of his life, before an ISIS beheading. There was no blood or gore visible, and the man was clearly alive. The actual beheading and death of the man was not shown, but the knife that would later be used was visible. Objecting to these pictures, Washington Post reporter Abby Phillip expressed her concern about the

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

131

decision to print “gruesome images” that had gone “too far.”6 Media ethicists, like Casey Burko, agreed that these pictures were not newsworthy, even though the story of the beheading, as reported in words, generated blanket media coverage.7 The picture of the American prior to the fatal encounter was considered so offensive that three journalistic organizations announced they may rewrite a code of ethics.

Race and Place There seems to be evidence of a double standard, but is nationality really what is at stake? Could another social force, such as race, actually explain why pictures of foreign dead are appearing more than twice as often as those depicting American fatalities? During debates about photojournalistic ethics, it has been argued (although without evidence) that dark-skinned bodies, regardless of their nationality, are much more likely to be shown dead than others. Andrew Alexander, the ombudsman at the Washington Post, has posited that this is the case and suggested that this bias is something picture editors “need to keep in mind as they’re selecting these photos.”8 An editor-in-chief of the New Inquiry asked on Twitter, “Have you ever seen a white corpse in the news?” Although it was a rhetorical question, colleagues in the news industry were eager to note that they had not. One elaborated, “[I]t struck me that, no, I have not seen a white corpse in the news in recent memory. Not, perhaps since 20 years ago. . . . But we often are exposed to images of black and brown corpses.”9 She concluded, “White bodies in recent decades tend to be exempt from inclusion in these visual narratives.” Other news professionals reflecting on the kinds of postmortem pictures that get published have agreed: “You see a shortage of photos when it comes to people who are not of color.”10 Despite the belief that editors prefer to show black and brown bodies, pictures of white bodies are actually most likely to be published. Among the foreign corpse photos, nearly three quarters (71 percent) depict what appear to be Caucasian bodies. (These estimates were attempted while acknowledging that efforts to categorize victims by race are challenging, at best.)11 Frequently, these images depict the dead in European regions, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Kosovo, and Russia.

132

|

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Only 11 percent of foreign corpse photographs show darker-skinned victims, most of which depicted deaths in Haiti, Rwanda, and South Africa. Additionally, 18 percent of the foreign corpse photos depict deceased Asians, mostly in Vietnam. China’s dead have also been pictured, particularly during coverage of natural disasters. Japan has experienced several deadly natural disasters, but their bodies usually are not shown in American news coverage. (Generally, the news coverage avoids this kind of documentation for “first world” countries.) The postmortem pictures of Americans are also most likely to depict light-skinned victims.12 On average, 31 percent of the American corpse pictures appear to show white victims. Just 3 percent are identified as Asian victims, and 18 percent seem to depict an African American or black victim. The remaining 48 percent of American corpse photographs could not be racially classified based on the verbal and visual information provided. Often they were judged unclassifiable because they picture a blanket or shroud covering all of the victim, except for a shoe perhaps, which makes it impossible to visually categorize race. In many cases, the body is pictured at such a great distance that it cannot be clearly viewed. Furthermore, the words used in the photo captions and story copy typically do not racially identify the deceased, again leaving the body racially ambiguous. In addition to questions about race, one may wonder if the strong national patterns are explained by geographical proximity—a theory contending that news coverage is influenced by the physical distance between audiences and an event. When reporting on a fatal event, proximity could quite plausibly influence which pictures are used. Andrew Alexander, a Washington Post ombudsman, has argued that proximity of the audience to the fatal event generally prohibits pictures of dead bodies. “Newspapers typically are reluctant to run death images from their circulation area,” he surmised, “because of the likelihood that readers may be connected to the deceased.”13 Alexander stressed, “Most newspapers and most news organizations do follow that rule.”14 However, actual news practices fail to adequately support this theory: among the published corpse photos showing a dead American, the vast majority depict a local tragedy. When the New York Times or New York Post includes a picture of an American corpse, it is often that of a New

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

133

Yorker. Similarly, when the Washington Post shows an American body, the victim is likely to be from the D.C. area. Popular theories about place, and race, do not seem to explain how images are really used.

Are Domestic or Foreign Corpses More Prominent? Every day, photo editors have to make decisions not only about which images to run but also about how to run them. They have to choose which are worth publishing large, and which should appear on the front page or home page. For this reason, we also assessed the size and placement of American and foreign corpse images. We also judged whether the corpse is cropped closely or appears in an image’s background, because the perceived distance of the subject serves as another measure of prominence. For each of these measures, our team found that the foreign corpse photograph is used more prominently than the American corpse photograph. The foreign pictures run larger and are more likely to be placed on the front page or home page. In addition, the vast majority of photos depicting American corpses place the body in the distance, but foreign corpses are typically revealed close up or at midrange. A photograph depicting an East Timor victim of violence illustrates the prominence afforded foreign corpses (figure 9.1). The image, provided by the Associated Press wire service in 1999, carries the caption, “In Dilli, East Timor, relatives mourn over Adlinda da Silva, who died in recent clashes with militias opposed to independence from Indonesia.” This photograph brings the viewer intimately close to the victim, and the anguished relatives, just as the casket is being closed. Representing a murder in a remote village of northeast India, another image (figure 9.2) again gives the corpse visual prominence. The police found the battered body of Mohammad Hasmat Ali, who was killed by a mob. The caption explains, “Kashmiri villagers shouted pro-freedom slogans last month while carrying the body of a Muslim driver attacked by far-right extremists angered by rumors of cow slaughter, an issue that stirs religious tensions in the Hindu-majority country.”15 In the picture, like the one of the East Timor victim, the viewer is virtually placed immediately beside the casket, as close to the body as any of the mourners, giving the sense that the body is only an arm’s length away. Because of

134

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 9.1. The foreign corpse is shown most often and most prominently, even though the stories of domestic tragedy abound because they are considered most newsworthy.

the camera’s placement, the contents of the open casket are vividly clear and available for inspection. By contrast, in the very rare event that the U.S. press shows the contents of an open casket at an American funeral, editors typically publish the picture small. In addition, these images are typically hard to “read” because the camera’s perspective leaves much distance between the viewer and the body. This approach is illustrated by the Washington Post coverage of an open-casket funeral for Myesha Lowe, a local victim

Figure 9.2. Because foreign corpses are considered most newsworthy in photojournalism, the camera is allowed to bring the viewer an up-close view.

Figure 9.3. In this open-casket funeral for an American, the small published image zooms out to keep the body in the far distance. The deceased is further obscured by the photographer capturing the moment when the survivor leans over the victim. The caption reads, “Friends and family pay respects to Myesha Lowe during the service at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest.” Photo credit: Juana Arias.

135

136

|

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

of gun violence (figure 9.3).16 The news coverage included a photograph of a mourner who bent over to kiss the deceased. The moment that was captured concealed the victim’s face, which was already placed in the distance. In addition, because the camera lens did not zoom in for a close-up, the resulting image included other visually competing points of interest, such as large bouquets of brightly colored flowers, a substantial stage, and a procession of mourners. Although the U.S. press may produce clear, intimate views of the foreign corpse, the American counterpart is either obscured in the distance, or much more likely, entirely hidden.

Comparing Coverage of a Hurricane and a Tsunami The strong editorial drive to avoid sight of American death—limiting how often a body is seen—is also illustrated in the coverage of two major news events that occurred just a few months apart: Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami. Both were high-profile events, where natural disasters unleashed rushing water and a large human toll. Notably, however, one fatal event struck America while the other transpired on the opposite side of the world. Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005, and when it reached land it became one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United Sates. Over eighteen hundred people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, with the largest number of deaths occurring in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was doomed when levees failed. For weeks, 80 percent of the city and large tracts of neighboring areas were under water. As measured by the number of lives lost, it was one of the worst U.S. natural disasters on record. Just a few months prior to Hurricane Katrina, on December 26, an undersea megathrust earthquake triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the bordering coasts of the Indian Ocean. With a magnitude between 9.1 and 9.3, it was the third-largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph, and over 227,800 people died. Indonesia was the most affected area, with the death toll estimated around 170,000. Given that the hurricane and tsunami were both large-scale natural disasters occurring just a few months apart, it is useful to compare the

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 137

photojournalism generated. For this purpose, we examined how large, respected newspapers covered each during the first two weeks By taking a close look at the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times, we found instructive patterns that again illustrate the role of nationalism. The Boston Globe, for example, used corpses to clearly illustrate the horrors of the Indian Ocean tragedy, but not the loss of life during the domestic disaster. In fact, during the first fourteen days of Katrina coverage, the Boston Globe included no photographs of corpses or even body bags in the stories detailing the nearly two thousand deaths. Instead, the photojournalism documented survivors, emergency officials, and the newly reformed landscape. The images most suggestive of death included photographs of thoroughly concealed corpses made invisible by closed caskets. Photojournalists covering Katrina had documented American corpses, and these images were made available by wire services, but they were widely rejected by editors. By contrast, during its first fourteen days of tsunami coverage, the Boston Globe published eight photographs of corpses, in addition to four photographs of body bags. For instance, on December 29, the front page, above the fold, was filled with a large photo from Thailand where volunteers were moving bodies. The headline recounted, “Struggling in Death’s Wake” while the photojournalism showed the volunteers filling a coffin. Dozens of other coffins extended into the distance, each still wide open with the corpses revealed. The next day, in the Boston Globe, again on the front page, above the fold, a large photo appeared of a health official in Thailand walking among rows of partly shrouded bodies, as he sprayed the area with inoculants. The bodies on the ground stretched into the foreground and the far distance.17 Dead bodies were similarly highlighted in another photo taken in Thailand showing medical workers examining a corpse at a makeshift morgue. While DNA was extracted for identification purposes, additional bodies can be seen lying preserved on dry ice.18 The day after, another photo showed volunteers near corpses that were again clearly visible on dry ice at a temple’s makeshift morgue.19 The Washington Post included ten pictures of visible corpses in just the first seven days of its tsunami coverage, but was relatively reluctant

138

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

to show the Americans killed by Katrina.20 The early tsunami coverage in the Post included several close-up pictures of the bodies, including a photo focused on the faces of two young, deceased girls lying cheek to cheek as their mother sat crying beside them.21 Three days later, the Post again included two other dead girls shown lying beside another grieving mother.22 To depict more corpses, a camera was lowered into a mass grave in India, beside a prone dead boy who lay surrounded by other bodies while, at the bank above, dozens of mourners stood.23 Another photo displayed the body of a dead young boy up close, while he was carried by his anguished, screaming father.24 In still another photo, a father and mother cradled the small body of their deceased son.25 Even though corpse photographs were much more likely to appear in the coverage of the tsunami, the coverage of the domestic tragedy included more pictures.26 Tragedies enlarge the role of photojournalism— increasing the number of photographs that run and the prominence they are given—and this is especially true when the threat is domestic. During American crises, photojournalism’s role grows as the value of certain pictures diminishes. When covering catastrophe abroad, a much wider range of images is permitted.

Peacetime Practices versus Official Censorship during War The nationalistic bias that permeates U.S. photojournalism on a daily basis is the more pervasive version of official and nonofficial government policy that is triggered by military conflict. Reflecting on wartime news coverage, members of the press have warned, “We were a propaganda arm of our governments. At the start the censors enforced that, but by the end we were our own censors. We were cheerleaders.”27 This criticism was in response to World War II news coverage, but the same argument has been made about news coverage of almost every war since. During the lead-up to the Gulf War in 1991, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney instituted a blanket ban on the media from taking pictures of the flag-draped military caskets and honor guard ceremonies that mark the return of American military casualties from abroad. In response, the U.S. news media considered dead American soldiers and their closed coffins off-limits. It was not until 2009, under President Obama’s administration, that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lifted the ban. 

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

139

During the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Pentagon officials mandated that the media not show the 2003 footage of executed U.S. prisoners of war. When the media were finally permitted to show the images, they appeared fleetingly in only a few U.S. news outlets. These images had a much longer life around the world, particularly in Europe, South America, and the Middle East. Meanwhile, many in the U.S. government, media, and general public were outraged that these pictures were even taken, let alone publicly circulated. Even as the death toll for American soldiers dramatically mounted, as announced plainly by headlines, U.S. news media rejected images documenting this fact. Midway through September 2004, the American news media announced a morbid milestone: the U.S. military death toll in Iraq surpassed one thousand. In place of photographs, print, broadcast, and online media preferred graphs and charts to illustrate the loss. As the death toll continued to rise month after month and year after year during the occupation, the press stayed the course, consistently excluding images of dead American soldiers. News stories about the felled Americans instead included portraits of the deceased when still alive, or they showed surviving soldiers actively serving. In one case, a Washington Post online edition depicted U.S. troops in the distance (figure 9.4) for a report entitled, “7 Marines Killed in Blast near Fallujah: Apparent Suicide Attack Is Deadliest for Troops since April; 3 Iraqis Slain.” The U.S. soldiers are clearly upright, active, and alive although the story and headline focused on fatalities.

Figure 9.4. During wartime, photographs like these effectively censor the American deaths that the photo captions and story headlines report. During times of peace, a nationalistic bias still widely permeates photojournalism. Photo credit: Mohammed Khodor, Reuters.

140

|

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Even the photo caption took the fatalities as its focus, noting that “U.S. troops collect the bodies of their fallen comrades after the blast. The apparent suicide attack claimed more U.S. troops than any strike since April 29.”28 As stressed more than once in the story copy, this was one of the deadliest attacks. If the soldiers were indeed collecting “the bodies of their fallen comrades,” the picture offered little corresponding evidence. This was one of many photographs that continued to hide their tragedy. When American civilians died in Iraq, their fatalities were also made invisible through photojournalistic choices. In a high-profile example, news media exploded with stories about Nicholas Berg, the American businessman who was held hostage and ultimately decapitated in Iraq. As the news noted, the killing was captured on video and posted on the Internet. Although thousands of news stories were devoted to detailing the contents of the execution video, the images themselves were judged impermissible. Instead, U.S. news embraced images of Berg when alive and well in portraits taken long before. The photojournalism also focused on the reactions of family members. For instance, the Washington Post included photographs of Berg’s father crying and hugging his daughter after learning about the tape documenting the beheading. American photojournalism did reveal Iraqi deaths. Published pictures showed Iraqi bodies lying in the foreground, making them highly visible. Even when the headlines and story copy focused on U.S. deaths, these other corpses became a proxy spectacle. Consider, for instance, a story in the Washington Post where the online headline read, “Insurgents Mount Attacks across Baghdad: 2 US Soldiers Killed in Tuesday’s Action Brings Two-Day Total to 13.”29 The headline focused on American deaths, as did the story copy, which noted that Baghdad fighting resulted in a “death toll” that “illustrated the grave dangers that continue to confront American forces in the Iraqi capital.” Again emphasizing American fatalities, the copy specified, “A total of at least 995 US service members have died since military operations began in Iraq in March 2003, according to Defense Department records.” Even though the words repeatedly warned about American deaths, the accompanying photograph (figure 9.5) dramatically switched focus by revealing a dead Iraqi. The recumbent corpse lies in profile wearing a shirt shredded with a large hole signaling the fatal wound. The photograph, which was published in color, reveals dark red blood traveling across his neck and

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 141

Figure 9.5. This picture was published by the Washington Post to illustrate a story focused on Americans killed in Baghdad. But rather than depicting an American fatality, it substitutes an Iraqi corpse. The bodies that are considered the most newsworthy for the photojournalistic coverage of war are treated as the least newsworthy by headlines and story copy. Photo credit: Karim Kadim, AP.

pooling under his head as his brother sits nearby, his face distorted by grief. The photograph’s caption confirmed, “An Iraqi Shiite in Sadr City weeps over the death of his brother, whose body lies in the foreground.” Given the content of this picture, and its caption, it seems like a logical complement to a story focused on the Iraqi loss of life; it is not an obvious choice for this story, which focuses on the loss of American lives. The Iraqi corpse conveniently gestures towards the fatal clashes without revealing any dead Americans.

Comparing the National Bias in the Popular and Patrician Press When it comes to jingoistic bias, tabloids are considered to be the most suspect. Writing in the New Yorker, Anthony Lane stated that

142

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

the sensationalistic style of tabloids propels a chauvinistic perspective, “deftly hardening the readers’ xenophobia.”30 During wartime, the tabloid press is considered to be particularly apt to, as the old saw goes, “rally around the flag.” In contrast, the “quality” press is characterized as relatively more rational and cosmopolitan.31 Thus, whereas tabloids seemingly succumb to bellicose patriotism, other news media may claim a more worldly outlook. These comparisons beg the question of whether nationalism does shape photojournalism differently in tabloids than in the elite press. In turn, we compared pictures in the New York Times and Washington Post to those in the New York Post and Philadelphia Daily News. Our goal was to learn whether the drive for national glory made tabloids most likely to conceal domestic loss. It turns out that a double standard does afflict certain news companies, but not those expected. The patrician press is actually most likely to discriminate: it publishes corpse photographs of foreigners over twice as often as it does Americans. Meanwhile, the tabloids are as likely to publish images of American corpses as they are to publish those of others. (There was no statistically significant difference between the likelihood of publishing either.) Whereas the patrician press greatly prefers the foreign to the domestic corpse photo, the tabloid press is equally dedicated to avoiding either. The different approaches of the tabloid and patrician press characterized the U.S. news coverage of twelve Nepalese construction workers who were kidnapped in Iraq and executed by a militant alQaeda–linked group. The event marked one of the largest numbers of hostages to be killed at one time in Iraq. Printed and online versions of esteemed newspapers ran the stories with corpse photographs that were provided by an Islamic group’s website via wire services. For example, the New York Times website included a color image documenting a long row of the executed bodies with blood-spattered shirts lying face down in the dirt (figure 9.6).32 The victims appear in the foreground, near the feet of the photographer, with more extending into the image’s background. In other coverage of the event, the online version of the Washington Post included a larger color image that draws close on four of the

Figure 9.6. Whereas the patrician press greatly prefers the foreign to the domestic corpse photo, tabloids are unlikely to discriminate. Here, in a picture rejected by tabloids, the New York Times showcases the blood-spattered bodies of Nepalese construction workers who were kidnapped and killed.

victims (figure 9.7).33 The image highlights two thick streams of fresh blood rolling from the bodies and through the dirt towards the feet of an armed assailant. The picture also catches a small dust cloud swirling around a victim’s head, kicked up by the bullets’ impact. The image appears to capture the moment immediately after the fatal assault because the assailant’s weapon is blurry from the force of discharge and still pointed at a victim’s head. Tabloids also covered the story. The New York Post coverage included a story entitled, “12 Nepalese Hostages Said Slain in Iraq.” Like the headline that starkly focused on the loss of life, the opening paragraph began, “A gruesome video posted on a Web site purported to show militants beheading a Nepalese worker and shooting 11 others in the first mass slaying of foreign hostages.”34 But in contrast to the patrician press, the tabloids decided not to publish pictures showing the bloody slayings that news wires made available. Rather than show the dead, the tabloid coverage included an Associated Press wire photograph of those coping with the news (figure 9.8). Cropped closely by the New York Post, the chosen image focuses on one man attempting to comfort another. A distraught older man who, in response to the deaths, lies on the floor in distress, is embraced by a relative.

143

144

|

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 9.7. Unlike tabloids, the patrician press published up-close images of the killings, which detailed the streams of blood and dusty debris kicked up by the bullet’s impact. This image of bodies lying below an armed man appeared in the Washington Post

The tabloids also shunned opportunities to publish postmortem pictures when covering the deadly clashes between Russian soldiers and Chechens in the mid-1990s, and again a decade later. As usual, when covering these conflicts, the broadsheets and tabloids had access to the same images from wire services. Whereas esteemed papers like the New York Times and Washington Post included corpse images, tabloids preferred images of survivors. On an early September day in 2004, in a Moscow parking lot outside of a subway station, a woman carrying a bomb packed with bits of metal blew herself up, killing nine. The print and online versions of the New York Times included a photograph that prominently displayed a bloody body that had been thrown back by the blast’s violent force (figure 9.9). The image positioned a dead man in the grassy foreground, making visible bright red gashes on his head and chest. As explained by the story copy, “An hour after the attack, wrenched bodies still lay where they fell.”35

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 145

Figure 9.8. Representing the tabloid’s restrained photojournalistic tendencies, this New York Post picture documents survivors instead of showing the slain Nepalese hostages. Photo credit: Binod Joshi, AP.

Coverage of the suicide bombing in tabloids excluded corpse photographs. The headlines announced that a suicide bomb has killed many, but the tabloid images again focus on survivors. The coverage in the New York Post shows a calm-looking but perhaps stunned young woman flanked by two companions, who look attentively at her as they walk arm in arm down the street at night (figure 9.10).36 Meanwhile, the caption explains the cause for concern: “A woman strapped with explosives blew herself up outside a busy Moscow subway station Tuesday night, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 50 in the second terrorist attack to hit Russia in a week, officials said.”

146

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 9.9. The New York Times and other upscale newspapers focused on the bloody bodies of those killed in Moscow while tabloid photojournalism avoided these gory images. The photo caption noted, “Firefighters extinguished a fire in a car yesterday near the body of a victim of a suicide bombing in Moscow.” Credit: Dmitry Shalganov, AP.

Figure 9.10. After suicide bombings killed many in Moscow, tabloid photojournalism opted for reserved images like this one of survivors calmly comforting one another.

Brasher Pictures On the rare occasions when the popular press does offer images of the foreign corpse, they are different from the kind found in broadsheets. The tabloid pictures are often more subtle because they employ various techniques to render the body less prominent. Specifically, when tabloids publish photographs of dead foreigners, the images often run small, on inside pages. Tabloid editors also crop the pictures loosely,

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

147

thus enlarging our view and making the body even less salient within the image. Compared to the patrician press, the tabloids are also more likely to run ambiguous images where it is unclear whether the depicted foreigner is dead or merely injured. Tabloids are also more likely to use elusive captions that avoid mentioning the presence of the already visually indistinct corpse. Therefore, even when a corpse is technically visible in tabloids, readers may not be aware of this fact. In contrast, when the patrician press presents a foreign corpse, it is often hard to overlook given their revealing use of words and pictures. Consider coverage of Beersheba, Israel, where two buses exploded almost simultaneously from bombs. Photo editors at the New York Times and New York Post both ran images from wire services, but from a variety of pictures, they chose ones that offered very different statements. In the New York Post online version for the story, headlined “Two Bus Blasts in Southern Israel Kill 16,” a small picture depicted a uniformed rescue worker carrying a young woman (figure 9.11).37 Her body appears intact and there are no signs of blood, although her head is thrown back, as if in anguish. The image allows us to conclude that she is being rushed

Figure 9.11. Compared to the patrician press, the tabloids use images that are less explicit about death, like this image that could be interpreted as a firefighter rescuing a young woman. The photo caption used the vague term “victim,” which implies that she could be living, although photojournalistic coverage provided by other news outlets, as shown in figure 9.12, clarified her less fortunate status. Photo credit: AP Photo/IBA via APTN.

148

| Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 9.12. In contrast to the tabloid images of the same victim, this picture, which was published by the New York Times, makes it vividly clear that the young woman is dead. Photo credit: Iian Zagdon/Reuters.

towards further aid. The caption for this photograph also makes it easy to assume that the rescue official was assisting an injured young woman. It describes a “victim”—that ambiguous term that permits the reader to judge the young woman as injured, rather than dead. The caption also noted that the blast “kill[ed] at least 11 people and wound[ed] more than 20,” leaving further uncertainty as to whether the photograph depicted one of those killed or just someone injured. The woman pictured was dead—a fact made obvious by other wire photos, some of which appeared in the patrician press. The New York Times’ front page and home page contained a much larger photograph of the body that undoubtedly signaled her death (figure 9.12).38 The woman’s bloody body dangles limp over the window of the bombed bus, next to the arm of a headless victim. Amid shattered glass and charred metal, their slumped, lifeless bodies dramatically illustrate the bomb’s fatal force. In contrast to the New York Post photograph, no emergency workers attend to the victims, again emphasizing their hopeless state. Furthermore, in contrast to the ambiguous caption for the New York Post picture, the New York Times caption simply states, “36 are killed in two bombings in Israel.” In sum, this New York Times picture, along with the pointed caption, makes it unmistakably clear that a fatality is shown.

Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

149

Summary: What Nationalism Looks Like Plenty of attention has been paid to the way journalistic objectivity is challenged and undermined by wartime policy and ideology. However, the problem is actually not unique to wartime. What gets overlooked is the fact that nationalism shapes news practices on a day-to-day basis, even when the United States is not at war. Photojournalism, in particular, has a tenacious nationalism that is apparent in various contexts ranging from unexpected natural disasters to planned funerals, and from largescale conflicts to isolated acts of violence. Meanwhile, headlines and story copy abound detailing American tragedy. As measured by words, American deaths demand the most attention. But photojournalistic documents of these deaths are very unlikely to be evaluated as newsworthy because the images sharply invert the formula by which nationality has been known to predict newsworthiness, and at the extreme, news stories about American fatalities are actually illustrated with images of dead foreigners. Although tabloids have been accused of a jingoistic bias, as if they are most susceptible to a rush of flag-waving fervor, their pictures rarely show the domestic or international corpse because their photojournalism consistently avoids both and is arguably “even handed.” In contrast, respected newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post are expected to take a relatively measured and cosmopolitan approach, but they actually draw stark distinctions between the foreigner and the American. In the patrician press, pictures revealing the foreign dead are much more likely to run than those showing a domestic body.

10

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Starting one mid-December morning in 2012, television broadcasts canceled commercials and regularly scheduled programming for nonstop news coverage of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where twenty first-grade children and six educators were murdered. “The nation watched in horror . . . as the scope of a tragedy in Newtown, Conn., became clear.”1 By the afternoon, a visibly upset President Obama announced, “Our hearts are broken.” Meanwhile, expressions of grief trended on Twitter: “PrayForNewtown. Parents are supposed to be planning Christmas for their children; Not a funeral.”2 Newtown, as described by Brian Williams on NBC, was the “saddest place on earth.”3 Adam Lanza, twenty, had committed one of the worst attacks on children in U.S. history. Shortly after school started that morning, Lanza used his mother’s Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle to shoot his way through a locked glass front door. (Before driving to the school, Lanza had killed his mother at their home by shooting her four times in the head while she slept.) Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were in a meeting when they heard the loud noise and rushed to the hallway, where they encountered Lanza, who shot and killed both. A teacher ran from the hallway into a room and Lanza shot her through the door in the leg and arm. Lanza then entered a nearby first-grade classroom where Lauren Rousseau, a substitute teacher, was trying to hide fifteen students in a bathroom. Rousseau and all but one of the students in the class were killed. The sole survivor was a six-yearold girl who had played dead and remained still. She was standing in the classroom, covered with others’ blood from head to toe, when police found her. When reunited with her mother she recounted, “Mommy, I’m okay, but all my friends are dead.”4 After apparently thinking he had killed all in the first classroom, Lanza left and entered another, nearby first-grade classroom. The class-

150

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 151

room teacher, Victoria Leigh Soto, had pushed five children in the closet and was trying to hide the others when Lanza entered this classroom and started killing again. Soto was killed when she tried to protect some of the students from the bullets, using her body as a shield. When Lanza’s rifle jammed during an attempt to reload it, six of the children fled the classroom, ran out of the school, and found refuge at a nearby home. When police later entered the classroom they found the five children whom Soto had hidden in the closet, unharmed. Unfortunately, thousands of children die each year worldwide. A child’s death can generate much media attention because the victim is judged the most vulnerable and innocent, making the loss exceptionally tragic. These are misfortunes of the greatest magnitude, and they allow us to consider how events with such magnitude influence photojournalism. When covering these misfortunes, we found that what photojournalism depicts depends greatly on the nationality of the children. Among the published news images that show dead children (which account for 13 percent of postmortem photographs),5 all of them apparently show dead foreign children. With the possible exception of a single image, none showed a dead American child.6 Depending on whose children have died, one of two contrasting visual narratives will emerge. To illustrate each, consider two images from the Washington Post’s annual online year-end slide show. One picture shows family members kneeling on the ground and wailing next to young girls killed at school by food poisoning (figure 10.1). The caption reads, “Grief-stricken family members react over the bodies of their children, who died after consuming a free midday meal at a school at Gandaman in Saran District, India’s Bihar state.”7 The caption further elaborated, “Twenty-two children died after eating a free lunch feared to contain poisonous chemicals at an Indian primary school, officials said, as the tragedy sparked angry street protests.” The same slide show documents another tragedy involving children, but this time it is an American tragedy, and we are offered a very different kind of image. Representing a massive tornado that devastated a large swath of land in Moore, Oklahoma, and killed twenty-four, the picture reveals an eight-year-old daughter who clings to her mother (figure 10.2).8 Unlike the daughters of India, this girl is alive and in her mother’s

152

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 10.1. Virtually no published pictures of dead children show American victims. This news image documents some of the twenty-two Indian children killed by eating a free midday meal at school. Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images.

protective arms. Emerging from the other-worldly, devastated landscape of scattered debris and trees stripped bare, the heroically strong mother carries her child to safety. The American “heartland” has surely been reconfigured by this disaster, but the picture, in its grandest gesture, can summon a sense of a phoenix rising. At the very least, it represents a successful rescue, and not the fatalities that could be pictured.

American Children Attract Attention Within the United States, the dead or even imperiled American child is considered one of the most newsworthy items.9 One of the first cable news media circuses was occasioned when eighteen-month-old “Baby Jessica” fell into a well in her Midland, Texas, back yard. On October 14, 1987, and for two days after, round-the-clock coverage ensued for CNN, then a fledging cable news outlet. Other news outlets across the nation were saturated by the story of this child, who was, after nearly sixty hours in the well, rescued from the eight-inch-wide casing twenty-two feet

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 153

Figure 10.2. Instead of documenting the death of an American child, the pictures highlight heroic rescues or the resilience of survivors. Depicting the protective care and impressive strength of an American mother, the caption for this image explained, “LaTisha Garcia carries her 8-year-old daughter, Jazmin Rodriguez, near Plaza Towers Elementary School after a massive tornado carved its way through Moore, Okla.” Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki, AP.

below the ground. The massive attention to this child prompted thenpresident Ronald Reagan to declare, “Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on.” The photograph of her being rescued won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, and Americans from around the country donated nearly one million dollars to the child, who grew up with no memory of the event. Because even a single injured American child can rivet the news media and a nation, twenty years after the rescue, USA Today included her on its list of “25 lives of indelible impact.”10 When JonBenét Ramsey, the six-year-old beauty pageant queen, was strangled and found dead in her family’s basement in 1996, news coverage generated many hundreds of in-depth stories over nearly two years. In

154

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

this time period, 20/20, 48 Hours, Hard Copy, American Journal, Dateline NBC, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, the weekend edition of Extra, and Inside Edition aired a total of 438 segments about Ramsey. During the same time period, on CNBC programming, Geraldo Rivera featured 195 related segments, and Larry King Live devoted an additional forty-four segments to the story. Meanwhile, Newsweek contributed thirty related items and Time published another twenty-five. Tabloids offered hundreds more.11 Print and broadcast news media created Web pages devoted specifically to “comprehensive” coverage of the girl’s death and the ensuing investigation. For example, CNN created a large amount of online content dedicated to the crime, including links to stories, a timeline, and related documents. Americans were also transfixed by the case of Natalee Holloway, the teenager who disappeared in Aruba in 2005. The news coverage of her plight took up far more television time than the concurrent genocide in Darfur.12 Initially, it was unclear whether she was dead, but even a single, suspected death has the potential to generate much media attention. Nearly seven years later, after much investigation into her whereabouts, she was declared dead, and this conclusion provoked yet more news coverage. In response to the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, national and international news crews—including America’s most prominent journalists, along with hundreds of other media personnel— descended on Newtown. A Newtown community member described “legions of journalists who had arrived in caravans of satellite trucks as if drawn by some dark star of calamity.”13 Within hours of the deaths, broadcast specials began. For days, nearly every newscast on CNN was broadcast from Newtown, as was true for most network television morning and evening newscasts.14 For several weeks thereafter, the news media continued to report on the tragedy.

Photojournalistic Gaps An American child’s death can induce blanket news coverage that feels nearly boundless. During these high-profile cases, the reporting leans heavily on photojournalism, sharing plenty of images, but the types of

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

155

pictures used stringently limit what is seen. Reflecting deeply ingrained notions about “legitimate” news images, editors reject photographs of dead American children. According to the news coverage of the Newtown massacre, twenty children were gone—a fact that reporters highlighted for weeks, but that photojournalism never directly disclosed. This was not because cameras had missed the chance to document death. A local photojournalist, Shannon Hicks of the Newtown Bee, was at the scene early and took pictures of a fatally injured student. As Hicks recalls, on the morning of the massacre, she was at the Newtown Bee office celebrating with colleagues after learning that they had won a radio station’s holiday contest. When her editor crossed the room to listen to voices on the police scanner, which typically alerts him to accidents, she also listened, concluding that someone had been shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Police were en route to the school, and Hicks headed out to cover the story. When Hicks arrived at the school parking lot, she saw a police officer rush from the school, yelling for help. He was carrying a little girl in his arms, and although she was limp, the officer repeatedly told the girl she was now safe, and that her parents loved her. Hicks was documenting the scene with her camera as an ambulance headed their way. The officer made it close to the ambulance, and then collapsed on the ground in distress, still cradling the child. Hicks noticed that the child’s face had lost color, and she “knew then that she would never publish the photographs she was taking.”15 Hicks was on the scene capturing not just a dramatic moment, but one that revealed the massacre’s tragic essence, and yet her pictures would be discarded. Much news coverage instead relied on Hicks’s image of children being led to safety when they were evacuated. The picture showed fourteen first-graders outside the school, making their way across the parking lot, walking in a line with hands resting on the shoulder of the classmate just ahead. They had been instructed to keep their eyes closed as they passed dead bodies in the school hallway, and although they were now outside, the children had yet to open their eyes. Hicks explained that she valued this image of the evacuated children because it represented children in safety and described it as capturing a heart-warming

156

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

mood: trust in the face of tragedy.16 Editors also valued this image of safety, and selected it for many online and print news sites around the country. It became one of the event’s most used images. During round-the-clock coverage of Newtown, the dead children at the center of the story were represented by images of them taken long ago, well before the tragedy. Day after day, the news media were flush with the smiling faces of healthy children. Some were grinning for a formal family portrait, while others were beaming in their sports uniform, or singing at a piano. The Washington Post, like many other news outlets, collected their happy faces online in coverage entitled “Remembering the Victims: The Names and Stories of the 27 Who Lost Their Lives” (figure 10.3).17 The faces joined in the collage accompany individual profiles of the victims to pay tribute, much like a memorial eulogy with a personal and sentimental vantage point. Begetting celebrations of the individual, the reporting relied on friends and family to tell audiences about the child that was, describing his or her personality and favorite activities. For each death, the news media erected the compelling pageantry of personhood. When the story first broke, early video used by television networks often included aerial images from helicopters that pictured the school

Figure 10.3. This collage “remembering the victims” was part of the reporting on a school massacre in Connecticut. In contrast to the hard-hitting images used to document foreign tragedy, when tragedy strikes American children, photojournalism often adopts a memorializing form and function.

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

157

buildings, a large parking lot, two large fields, and a wooded area beyond. Cameras carefully avoided showing dead children when their aerial video camera scanned the parking lot and came upon an ambulance. The CBS camera, for instance, started to zoom in closer, but as a stretcher started to enter the frame, pushing towards the ambulance, abruptly pulled away, avoiding the sight of a victim on the stretcher. The camera shifted focus to a different section of the parking lot and zoomed in much closer to dwell on a dozen law enforcement officials. Shown close up, these men were standing, in a seemingly relaxed mode, and occasionally talking but mostly not doing much of anything. In response, the camera loomed there, generating a relatively mundane visual record. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, other news stations also found many remarkably dull moments that allowed them to center cameras on first responders without showing the real crisis. Mostly, the footage focused on law enforcement officers calmly waiting outside. Audiences also watched law enforcement officials directing traffic or traveling in a slow-moving cart. In the days immediately following the shooting, news cameras focused on the memorials created by grievers who left candles, crosses, flowers, and teddy bears. When covering the sad task of burying so many children, the news depicted the funeral processions of families and firstgrade classmates who lined up to say their goodbyes. The home page of the New York Post announced, “Angels Laid to Rest” and, like many other news outlets, showed a hearse crossing a small stone bridge where a large sign in the middle of the frame prominently read “Pray for Newtown” (figure 10.4). These religiously infused moments were prime fodder for the cameras, but the cameras also dwelled on ordinary community members, many of whom did not appear to be doing anything relevant. Editors had decided to publish a wide and relatively indiscriminate range of innocuous images. By declining to directly document death, media coverage left gaps in the photojournalistic record that helped conspiracy theories flourish. Large numbers of antigovernment conspiracy theorists, including a coalition called the Sandy Hook Truther Movement and another called Global Research, closely tracked the news coverage’s absence of corpse photographs.18 Many e-mailed, called, and visited members of

158

|

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 10.4. This religiously infused image delicately references a major American tragedy with a large sign imploring prayer. This picture appeared on the home pages of the New York Post, the Washington Post, and other news outlets on December 17, 2012. Photo credit: AFP/Getty.

the news media requesting more information about what they saw at the scene. Conspiracy theorists reportedly overwhelmed Newtown’s clerk’s office with so many requests for death certificates that the clerk and state representatives initiated a bill to limit the public’s access to vital records.19 Refusing to believe that Lanza had murdered twenty children, conspiracy theorists compiled news clips in an online video called “Sandy Hook Shooting—Fully Exposed,” which went viral. After being posted for a few weeks, it was viewed about twelve million times. The video argued that, given the absence of corpse images in the news, no deaths had actually occurred. Because pictures of the bodies failed to appear throughout the days of intense coverage, the absence was interpreted as proof that the event was elaborately staged to influence public policy that would restrict gun access. When this coverage is considered in a larger context, however, it is hardly unusual for the news to be stripped of this proof. The gaps in the photojournalistic record were actually highly typical of the way the U.S. news covers death.

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

159

A Fuller Photographic Record Whereas the deceased students of Newtown remain unseen, news images do vividly document other dead children, like those slain during Russia’s 2004 school massacre. On the first day of school, on September 1, a group of armed separatist militants seized a school in the town of Beslan. The militants, sent by the Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basayev, took hostage over 1,100 people, including 777 children. After a three-day stand-off with Russian military, over 380 people, including 186 children, were left dead and, to help convey the magnitude of the tragedy to American audiences, news reports referred to the siege as “Russia’s 9/11.” The school enrolled around eight hundred students, but on the day of the siege many more children and their parents, along with other relatives, were present for festivities traditionally held on the first day of the academic calendar. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., several dozen attackers wearing military camouflage, black masks, and explosive belts arrived, shooting their guns in the air and ordering families on the school grounds inside the building. Up to fifty people managed to flee while the militants herded the others into the school gymnasium and confiscated their mobile phones under threat of death, while ordering everyone to kneel and speak only when spoken to. Because the orders were given in Russian, one father stood to calm people and repeat the rules in the local language. A gunman approached, asking if he was done, and then shot the father in the head. Next, the attackers singled out about twenty fathers and male teachers who were ordered to lie down before being shot. Meanwhile, Russian police and military surrounded the school. Adding to the chaos, a crowd with as many as five thousand relatives, volunteer militiamen, and armed civilians gathered at the scene. Russian forces promised to peacefully negotiate, and on the first day of the siege, at Russia’s request, a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council was convened. Council members demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages of the terrorist attack.” President George W. Bush called for “support in any form” for Russia. Still, the siege continued and, on the second day, a newborn was executed. Late on the second day, the increasingly sleep-deprived and

160

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

agitated hostage takers launched two grenades at security forces outside the school. Russian forces did not return fire, and, on the third day, there were more attempts to negotiate the release of children, who were without food or water in a stifling hot gym where many fainted. After a possibly accidental explosion inside the school, fire erupted on the roof of the gymnasium, causing burning rafters to fall onto the hostages. As flames raged, the entire roof collapsed, creating an inferno that killed around 160 people, more than half of all hostage fatalities. Local civilians and militia opened fire, and the militants returned fire. Using heavy weapons, the military troops then stormed the building. Special forces fired rockets at the school as an armored vehicle and two tanks reportedly approached the school and opened fire. Used as human shields, several hostages were forced to stand at windows, where they were shot by troops outside. The fighting continued intensely throughout the afternoon and into the evening when, eventually, Russian troops gained control of the building. American news media provided images of Russia’s dead, bloodsplattered children. In online and print news coverage, including newspapers from California to New York, like the Los Angeles Times and the Albany Times Union, editors were willing to show death. For example, after the deadly battle, the online Los Angeles Times included a Reuters wire service photo closely cropped around a young woman kneeling on the grass beside her recumbent child. The picture shows the grieving mother gently stroking the forehead of her dead daughter, just a few years old, who lies on a stretcher with blood smeared across her face (figure 10.5).20 Pictures published elsewhere showed more dead children. Other school tragedies abroad have also inspired the U.S. press to reveal dead children. In northern Spain, in late October 1980, an explosion ripped through a state-run school that had three buildings and seven hundred students. The explosion was thought to have been caused by a gas cylinder or heating boiler in a welding accident that trapped many of the victims in a collapsed two-story building. In early reporting, it was announced that at least sixty-seven people, most of them children, were killed and the actual toll was expected to be higher. The tragedy was widely covered in the U.S. news, which included photographs of dead children scattered on the classroom floor.

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

161

Figure 10.5. When reporting on a school massacre in Russia, the bodies of young victims were shown, often up close. This photograph appeared online in the Los Angeles Times with the caption, “A woman grieves over the body of her child, killed today when Russian troops stormed the Belsan school after three days of a standoff.” Photo credit: Sergei Karpukhin, Reuters.

Late in the summer of 2013, and again in 2017, U.S. news coverage included many images of dead children from Syria, showing the consequences of a chemical weapons attack allegedly committed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The attacks left no external signs of injury because it killed those who convulsed with excessive saliva until they could no longer breathe. Yet death was apparent. The headlines were clear on this point, and so too were many of the accompanying pictures. Several of the pictures showed a long row of children, wrapped entirely in white sheets except for their soft faces, tucked against one another in a long line down the street (figure 10.6). A mother reaches desperately to touch

162

|

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 10.6. When reporting on the death of Syrian children, American news editors again allowed photojournalism to break from its highly sanitizing, usual practices.

her dead child. In a news video, a parent confronts the camera, holding the limp body of a child. News videos and still images also closely documented rooms full of little children, lying still. Some photographs, published in large format, brought us intimately close to observe the faces of toddlers that had a greyish hue and blue lips (figure 10.7). Some had large masking tape affixed to their forehead, which numbered the victims and signaled the massive undertaking to count the dead. When covering war in Afghanistan, U.S. news coverage also included images of dead children. For example, in early April 2013, it was reported that NATO airstrikes had killed children and other civilians. The attacks were part of the long war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2001, following the terrorist attacks of September 11th) in which the United States and allies intervened in a civil war with the goal of dismantling al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organization, and the Taliban,

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 163

Figure 10.7. Only when reporting on foreign tragedy does photojournalism intimately document dead children.

an Islamic fundamentalist regime. A Saturday airstrike left a senior Taliban leader dead, along with seventeen others, including at least eleven children. Popular online news sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, showed the dead children, using an Associated Press photograph that provided a closely cropped image of seven children under seven (figure 10.8).21 Awaiting their funeral ceremony, the little children were each wrapped in a blanket and laid in a tight row. With their skin ashen, the photo caption further highlighted their “lifeless bodies.” In yet another example, the New York Times documented continuing Kosovo fighting in 1998 using a large photograph revealing the body of a young girl, approximately five years old. She is shown as she died— curled up protectively on her side, still wearing her little yellow rubber boots and raincoat.22 A middle-aged man stands gazing at her while holding a corner of the sheet that he will use to wrap her for burial. In

164 |

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 10.8. Several news organizations showed tightly cropped pictures of these foreign victims, highlighting the discolored faces. In the Huffington Post, the caption added, “The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children, during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan.” Photo credit: Naimatullah Karyab, AP Photo.

the background, four other men accompanying him to the burial site wait for the girl to be wrapped. The caption announces, “A villager from Gornji Obrinje in Kosovo covered the body of a girl yesterday before carrying her to a burial site.” It further explains, “Fifteen members of the Deliaj clan, including children and the elderly, were killed in a massacre on Saturday by Serbian forces. There was another massacre that day a few miles away.” The main text further elaborated on the bodies of children who lay slumped on the ground after running to escape Serbian forces. American photojournalism even shows newborns killed abroad. In late December of 1989, the New York Times offered a close-up look at Rumanian corpses, including that of an infant. On December 23, one photograph from the Associated Press pictured a naked baby on a pile of dirt, lying on its back in a fetal position. This photograph ran below another depicting a row of dead Rumanian adults. The images resonate with the paper’s announcement of “Upheaval in the East: Grisly Scenes,” and a headline reading “Rumanians Dig Up Mass Graves in Hunt for Relatives.”

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

165

In their vigilant documentation of foreign tragedies, news cameras get intimately close to children, even following them into the grave just prior to burial. When reporting in 2004 on the children lost to the Indonesian tsunami, Washington Post coverage included an image of a dead boy lying in a mass grave. The picture was made by lowering a camera into the grave while mourners stood above at the bank.23 The resulting picture provided a highly intimate perspective.

A Possible Exception As a general rule, the U.S. news media permit pictures of dead foreign children, but not American ones. One possible exception includes a news image that documented a baby in Oklahoma City who may have been dying or dead. The image in question was taken during 1995 coverage of the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which included a daycare center. The photograph captured firefighter Chris Fields cradling an infant (see figure 3.7, from chapter 3). Oneyear-old Baylee Almon had celebrated her first birthday the day before the blast. The image captured the fireman holding her little body to his chest and gazing into her face. Fields had been on the scene for just twenty minutes when police officer Sgt. John Avery found the child halfburied and pulled her out, shouting, “I have a critical infant! I have a critical infant!” Avery rushed the small child into the outstretched arms of nearby Fields. The photo, taken by utility company employee Charles Porter, and a similar one taken by Lester LaRue, was widely believed at press time to picture an injured and alive child. In both images, the child looks alive. Her face is turned away from the camera, but as she is rushed away from the scene, the child appears to be crying with an open mouth and her little legs seem to be kicking. These images of the child could be viewed as a hopeful and heroic rescue. Soon after these images were taken, however, the baby was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. But before learning this outcome, national and international news media had reproduced the image, using captions implying that the baby was being successfully rescued. When editors eventually learned that the baby had died, and for quite some

166 |

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

time after, the image was largely unwelcome. Because the child may have actually been dead, and was at least near death, during the depicted moment, the image now took on an entirely different meaning. Subsequently, some editors felt compelled to exclude the image even when reporting specifically about the image that had so quickly become iconic. The picture itself developed into a news story, but once it was pulled from circulation, the continuing coverage relied on verbal descriptions of it. When the media refused to show it, the picture was described as the “famous” or “iconic” image of a firefighter cradling a baby. In addition, the picture was often replaced by an ordinary portrait, created long before the bombing, of the child smiling broadly. Although the bombing claimed many adult victims, the news coverage frequently emphasized the innocent loss of life among children, and much coverage pivoted around the question of whether children were intentionally killed. The FBI stated that the bomber, Timothy McVeigh, scouted the interior of the building before choosing it as his target, but McVeigh claimed that he was unaware of the daycare center, and stated that if he had known, “it might have given me pause to switch targets.” He acknowledged, “That’s a large amount of collateral damage.”24 With the explosion occurring less than thirty feet from the building’s daycare center, only six children survived. The blast claimed a total of 168 lives, including nineteen children under the age of six, some of whom were as young as three months. In-depth coverage explored the grief of young families ripped apart. Newsweek offered the almost existential headline, “Why the Children?” and explained, “If there can be a darkest part of the Oklahoma City tragedy, it lies in the wreckage of the America’s Kids daycare center.”25 The reporting emphasized that “the random destruction of innocent children shows how deep the pain can go.” In the same piece, first responders and politicians collaborated with this perspective: Oklahoma governor Frank Keating was quoted as saying, “I think it is the children that has everybody the most upset. Everybody I talk to mentions the kids.” In other news coverage, interviews with rescue and recovery team members also framed the story around the children. For firefighter Randy Woods, “[T]he death of the children summed up the brutality of the act.”26 Perhaps with some disbelief, Woods reflected on “ ‘[a] whole floor of innocents.’ ” He implored, “ ‘Grown-ups, you know, they deserve

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 167

a lot of the stuff they get. But why the children? What did the children ever do to anybody?’ ”27 Although the news stories were consumed with the death of these children, the photojournalism documented other facts. In early coverage, images extensively documented the bomb’s effect on the building, but not the ill-fated children who were reportedly pulled from the wreckage. Meanwhile, the words used in reporting seized specifically on the children slaughtered. The news media later covered children’s funerals that reportedly included open caskets, which were not pictured. When baby Baylee herself was carried to her burial plot in a small white casket, news cameras were there covering the story. The New York Times’ front-page photograph, above the fold, showed two pallbearers carefully carrying her closed coffin, which was just about three feet long and adorned with flowers, across manicured funeral grounds. As this baby was laid to rest, the New York Times prodded audiences to again recall the famous image of her that once appeared on nearly every newspaper. To help retrieve the memory, the Times described the “photo of her in the arms of a rescue worker after last week’s bombing.” Although not judged appropriate for reproduction, the picture had come to “symbolize the horror and pain of Oklahoma City;” baby Baylee continued to generate news coverage because she was still “the tiny emblem of a city’s sorrow.”28 The New York Times ran the front-page picture of the little closed casket above another photograph, which does directly depict dead children. In potent juxtaposition, this second image reveals two young boys who had come to the end of their short lives when slaughtered in Rwanda. Trekking amid war rubble, a United Nations soldier is shown dragging the boys, who are each just a few years old. The soldier walks across ground littered thick with debris while carrying one lifeless child by the crook of his neck and the other from the elbow, as their heads hang to the side. The image gives us a clear view of the dead children, who are also the focus of the caption, “A Rwandan Slaughter’s Aftermath: A United Nations solider pulls two dead children from piles of bodies at a refugee camp in Kibeho, Rwanda.” These children were among as many as two thousand ethnic Hutu who were killed in shootings and the panic that followed.

168

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

The corpses of Rwandan children appear on the front page, although the related story is actually placed several pages later. Editors considered the foreign corpse photograph “newsworthy” enough that it made the front page, well in advance of the story that readers found inside. Meanwhile, the same front page carried multiple stories about the Oklahoma City bombing while keeping those corpses invisible. This striking discrepancy on the front page condenses a larger pattern in which nationalism shapes how the news uses pictures and words.

American Deaths Detailed through Words Despite the large gaps in the photojournalistic record, when American children perish, news reports may verbally offer many details to describe the bodies. A report about children killed might discuss skulls cracked open, blood gushing, and other gory, end-of-life facts. This was the case during coverage of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing when Newsweek relayed the eyewitness testimony of first responders who described the faces blown off children: “One child had no face, just torn skin. With most of them, you couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl.”29 Accounts explained that since the children were seated at a table in the daycare at the time of the explosion, their upper bodies caught the brunt of the blast. Reporting also described the gruesome scene where rescue and recovery team members recounted “body parts everywhere,” including a child’s finger, among the brightly colored toys 30 According to reports, bodies of all the children killed were eventually recovered. Through interviews and investigative reporting, hundreds of journalists scrambled to create a comprehensive account of this fatal event. Using a particularly favored strategy, they prompted eyewitnesses to recount the details. When speaking with the news media shortly after the blast, first responders discussed finding the children’s bodies. Aiding the recovery effort was a dog trained for the scent of infants, and the news media witnessed the babies being pulled from the wreckage, which the reporters again relayed in words. Even parents of the dead children were pressed to help build a detailed record of the tragedy. Parents were individually interviewed by journalists numerous times, urged to fully describe their experience when dropping their child off at daycare in the morning and all that they had learned and felt since then.

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 169

In Newtown’s round-the-clock reporting, journalists again aggressively pursued official and unofficial sources while attempting to build a thorough record. There was “an armada of broadcast trucks” and correspondents taking over the streets of the small town during “a scramble to interview families, first responders, politicians and the tiny witnesses to the shootings.”31 Television anchors were going door to door seeking interviews. When reporters arrived at the homes of grieving family members, they rang the bell to interview parents who had lost a child. The reporting, and the reporting on the reporting, emphasized the need to relay all the facts, but photojournalism set its purview much more narrowly. Heated controversies erupted quickly when a published news image expanded the view slightly by revealing just a small part of a deceased American girl’s wrist. In 1997, the Globe, a supermarket, celebrity-focused tabloid, published a crime scene photo of (the above mentioned) six-yearold JonBenét Ramsey that pictured a garrote—a cord-wrapped stick that might have been used to strangle the victim—and an extreme close-up of rope. The rope pictured was said to be on one of her wrists, but the image was cropped too closely to make this visually apparent.32 Nonetheless, public outcry was immediate, and national supermarket and convenience store chains, including 7-Eleven, King Soopers, and Safeway, banned the sales of the issue while denouncing the images as “ghoulish.” The editor of the Globe defended his paper, arguing that it did not publish pictures of anything that had not already been described publicly. Indeed, hundreds of reports had discussed what was shown in these images. Yet, the controversy reflected the fact that this was a remarkably unusual attempt to visualize what was endlessly discussed. However, without stirring controversy, images of dead foreign children may be prominently displayed alongside a news story that actually gives no attention to their death. A dead Ukrainian girl is shown in her coffin, even though the accompanying New York Times reporting does not mention her death, or any fatalities (figure 10.9).33 The picture appeared online and on the front page of the print version as the largest photo and the leading one, placed prominently above the fold. The story, which discusses military and political tactics, such as sanctions, is entitled “Brushing Off Threats, E.U. Votes to Toughen Its

170 |

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 10.9. This picture of a dead girl was published to illustrate a news story about sanctions against Russia, but the reporting did not discuss the loss of life. Meanwhile, stories using many words to provide detailed accounts of the deaths of American children strictly avoid pictures showing those victims. Photo credit: Mauricio Lima/ New York Times.

Sanctions on Russia.” The copy explains the economic sanctions, bans on food imports, a possible ban from Europe flying over Russia, the reactions of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine, ongoing negotiations among European governments, and an agreement reached recently in Minsk. The picture of the dead girl gets elevated as a legitimate form of communication even though the story is exclusively describing other matters. (The photo caption is the only place where words reference fatality. It notes, “A brother and sister died in shelling near Mariupol” and then goes on to discuss the sanctions.) Whereas news coverage of deceased American children occasions many detailed, verbal descriptions but no pictures of the bodies, news images may intimately document the death of foreign children, even when words take an entirely different focus.

Summary: Extreme Nationalism The 2012 massacre of twenty children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, Connecticut, generated an onslaught of news coverage. Frenzied reporters attempted to exhaustively recount the events, using words to detail the who, what, when, where, and why of the tragic

Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

171

deaths. They probed eyewitnesses to relay what they saw and they even charged the homes of grieving parents, seeking interviews that would transmit their intimate perspective. Despite calls for exhaustive, factfilled coverage, the photojournalistic record left notable gaps. Namely, photographs documenting death were taken but never shared publicly. For coverage of an American tragedy, this gap is not just typical but essentially guaranteed. When American children die, news media release a relentless stream of coverage in which reporters aim to verbally recount all the relevant information, amassing a minute-by-minute account reproducing the events as closely as possible, like an unblinking video camera. However, the actual images used in the photojournalistic coverage shun this kind of exhaustive approach. Words breathlessly chronicle the event while many of the most relevant photographs are deemed the least newsworthy. As the words and pictures follow very different documentary trajectories, the photographic record grows quite evasive. The photojournalism is flooded with images of the deceased when alive and smiling. We also encounter many images of survivors and the brave first responders. Shortly after, we witness the makeshift memorials overflowing with teddy bears, flowers, and candles. For these children, but not others, we prefer pictures that steer clear of the little bodies. Essentially, all images of dead children picture a foreign victim. America’s dead children remain invisible because doing otherwise strikes us as profoundly unethical and even nonsensical. Readers flatly argue that pictures of deceased children “are too graphic for general public consumption,”34 but it is far more accurate to say that pictures of dead American children are considered too graphic. Those working within the news media, who are professionally charged with evaluating the content daily, also miss the dramatic discrepancies. “In terms of a hot-button issue, I don’t think you can get a button hotter than a picture of a dead child,” observes Donald R. Winslow, editor of the News Photographer magazine for the National Press Photographers Association. Echoing this sentiment, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander once summarized that “newspapers stay clear of dead babies.”35 Despite these general statements, some of these images are relatively uncontroversial, whereas those showing Americans are essentially taboo.

172

| Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

Given that children are our symbolically precious and literal future, images of any dead youth could, hypothetically, be used to signal moral outrage, and presumably they are deployed in this manner when foreign tragedies are represented. Even so, pictures of dead American children never circulate as shorthand for tragedy.

11

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

After Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, bodies were lying in the streets as tens of thousands more overwhelmed Port-au-Prince’s morgues. When American news outlets decided to show these bodies, editors publicly explained why such images are judged newsworthy. They reasoned that the greater the death toll, the less reservation the news should have about documenting death. The New York Times’ managing editor, Jill Abramson, defended their selection of postmortem pictures by explaining her intention to convey “the sheer enormity of the disaster . . . in all ways commensurate to the event.”1 After running a large, front-page image of a man lying dead, Bill Keller, a New York Times executive editor, shared that he valued the image and decided to run it big, because it “causes people to pause and dwell on the depth of the tragedy.”2 Using similar language, the photo director of the Washington Post, Michel du Cille, explained, “The magnitude of the story is so deep that it gives us pause not to run the hardest-hitting images.”3 Reflecting on when bodies should be shown, he further explained, “If the situation is so huge that you want to tell the true story of how bad the situation was, that picture probably should be run.”4 Times public editor Clark Hoyt stated that these corpse pictures succeeded at “telling the unsanitized truth.”5 The Washington Post ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, agreed that “the magnitude of death” justified their decision to show the dead bodies.6 Discussing the decision to publish images of Haitian corpses in the Chicago Tribune, Torry Bruno, associate managing editor for photography, recalled that the decision was warranted by “the depth of the catastrophe.”7 Miami Herald executive editor Anders Gyllenhaal also saw images of the dead Haitians as an answer to the important question of “how to do justice to a tragedy of such enormous proportions.”8 Like the others, he judged that these images conveyed the magnitude of the loss. During coverage of a major foreign tragedy, the news industry sometimes sees the corpse photograph as not only legitimate but even 173

174 |

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

necessary. Reflecting on photojournalistic coverage of this earthquake, Patrick Farrell, a Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer, emphatically explained, “People need to know.”9 Similarly, an editor at the Miami Herald surmised that such images provide readers with what they “need to see.”10 An editorial in the St Louis Post-Dispatch also announced, “Photos depicting the grim tru th in Haiti are chilling— and necessary.”11 Such images are described as “necessary” in ethical terms because they are thought to reflect a professional duty, if not moral obligation. “Making it real, that’s your job. That’s why you’re there,” argued Neal Conan, the host of an NPR debate on the news images.12 In agreement, his guest, David Gilkey, a photographer, stressed, “It’s our job to get that message back here.” He added that it was not a pleasant job, but a necessary one: the “scale” of a tragedy means “you just had to show it.” Another guest, Kenneth Irby, an expert on visual journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, also emphasized that it is “absolutely” necessary to show the Haitian bodies: “I think you have to show the true, authentic realities that are happening in Haiti and foreign lands when disaster and trauma presents itself.” Similarly, the New York Times photojournalist, Damon Winter, emphasized that he documented the dead Haitians because it was important “that I do whatever I can to try and make our readers understand just how dire the situation is here.”13 The catastrophe in Haiti was not the only occasion inspiring such claims. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Washington Post described the “necessity of capturing” images of these fatalities. Michel du Cille at the Post wrote, “I believe that the world must see the horrible and dehumanizing effects of Ebola.” He thus concluded that a picture of a dead woman lying unattended and uncovered in the street, along with other images depicting the fatalities, should be published. According to the Washington Post, reports using only words to describe death were not enough; with pictures, “The story must be told.”14 Echoing this sentiment, Daniel Okrent, Clark Hoyt, and others at the New York Times concluded that the postmortem pictures of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami were also needed because they “told the story.”15 It is considered a general rule in the news industry that the magnitude of tragedy dictates what photojournalism should document: “It is unfortunate but true that the worst human tragedies are often the sub-

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 175

jects of the best photojournalism.”16 Such accounts imply that the worst human tragedies, whether domestic or not, make newsworthy pictures. It is argued that the news should use the “hardest-hitting” images when many have suffered, and that images of dead bodies help tell the true story. Building on these observations, one might expect that the corpse image is judged most commensurate with a mass tragedy, and least with a single loss of life. But are corpse images more likely to appear when the death toll is substantial? Our team tested whether a mass tragedy influences the decision to show dead bodies. Such a link, if it exists, should help explain photojournalism’s role documenting major events around the world.

Death Tolls Drive Foreign, but Not Domestic, Corpse Coverage The claim that corpse images are commensurate with the “magnitude” of death applies to foreign tragedies, but not domestic ones. Nearly all images of the foreign corpse do document an incident that killed multitudes, yet major tragedies on American soil seemingly prohibit these postmortem images. Instead, when the news shows dead Americans, the pictures are likely to represent an event that took only a single life, and the cause of death is often an actuarial oddity. For example, one published picture of an American corpse depicted a man killed when an ice-making machine exploded. Another shows an American woman who was killed when her apartment wall collapsed. Yet another documents a drug trafficker who fell to his death after his parachute failed to open. The news also showed a man lying on the street, after he slipped and fell in the path of a bus. Images of foreign corpses, on the other hand, almost always depict fatal events claiming more than one victim. (Among the coverage of current events, 95 percent of the foreign corpse photos represent an incident that killed more than a single person, but only a quarter of the American corpse photos do so.) Usually the foreign victims pictured were killed by violence during war and other forms of political conflict, like terrorism. The news also shows victims abroad killed by earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters. In addition, the pictures reveal victims of large-scale accidents, such as a gas explosion that killed dozens and a

176

| Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 11.1. A large-scale tragedy increases the chance that the news coverage will document dead bodies if the victims are foreign, but it greatly decreases the chance if they are American. The caption accompanying this published picture explains, “Family members mourn a relative who died after drinking contaminated moonshine in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.” Dozens of others were also killed. Photo credit: Pawan Kumar, Reuters.

festival where crowds crushed hundreds. As an example, when India lost at least twenty-three after liquor was contaminated in 2015, news cameras helped document the fatalities (figure 11.1).17 In contrast, news coverage of a domestic event killing a substantial number of Americans, regardless of the cause of death, is very unlikely to generate postmortem pictures. A large death toll brings visibility when the victims are foreigners, but it has the opposite effect when they are American, regardless of how a “large” death toll is defined. This is true if we define a major death event as one that killed at least five, twenty, or one hundred people. When a major tragedy is defined as those current events killing at least five people, for example, nearly all the pictures of foreign corpses (98 percent) represent a major tragedy. In contrast, only 12 percent of the photos depicting American corpses represent a current event that killed at least five people. In just a few exceptions, a published foreign corpse photo represents an event that claimed only one victim. In one such case, a picture of the

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

177

Guyanan boxer Cleveland Denny shows him lying in his open casket, after fatal injuries sustained in a boxing match. An additional exception shows a doctor fatally shot at his home in Italy. In another, a man in Spain is seen after being gored to death by a running bull. There are also a few rare cases when the news media used a corpse photo to document an event that killed multiple Americans. However, these pictures are very unlikely to represent a current event; they tend to depict an event that occurred in the distant past, decades ago. In fact, 39 percent of the corpse photos representing events that killed multiple Americans depict the distant past. (Among the foreign corpse photos, however, less than 1 percent are old images.) These historical pictures are the now-familiar kinds, like the iconic images of the Kent State shooting of 1970 or the Civil War’s dead soldiers. These are corpse images that, over time, have gathered legitimacy as symbols of important turning points.18

Being “Positive” When Covering American Tragedy In general, editors strongly prefer the more negative versions of a story, rating them as overwhelmingly more important than more positive versions.19 Consistent with this, during an international tragedy, when a corpse image is published, it is defended as exposing the ugly facts that the public needs to know. However, during American tragedy, members of the news media explain that a “positive” picture is needed. The more “positive” images are now those that seemingly capture “the story.” When reflecting on the type of picture that they believe is newsworthy during coverage of an American tragedy, photojournalists and editors praise images that convey things like hope, heroism, and restoration. Photographer Ken Light summarizes that some of the most newsworthy images of Americans are those that reflect “the ‘can-do’ energy.”20 The ideal pictures of American soldiers in Iraq have been described as those that highlight the “heroic efforts of American troops,” but pictures of those bodies that have actually been sacrificed are not likely to be judged relevant.21 Ellen Rudolph, a photojournalist interviewed about the news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, explained that when she was creating images of this tragedy, she was “thinking about both what makes

178

|

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

a good photograph and about what makes a healing one.” The ideal image, she explained, is one that is “healing” because it reflects the tragedy but “also reminds us that there is good in life, and that evil is transient.”22 When Rudolph searches for images that rebound from “evil” to remind us of the “good in life,” pictures of Americans fatally injured do not qualify. When reflecting on the Boston Marathon bombing, a photo editor similarly stressed that “it is more positive to see someone helping an injured person” than to see the dead.23 In turn, the editor rejected those news images that documented the less than heart-warming facts.

Shaping a Nation’s Self-Image In times of trouble, when a nation is responding to a crisis, such as a large terrorist attack or a major natural disaster, the news acts as much more than just a vehicle for conveying facts. As many have observed, the news favors storytelling, promoting narratives that help articulate a nation’s identity. They tell stories reinforcing the group’s ideal sense of who they are collectively. With a narrative arc that reflects a sense of progress, restoration, and redemption, the storytelling by American news media during a crisis is saturated with the “language of civic renewal.”24 Reporters queue this narrative when announcing the presence of a major American tragedy that, in their common refrain, has “shocked” the nation. Bystanders, commentators, and reporters themselves share their astonishment at the magnitude of the death and destruction. Eventually, the reporting turns to talk of a nation united in “mourning,” and ultimately, the narrative portrays a nation ready to emerge stronger. Meanwhile, photojournalism offers its brand of affirmation. After the massive 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an archetypal narrative began unfolding in words and pictures. The scope of the problem was represented by innumerable images of destruction to a large federal building. President Clinton declared a federal emergency and, in news coverage of his speeches, he mapped out the path ahead for a journey that began with citizens united at the same starting place: “Today our nation joins with you in grief,” announced the president, referring to those who had lost a loved one. He stressed, “We mourn with you,” again

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

179

emphasizing the collective nature of this struggle. Through blanket news coverage, the president then announced our shared, exultant destiny: “Justice will prevail. . . . As St. Paul admonished us, Let us ‘not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ ” Towards this goal, the president spoke of the need to focus on good, not bad, and, specifically, to communicate about life, not death: “We will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.” The news media had already taken up this charge wholeheartedly, offering many life-affirming visions. In particular, photojournalism fixated on those who were named the heroes—including firefighters, ATF agents, and police officers who rushed the wounded to medical attention. They were shown carrying injured children and assisting bandaged daycare teachers, some of whom were hugging their little, bewildered charges, wrapped in blankets. Ordinary folks were also shown hugging, clutching hands, and otherwise exchanging emotional support. The news images of the Oklahoma City bombing also favored the American flag. The cameras showed the large version waving at the U.S. capitol, and miniature ones brimming among flowers and candles at makeshift shrines. One of the most prominently used images focused on a large American flag once trapped in the wreckage but now set free and positioned upright among the pile of debris, offering a potent symbol of irrepressible strength. In addition to symbolic flag images, the photojournalism relied on the literal messages of homemade signs explicitly commemorating the nation’s resilience: “We will overcome!” “God Bless America,” “Be Strong,” and “Prevail,” they commanded. Cameras repeatedly dwelled on these hand-printed words of encouragement, relaying the concise mottos that further advanced the redemptive theme. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the same types of images fueled photojournalism. The cameras again captured many homemade signs declaring, “America will overcome.” Journalists, like those writing for Time magazine, elaborated on such sentiments: “So much that was precious has died, but as though in a kind of eternal promise, something new has been born. We are seeing it in our nation and sensing it

180

|

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

in ourselves, a new faith in our oldest values, a rendezvous with grace.”25 Newsweek’s headline boldly announced, “We Shall Overcome.”26 The photojournalistic coverage of 9/11 also resembled that of the Oklahoma City bombing as cameras documented the massive wreckage. There was no shortage of pictures recording the damage to the World Trade Centers. In addition, the cameras zoomed in on first responders, especially the firefighters, who were heralded as heroes. The cameras also locked on ordinary citizens supporting one another in tearful embraces. And like the news images documenting the Oklahoma City tragedy, the 9/11 photojournalism pivoted between various American flags— those familiar symbols of nationhood. Reflecting the flag-raising famously depicted at Iwo Jima, news photos circulating a few hours after the attack on the World Trade Center celebrated three New York City firemen accomplishing the same at Ground Zero. Long after they finished, news cameras remained committed to showing that a large American flag was still standing at Ground Zero. They also focused on the miniature American flags dotting makeshift memorials. In addition, the news images presented the flags flying half-staff above the nation’s capitol building and elsewhere around the country, while sampling the speeches of the president and other political leaders who proudly foretold America’s triumphant destiny. In 2013, when two bombs detonated in a fatal explosion at the crowded Boston Marathon, news reporting reminded Americans that they had triumphed before. The CNN reporting on the Boston Marathon invoked memories of prior American adversity in a story entitled, “A Flashback to Oklahoma City Bombing,” which maintained that the current bombing had many parallels to the 1995 bombing. Reflecting on the past, the reporting warned, “That day does not define us, even if it has become a part of our story. Through the years, we have moved on.” With more than a nod to the current struggle, it concluded, “We are not victims. We are survivors, and we have thrived.”27 Setting the stage for another rebound, the accompanying news pictures showed a large impromptu memorial in Boston’s Copley Square, where people paused to pray among an assortment of miniature American flags. Further emphasizing the country’s collective response, a photo caption added, “Nation mourns Boston bomb victims.” Other images of

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 181

makeshift memorials, full of miniature American flags, carried captions optimistically instructing viewers that they are evidence of America’s “resilience and heart.”28 The cameras also favored vigils where citizens sang “God Bless America” or posted homemade signs promulgating the same uplifting message. The Boston Marathon’s news coverage created a prominent role for those who were named heroes. One of the most widely used images of the marathon bombing included the so-called cowboy hero—an image that captured a bystander, Carolos Arredondo, rescuing an injured runner. Arredondo was described in the news reporting as “wearing a cowboy hat like some Western hero.”29 As told in many news reports about this man, after the first bomb went off, he leapt towards a young man who was left amid a large pool of blood and several severed limbs. As a second bomb exploded nearby, Arredondo tried to stop the runner’s profuse bleeding by applying tourniquets to what remained of his legs. Along with others who had come to help, Arredondo eased him into a wheelchair and pushed him to a waiting ambulance. A photograph of Arredondo pushing the runner in a wheelchair was published in many news outlets, but it was often cropped to edit out the leg wound and create a sanitized and exultant version of heroism. Another frequently used image of the Boston Marathon bombing, which has been referred to as the “fallen runner,” captured a grey-haired, wiry man who was tossed to the ground by the blast. He is shown unbloodied and seemingly unharmed looking up at several police officers in wide stances, pivoting into action (figure 11.2.). After the Boston Globe ran the image, it was tweeted twenty-three hundred times that evening and later appeared on national television and the front page of dozens of newspapers. The runner, knocked off his feet, was another high-profile image of vulnerability that represented American tragedy without revealing the intractable finiteness of death. Like other images of its kind, it depicted victims as dazed or distressed, but clearly alive. Images of life continued to dominate throughout the coverage as the news began distributing family portraits and casual snapshots of the deceased smiling when still alive. When photojournalism referenced the deceased, it did so obliquely through these pictures, which presented the victims when they were thriving vivaciously, long before the

182

| Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

Figure 11.2. This photo is regarded as an iconic image of the Boston Marathon bombing. Despite representing an event causing death and serious injury, this image is depicting neither. Photo credit: Boston Globe.

newsworthy event. The reporting described their personality, their likes and dislikes, favorite pastimes, and achievements. Through the same memorializing rituals, the news media had honored the individual lives of those killed by the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 terrorist attacks, and other violent attacks on Americans. Using words and pictures, news narratives also revive the redemptive story when reporting on America’s natural disasters, like the tornado that hit the small towns of Illinois in 2015, the mudslide that deluged Washington State in 2014, and the tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013. The powerful 2013 tornado, called “the storm of storms,” packed winds of up to 210 miles per hour with fatal consequences for many, including elementary school children. In response, the headlines focused on the mounting death toll, while the accompanying images showed the destruction to buildings and other objects. Once again, as relayed by the news accounts, the U.S. president issued a redemptive call to rebuild stronger. Emphasizing the regenerative value of tragedy, the news coverage of Moore specifically highlighted President Obama’s claim that Americans “work through disasters like

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

| 183

this, and come out stronger on the other side.” Speaking of the altered landscapes with empty spaces where schools and homes once stood, he stressed a future filled with much “love and laughter and community.”30 He added, “Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today,” and he vowed, “We will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.” The accompanying news images showed Moore’s residents hugging President Obama and one another, further strengthening the message of fellowship. A picture that ran in news coverage across the country offered an obvious reference to redemptive salvation when it revealed two young survivors—girls standing amid a large pile of rubble, with bricks and wood piled behind them a dozen feet high. One of the girls holds a doll while the other solemnly presses her hands together in prayer. In other heavily symbolic pictures, news images revealed the American flag, standing among large piles of wreckage, signaling a nation’s undefeatable resolve. Indeed, the image of the American flag still flying amid flattened environs continues to be a favorite in anniversary news coverage marking the event. (See the example from CNN in figure 11.3.)31 During news coverage of Moore, schoolteachers were hailed as the heroes. In a story entitled “Educators Emerge as Heroes,” NBC’s Today

Figure 11.3. This photo, depicting the physical destruction of Moore, Oklahoma, from a tornado in 2013, was used by the news industry to convey the “American spirit.”

184

| Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

reported online how, as the tornado ripped the roof off the Plaza Towers Elementary School, a “teacher threw her body over” students; she was credited with saving their lives.32 Elaborating on the theme of heroism, the news reporting also described how a man worked to rescue a teacher stuck beneath a car that landed in the front hallway of one of the schools. The man praised the teacher: “ ‘I don’t know what that lady’s name is, but she had three little kids underneath her. Good job, teach,’ ” he said, breaking into tears.33 The reporting also sampled President Obama saluting these heroes: “the teachers who shielded with their own bodies their students.” Teachers were also highlighted as heroes during the earlier Newtown massacre, and news reports on the Oklahoma teachers reflected on this parallel. “Teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., also risked their lives to put their students first and save them from the gunman who stormed the school last December,” recounted a news story about Moore. Amplifying the message, the news images from Moore showed teachers carrying children, or kneeling by their side, holding their hands and comforting them. Despite the media attention given to the teachers in Moore, there was still room for the standard images of first responders. One widely used image documented first responders pulling an alert girl from wreckage. Meanwhile, those victims with less fortunate outcomes remained unseen as search teams rushed against the clock, looking for other victims along a path of destruction two miles wide and seventeen miles long.

Coverage of Our Kind America is fortunate to have avoided some large-scale tragedies, but they do occur. When they do, they release a so-called media storm, inspiring intense coverage with stories running prominently. The words used in this reporting are relatively comprehensive, and they are accompanied by many pictures, but their images strictly limit what they will reveal. As discussed earlier in this book (especially in chapter 7), when death makes the news, different roles are frequently assigned to words and pictures, but during coverage of large American tragedies, this disunion

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

185

between words and pictures is exacerbated. The larger the American death toll, the greater the division of labor. In accounts of media ethics, many have defended this division of labor, and even idealized it. “Frankly, hearing about violence is the least we can do to remain connected with our fellow citizens, our kin, who experience such tragedy,” warned a pastor of an American Baptist church when preaching about media ethics.34 But key qualifications followed: “Pictures may not always be appropriate.”35 For this variety of media ethics, with its decidedly tribal notions of kinship, words describing the death of a fellow citizen are thought to advance this national goal, but related pictures are felt to threaten it. For many Americans, including those working for the press, words communicating explicitly about a national tragedy are important, even ethically imperative, yet the pictures are anything but. In news coverage of major international tragedies, the corpse is shown because it is considered part of an editor’s noble pursuit to reveal the magnitude of loss. In contrast to the domestic coverage that revels in the heroes, whether in the form of teachers (like those responding to the Newtown massacre or a storm in Moore), firefighters (as was the case with the 9/11 Twin Tower coverage), or other first responders, news coverage of foreign crises habitually neglects the role of the hero, along with other staples of the redemptive narrative. There is a notable absence of flags and other symbols of a nation’s strength. There is also no place for talking about a nation that “prevails.” In the accounting of foreign tragedies, a dire narrative unravels. In this context, certain positive attributes may seem like mostly American traits because, through words and pictures, we build national narratives distinguishing ourselves from others.

Summary: How Size Matters According to industry accounts, high death tolls compel the news media to picture death; the “magnitude” of a tragedy is said to demand this kind of frankness. Andrew Alexander, the ombudsman at the Washington Post, contends that corpse images are necessary when “trying to capture the reality” of an event where many lives are taken.36

186

|

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

Kenneth Irby, who works as an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, concedes that photojournalism must “share the harsh realities around the world.”37 Many others have also argued that, when covering a massive tragedy, photojournalism needs these images, but when this proposition is tested, we find that it fails. Whereas nearly all corpse images of foreign victims do indeed represent a major tragedy, the biggest domestic tragedies win a virtual ban on these images. Only among news coverage of international events does a large death toll foretell the use of corpse images. The “hardest-hitting” images are considered commensurate with tragedies abroad, but they are the least likely to be judged newsworthy when the terror strikes home. The American corpse is most likely to be seen during news coverage of a relatively minor death event that killed one person, or just a few, and provokes relatively little news coverage. Among the corpse images depicting American current events, almost all represent an incident killing fewer than five individuals. Many of these fatal incidents include unusual, local events—like the woman crushed when the wall of her apartment collapsed, and the man killed by an exploding ice machine. These deaths do not resonate with a sense of national importance. They are local news anecdotes representing actuarial oddities, and the magnitude of the loss is relatively minor, but the victim’s bodies are shown. When cameras cover large American tragedies, they document many things besides death itself. They show the collapsed buildings or other signs of disorder before pivoting to the bewildered citizens who represent a “shocked” nation that struggles to make sense of what happened. Heroes are shown rising to action, with the promise of restoring order to disorder. Soon after, a rush of images document makeshift memorials overflowing with crosses, candles, teddy bears, flowers, and miniature flags. The news cameras prioritize the large American flag flying on top of a capitol building, and they revel in those flags defiantly upright upon a pile of debris, as yet another symbol of enduring national strength. The cameras also pause on distraught citizens joining one another in a rendition of “God Bless America” as well as their homemade signs calling for Americans to “Be Strong” and “Prevail.” When many Americans are killed, photojournalism avoids picturing the futility of the corpse, that potentially terrifying or demoralizing image that could seemingly flatten the nation’s self-image. Even during

Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

|

187

coverage of open-casket services, the news media keep the body out of sight. The corpse images are repeatedly judged incongruous with the larger story because, as industry insiders stress, photojournalism must now share a “positive” image. Therefore, instead of documenting the finality of death itself, the pictures reveal transitory moments: moments of provisional vulnerability that ripen the appeal of heroes and an ultimately triumphant national narrative. Unlike the corpse, a broken building can be rehabilitated. So too can the victim who is merely injured or upset. Property can be restored, injuries can mend, and spirits can be uplifted, just like the American flag. We see what is damaged but can be fixed—the signs of redeemable victimage.

12

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

In the summer of 2013 and the spring of 2017, when a Syrian civil war included toxic gas attacks, American news media responded with news coverage that showed many of the dead. A Huffington Post journalist concluded that an image of a dead Syrian “says more than any description of the scene could.”1 Similarly, a 2014 New York Times article discussing pictures of victims killed in the ongoing Gaza conflict reverently explained that “we all know a picture is worth many, many words.”2 After Christmas of 2004, when the New York Times ran a picture of a grieving mother among a number of babies killed by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, editor Daniel Okrent also praised the “surpassing power” of pictures. The news industry considered these postmortem pictures to be highly newsworthy, and not coincidentally, each of them revealed foreign victims. When editors explained why each was newsworthy, they made arguments that contradict what they otherwise claim about the postmortem picture. Whereas corpse photos are often condemned as representing all that is immoral within the news industry, the above pictures were, paradoxically, said to be a necessary part of news coverage, and even an ideal form of it. As editors reverse their usual position, things come full circle for a select few images of death that are prized, rather than penalized as pornography. Picture power is once again celebrated. Contradicting the routine contention that postmortem pictures have potently negative effects (as detailed in chapter 6), a certain few images are now believed to accomplish great things. These exceptions are honored for having an unsurpassed influence on how we feel, think, and, ultimately, act. More specifically, they are described as uniquely skilled at triggering our emotions and awakening our moral consciousness, which then informs public opinion and advances policy, thereby galvanizing humanitarian progress. Most dramatically, these images are thought to save lives and change the course of history. In short, they are judged to 188

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

189

be a noble catalyst for justice. Calls for censoring the postmortem picture are suddenly replaced with demands that we look.

Acclaimed Images: The Case of Syria When photojournalists documented the deaths of many Syrian children from toxic gas attacks, the images were immediately granted legitimacy. Television broadcasts and websites led with these videos while large photographs spanned the columns of front pages and home pages. Small children lay dead on the hospital floor and in the arms of parents. This break from the typical, restrained imagery inspired many to explain why they judged these pictures newsworthy and even “necessary.” The postmortem pictures from Syria were widely valued for sharing proof. Reporters repeatedly referred to the “visual evidence” and considered these images essential to the “record of what happened” because they objectively “demonstrate the full scope of this disaster.”3 Readers often shared this conclusion. A Los Angeles Times reader commented, “To those of us who want to know what’s really going on in the world, the photo was the best evidence available.” The news industry explained that the pictures were valuable not only for their factual accuracy but for their thorough accounting as well. Compared to words, the images of dead Syrians were judged superior because they seemed more revealing. A Huffington Post article entitled “Syrian Mother Hugs Dead Children after Alleged Gas Attack” discussed a CBS News video, contending that it “says more than any description of the scene could.”4 These pictures were described as “the most vital part of the story”5 because they “are more telling than any words.”6 Compared to words, the postmortem pictures were also said to have a greater influence on memory, leading some to conclude that the images of dead Syrians will never be forgotten because of their emotional impact. The New York Times and New Yorker, respectively, summarized the images as “memorable”7 and “indelible.”8 Reuters reported that after viewing a thirteen-minute video of Syrian fatalities, Senator Harry Reid exclaimed, “Pictures taken following the dropping of those horrible weapons, I will never get that out of my mind.”9 In addition, the news media praised images of dead Syrian children because they “brought home the horror”—that magical ability to

190

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

transport us into another reality. The reader’s representative at the Los Angeles Times, Deirdre Edgar, explained that editors considered the Syrian image of dead children newsworthy because it could help us experience “the horror.”10 The Huffington Post also included pieces applauding how they provoked “horror.”11 In these accounts, the ability of a news image to viscerally involve us in the tragedy is an accomplishment because it lets us share in an important but remote reality. Many also argued that the images of dead Syrians would have a decidedly positive impact, including humanitarian benefits. The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott argued that “[i]mages of children suffering form the ultimate emotional argument, compelling us to move from sentiment to action, from the particular to the universal, from passivity to engagement.”12 For the same reasons, President Obama implored the public to look at these pictures. In a public speech, he pleaded, “The images from this massacre are sickening. Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath.” Because of their ability to inspire disgust, anguish, and outrage, they seemed promising. In response to the 2016 gas attacks in Syria, President Trump credited the “horrible” pictures for upsetting him and pushing him to act. (After viewing them for hours on cable news, he launched dozens of cruise missiles.) Pictures of the dead Syrian children were widely compared to iconic news images that are believed to have affected the course of history. A long essay in the New York Times compared them to iconic images of other imperiled children, including the picture of a vulture lurking near the starving African child (by Kevin Carter in 1993) and the naked Vietnamese girl running down the road after a napalm attack (by Nick Ut in 1972).13 The Syrian pictures were also aligned with several other iconic pictures, including images of the Holocaust, the street corner execution during the Vietnam War era, and others that have purportedly turned the political tide. The comparisons flattered the Syrian images because iconic images, by definition, represent ideal forms of the news. They were placed in good company, with other images repeatedly endorsed as “changing the world.”14 Sharing in their glory, the images from Syria seem similarly poised to improve destinies. Because iconic images are credited with accomplishing great things, the pictures of dead Syrian children were thus judged not only legitimate but ethically imperative.

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

191

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan believed the Syrian pictures were “capable of changing the narrative, possibly affecting the course of history,”15 and she concluded that the postmortem pictures therefore had “essential importance.” The Washington Post similarly endorsed the way these images would soon be “stirring some Western capitals into action.”16 Susan Moeller, an expert in media and international affairs, maintained that these pictures of Syrian bodies “not only served to confirm the use of poison gas but served to rally the world.”17 These kinds of pictures that look death square on were repeatedly judged necessary to “stop further suffering.”18

Inconceivable Images: The Case of Newtown Although American presidents, along with many pundits, implored us to look at images of the Syrian children killed, it is hard to imagine them urging us to look at pictures of dead American children. Indeed, many consider it unethical to even consider picturing dead American children. In contrast to the accolades given the pictures from Syria, the mere possibility that the news would document the death of children domestically can seem despicable or even absurd. The CNN pundit Roland Martin inspired indignation when he pondered the great many American deaths from firearms and argued that postmortem images of the victims could be newsworthy. The absence of such images during news coverage of the all- too-familiar school shootings across the country provoked Martin to consider the alternative. In a 2012 opinion essay, he contended that we should see the carnage from a massacre that was currently triggering highly sanitized images: “In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting, we have seen numerous photos of the beautiful, smiling faces of the 20 children and six adults slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. . . . Americans want to remember them as vibrant and funloving children.”19 Martin then argued that parents of the children killed should release the crime scene photographs of the children’s bullet-ridden bodies because the pictures could “actually shake the conscience of America to do something about how they were gunned down in the classroom.” He believed the terrifying pictures could serve for good, and shared the

192

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

same kinds of arguments that others made about the Syrian postmortem pictures. For example, he reasoned that the emotionally disturbing images would promote political change. Martin offered a well-intentioned argument about raising consciousness and advancing political action for victims, but it only ignited fury. Martin’s argument triggered rageful, ad hominem attacks. He was denounced as “sick” and “mentally ill.”20 Some called him “vermin” and other insulting names. One commentator offered a few rhetorical questions: “How do you look at yourself in the mirror after writing that piece? Do you get ill? I get ill just tweeting you.”21 Yet another concluded, “You don’t get much less human than this.”22 Invectives personally targeted Martin, often avoiding his arguments, as if they were too offensive to debate, or simply unfathomable. Those who managed to respond to Martin’s argument claimed that there was absolutely no justification for showing a dead child in the news. Denouncing the idea categorically, one pundit sputtered, “This whole concept is absolutely disgusting, and it is beyond despicable. . . . beyond poor taste. “23 Interestingly, she described the possibility of picturing a postmortem body as just a “concept,” as if it was a hypothetical abstraction, rather than a reality. Her response implied that the press had never published postmortem photographs and added, “Even the suggestion paints horrific mental images for everyone. . . . [I]t was cruel insensitivity at its worst.”24 Apparently, an imaginary image, just the mere idea of it, angered a public that seemed unaware that photojournalism does actually publish these kinds of images. As illustrated by our the reactions to the Syrian images, the postmortem picture, even when depicting children, can actually be viewed as “necessary” and “noble.” Speaking of the widely published photos of dead Syrian children, Kira Pollack, director of photography and visual enterprise at Time, argued, “I think when we see pictures of children it just brings a whole new layer of reality to the situation.”25 Crediting the “sheer raw impact” of seeing dead children, she reflected, “[I]t is a real wake-up call.” It is precisely these kinds of appraisals that become virtually impossible in the context of American tragedy. In turn, many considered Martin’s argument deeply unethical and called for him to be fired. Although the reason was not clearly indicated, CNN did indeed fire him a few weeks later.

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

193

Frightening Facts Revealed When covering the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, American news media overcame their usual inhibitions and ran several corpse images. One published picture showed a man with only small hand tools trying to rescue a teacher trapped within rubble. To his side, a schoolgirl was lifeless at her desk, with blocks of concrete pinning down her neck. Some other pictures revealed corpses on the ground, coated in dust, while survivors walked by; men denounced as “looters” shot dead on the street; and a pile of bodies in a cart on its way to the morgue. A picture taken at the central morgue in Port-au-Prince showed a man mourning the death of his ten-month-old daughter, lying in her diaper atop a heap of bodies. Newspapers of varying size, including the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times, Birmingham News, Lincoln Journal Star, and New York Times, decided to show Haiti’s horrific loss. Meanwhile, plenty of photojournalists, editors, and professional media commentators marveled at the ability of these postmortem pictures to capture the disturbing truth. Kenneth Irby, leader of the visual journalism group at the Poynter Institute in Florida, defended these images from Haiti as “raw, truthful.” A photo editor at the Miami Herald justifying his newspaper’s decision to show dead Haitians explained that such images help the industry fulfill its documentary objectives: “We must act with sensitivity but, more importantly, our mission is to create a complete and accurate visual report.”26 The Washington Post ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, commended these images because “[j]ournalism is about truth, and the horrific images convey reality.”27 The New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt also honored these images for their veracity. As Hoyt explained, “Every disaster that produces horrific scenes of carnage presents photographers and their editors with the challenge of telling the unsanitized truth.” Corpse images were similarly interpreted to reveal “the facts” in the fall of 2013, when sixty-one lost their lives while shopping at an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Masked gunman wearing combat fatigues arrived shooting assault rifles and launching grenades, killing dozens immediately and taking more hostage during a four-day siege. In the end, six Kenyan soldiers and five attackers were also killed. The event was

194

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

described as the worst act of terrorism in Kenya since the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998.28 Although many nationalities were included among the dead, no Americans were killed, and the U.S. news images covering the tragedy did depict dead bodies. Online, the New York Times published several corpse images created by Tyler Hicks, a staff photojournalist, who arrived at the mall shortly after the attack began. The New York Times incorporated the images into various formats, including a home page slide show, an interview with Hicks, and also a video in which Hicks discusses how and why he created these images.29 The video, appropriately entitled “Documenting a Massacre in Kenya,” shows lifeless and bloody bodies while arguing that the photojournalist’s role is documentary. Hicks describes his profession’s goal as making “honest and true pictures” and while reflecting on the mall’s violent deaths Hicks admits, “It’s difficult to grasp that reality, but at the same time you have to focus on making a document of what’s going on around you.” Because the corpse images from the mass shooting were viewed as serving a documentary function, other American news outlets also considered them legitimate. In an essay about photojournalistic coverage of the Bosnian war, the New York Times again argued that corpse images provide important proof.30 The essay described an accompanying image of a soldier kicking a dead man, while recounting the bravery of the photojournalist who took the picture: On a cool spring day at the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, Ron Haviv watched Serbian paramilitary soldiers pull a middle-aged Muslim couple from their home in Bijeljina. Shots rang out, and although members of the Arkan Tigers militia had warned him not to take photographs, Mr. Haviv stepped behind a truck and squeezed off a few frames. It wasn’t the first time he had witnessed an execution, but he had promised himself that if there was nothing he could do to stop it, he would never let another pass without at least getting visual evidence. The soldiers shot the woman as she knelt over her dying husband. They brought another woman out of the house and shot her, too.

In this account, the pictures of the dead are considered a tribute to the photojournalist’s professional commitment—his dedication to “getting

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

195

visual evidence.”31 “It was my job,” contends the photographer, Haviv, “to document what I saw.” He was talking specifically about his pictures of people killed in the Bosnian war, but the essay also emphasized the point more generally, stressing that any “photojournalists’ role is to document what they see.”32 When corpses from a foreign country appear in the news, the pictures are likely to be commended precisely because they relay the horrible facts. We applaud these images for boldly and undeniably revealing a terrible event. Explaining the value of the photographs revealing dead victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, the New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt announced that readers are “grateful for the shocking pictures, even as they were deeply troubled by them.”33 He shared the example of a reader, Mary Louise Thomas of Palatka, Florida, who saw their photo of a baby lying on her dead mother. She wrote to the Times that the image “caused her to cry out, ‘Oh, my God!’ and to sob for an hour. ‘But run from it? Never,’ she said.” The picture was decidedly distressing to the reader, and also valued precisely because it was “staring truth in the face.” Seeing this image, Thomas became deeply afflicted, but rather than avert her eyes to emotionally protect herself, she judged it important to embrace the picture’s pain. In cases like those sampled above, we commend postmortem pictures for embodying the journalistic imperative to document “like it is.” But only some pictures will be legitimized as part of the “unsanitized truth” because this evaluation depends on who has died. Of course, pictures of American massacres also document the facts. Indeed, the camera’s technology objectively copies and accurately relays any event, but this argument is immediately abandoned when mass tragedy strikes America. Instead, we reverse our rhetorical course, returning to the more common contention (presented in chapter 6) that the corpse picture provides no information, as if it is stripped of facts.

Images Said to Offer Accountability When we laud a foreign corpse picture, we praise not only its ability to document facts, which is valuable for the sake of knowledge itself, but also its capacity to morally commit viewers. Described as taking a necessary step in the fight against injustice, these corpse photos are

196

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

credited with forging a social contract between the victims and the rest of us, who know of their misfortune because we have looked. As a consequence of looking, we are made accountable. This accountability is believed to enable a solution because, as summarized in the book Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change, the photograph of misfortune “captures it, freezes it, and immortalizes it so it becomes evidence of the crime, showing the thing that has to be corrected.”34 The images are described as not merely educating us but enlightening us to the point that, with our heightened consciousness, we collectively demand a response. Reflecting on his pictures of a foreign disaster, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Damon Winter explained that “I do whatever I can to try and make our readers understand just how dire the situation is here.”35 The Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Patrick Farrell also highlighted the ability of corpse images to help audiences grasp the truth about foreign tragedies: “If you don’t see it for yourself, or in pictures, you won’t believe it. It just won’t register.”36 A journalist agreed that without an image of death itself, a massive death toll abroad is “incomprehensible.”37 Relatedly, a photojournalist reflecting on some of his published pictures of foreign corpses remarked, “What we do as photographers is to attempt to create a body of evidence to hold people accountable.”38 The pictures were credited with allowing “the world” to see what the tragedy “actually looked like.” The news industry thus promoted these photographs as globally enhancing responsibility because it seemed that anyone who saw them would be made answerable. As an example of an image prized for its purported ability to raise consciousness, a blood-splattered Afghan girl stands rigid and screaming among a pile of bodies that includes other children (figure 12.1). They were killed by a suicide bomber’s attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul. At the time, the picture marked the deadliest attack on Afghanistan’s capital in three years. The bombing, which occurred on a holy holiday, killed eighty people and injured 150. The image was reproduced widely throughout the American news media, appearing on many home pages and front pages because editors judged it capable of enlightening us about the plight of an imperiled group. The photographer was also quoted defining his picture as “a voice for the painful life and moments which people have here.”39 This pho-

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

197

Figure 12.1. This image, and a variation, made the front pages of multiple news outlets on December 7, 2011. Although postmortem pictures are typically censored for being pornographic, this one was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and judged capable of accomplishing great feats.

tograph was awarded a Pulitzer Prize by a panel of judges who similarly viewed it as a promoter of justice. Sig Gissler, the Pulitzer administrator, described the photograph as “a picture you will long remember.”40 As envisioned, this image would be a strong, enduring advocate. When he was reflecting on the decision by the New York Times to run a picture of a grieving mother among a number of babies killed by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, public editor Daniel Okrent considered it to be an ideal image because it grabbed our attention, and persistently so. He explained that these kinds of pictures “seize the microphone, and if they’re good, they don’t let go.”41 Okrent praised the compelling way that these bold images of death grip us, commanding us to confront the tragedy. But when the tragedy is an American one, these kinds of images vanish because we attribute no such value to them.

198

| The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

Transporting Images Using various metaphors about travel, the news industry credits the foreign corpse photo as a means of effectively erasing the space between us and those who suffer many miles away, intimately connecting and uniting humanity. When commenting on images of corpses documenting various crises abroad, a pundit for the news industry, Kenneth Irby, pleads, “We need to be able to understand and . . . more fully appreciate the magnitude of the events that happen around the world. And photography gives us that vicarious appreciation.”42 He added, “It is not the reality, but it’s the closest interpretation of that, both in still photographs and in video, that we as citizens who can’t be there, can appreciate because of the transporting quality of photography.” This kind of picture is said to somehow traverse a great physical distance, until it “hits home.”43 Margaret Sullivan, at the New York Times, contends that images documenting deaths abroad have “brought home the horror in a way that words never could.”44 Hoyt, another public editor, similarly concludes that, during international crises, images of dead bodies have brought us intimately “face to face with tragedy.”45 These pictures are believed to “bear personal witness to injustice,” as if each viewer is made physically present, or as if a “vector [is] connecting the different realities of people around the world.”46 Audiences also believe that when one is not present to personally witness the reality, the international news photograph documenting distant death helps accomplish virtually the same effect. After the Asian tsunami, a national survey polled Americans about the appropriateness of a news image showing the dead tsunami victims. The majority of respondents agreed that such a picture is newsworthy because it helped Americans identify with the faraway victims. They expressed gratitude for the ability of an image like this to merge lives “that are worlds away.”47 Although the transporting effect is described as an accomplishment of foreign corpse pictures, it is also why many condemn images documenting American bodies. As discussed earlier in this book, the domestic images are criticized for violent intrusions, or pornographic violations transgressing private boundaries, because the viewer is granted an intimate view. Denouncing a very rare instance when a U.S. newspaper ran a picture of a dead American, a national columnist complained, “The

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

| 199

result was that newspaper readers across the country were made to feel as if they were present at the scene.” He warned, “It seems to me that this kind of thing is a gross invasion of privacy. . . . [T]he entire country was allowed to intrude at that moment.”48 When the news camera dares to directly document a domestic death, the transporting effect is deemed unethical.

The Noble Catalyst During the Vietnam War, a now iconic image was taken in December 1969 by a military photographer, Ronald Haeberle. The photo, which became known as “And Babies?” documented the My Lai Massacre. It showed the tangled bodies of several women and children, including infants (figure 12.2). These victims were some of the hundreds of villagers who, in acts of war crimes, had been killed by U.S. troops. The photo first appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Soon after, many other newspapers ran the image, including the

Figure 12.2. Like other foreign corpse photos that have been published, this photo of the My Lai Massacre has been credited with saving lives. Some postmortem pictures are believed to aid humanity.

200

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

New York Post and the New York Times. They were also seen nationally in the December 1969 issue of Life magazine.49 Days later, a poster focusing on this image was widely distributed as a symbol of U.S. war crimes. For decades now, this and other images of fatal violence during the Vietnam War have been reprinted and described as powerfully shifting American military policy. Several books, with telling titles like The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed our Lives50 and Photography Changes Everything,51 credit these images with “creating widespread disillusionment over the U.S. role in the war.”52 The images are celebrated for ending a war and preventing many more deaths. News editors, ombudsmen, and media pundits commonly make similar arguments when reflecting on the value of contemporary foreign corpse pictures. In a 2010 Washington Post blog, the ombudsman Andrew Alexander hailed the paper’s recent decision to publish postmortem pictures from abroad by comparing them to images from the Vietnam War that, even when gruesome, “can influence public opinion.”53 He explained, “That was certainly the case in 1968 when photojournalist Eddie Adams captured the moment when a South Vietnamese general executed a suspected Viet Cong leader on the streets of Saigon.” To emphasize his point, he added, “The execution galvanized opposition to the war in the United States.” Other leaders within the news industry have also concluded that contemporary foreign corpse pictures, like older iconic ones, change minds and motivate the political change needed to spare lives.54 Reflecting on the importance of a foreign corpse photo from the Iraq War, the Reuters bureau chief in Iraq, Andrew Marshall, described it as “worthwhile” because “[i]t can bring about change. It can inform the world.”55 When explaining his motivation for taking pictures of a corpse in Bosnia that appeared in the U.S. news, a photojournalist admitted, “I was hoping to prevent the war.” Although this reflection allows that these photographs sometimes fall short, having less effect than imagined, it also reveals our faith that such images can accomplish impressive political feats. Foreign corpse pictures are also credited specifically with generating financial assistance for victims. For example, the American Journalism Review contends that news images of dead Haitians killed in the huge

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

201

2010 earthquake had desirable economic effects: “The more images of unimaginable suffering were published, the more international aid poured in.”56 Although other factors could have influenced aid, leaving the image effects unclear, it is believed that “graphic photographs made clear the depth of the tragedy and fostered support for rebuilding the devastated island nation.”57 The Miami Herald executive editor, Anders Gyllenhall, also argued that, following the Haitian disaster, these corpse images explain “what’s happening” in a way that inspires “the rest of the world to help with the recovery.”58 The cultural critic for the Washington Post suggested even grander effects from these postmortem pictures, positing that “the camera is recording something elemental that will affect everything to do with the future of this troubled country.”59 As another example, the Indian Ocean tsunami also triggered claims that postmortem pictures generate charitable giving. A reader offered that “[t]he value of the pictures of the tsunami has been shown in the worldwide wave of donations to charities promising to spend the money helping people like the grief-stricken woman in the picture.” He added, “I do not believe that words alone, or pictures of flattened buildings, would have prompted such spontaneous and abundant generosity, or anything much like it.”60 Making this point, a New York Times reader rhetorically asked, “How else can you motivate or inspire someone like me to donate money?”61 Regardless of the actual effect that a news image may have, the conviction that benefits do exist appears to apply only to pictures documenting death abroad. We fail to see promise in making similar images of Americans.

The Sin of Omission “Wouldn’t you want us to show pictures from Auschwitz if the gates were opened in our time?”62 This was the rhetorical question posed by the New York Times’ director of photography, Michele McNally, when talking with Times public editor Daniel Okrent. The New York Times had recently published images of dead bodies in Sri Lanka, and they both agreed that it was important to share these pictures because they “bear witness.” Framed in these historically important terms, a contemporary picture documenting dead bodies seems to represent the best that the news industry can aspire towards.

202

|

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

Comparisons to the Holocaust also suggest that it is unethical not to look. Reflecting on the value of photographs documenting Nazi genocide, an award-winning photojournalist, Ron Haviv, argued that his contemporary pictures showing dead victims, share an ethical imperative: “I’ve now documented three genocides—Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur—and I look back to the lessons of the Holocaust, which were ‘never again.’ ” He stressed, “Nobody should be able to say they didn’t know what was happening.”63 He added that his pictures are still needed today “to produce an unflinching record of the injustices created and experienced by people.”64 The Holocaust images also served as a moral compass when the Washington Post and the New York Times justified the importance of showing the dead bodies after the Indian Ocean catastrophe and Haiti’s large earthquake. Speaking of the Holocaust images, ombudsman Andrew Alexander emphasized, “I still can’t get them out of my mind.” “That’s often a very good thing,” he added. “And I think sometimes when you view these images from Haiti, it’s not a bad thing that you dwell on them.” He emphasized that there is great utility to pictures that beg us “to think about the consequences or think about how we could prevent them in the future.” He concluded, “The wonderful thing about photography is that it is so evocative in a way that words can’t be. And I think it’s when we give thought to how we use it, it can be very, very powerful in a positive way.”65 Just as we hope that Nazi atrocity photos will never let us forget, pictures showing contemporary foreign fatalities can seem destined to be the next, intractable icon, where the horror depicted is “unforgettable.” When the news shows pictures of Syrian bodies, the images have been described as “haunting” as a way of complimenting their expected longterm psychological impact.66 Rick Shaw from Pictures of the Year International, predicted hopefully that the news pictures of a Syrian toddler dead on a beach would have long-lasting effects: “It’s something that will sear your mind for years to come.”67 In contrast, because of their lingering effect, domestic corpse photographs are actually critiqued for being “haunting” and “ghoulishly” inappropriate spectacles. In an essay contemplating why some images documenting those killed in the Iraq war are newsworthy, the Washington Post’s Michel du Cille also invoked Nazi atrocity images: “Pictures of bodies from World

The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

|

203

War II and the Nazi genocide, for instance, ‘that should be run. I mean, there’s no question.’ ”68 The dissemination of Nazi atrocity images is considered not only legitimate but ethically necessary, and the parallels asserted between these and newer images of tragedy suggest that photojournalism must still witness. Therefore, we reference the Holocaust— the ultimate symbol of needing to know and act—when we feel a moral obligation to rally the world in response to a foreign tragedy. When the camera’s image is couched in these historical terms, it seems unethical for the news not to picture the dead, and for the rest of us not to look.

Summary: Imagined Image Effects After publishing a picture of Afghan corpses in 2012, an editor at the Los Angeles Times explained that these kinds of images “fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially.”69 This is an honorable goal for the news profession. However, images of American corpses are typically censored by this paper, and other news outlets, because they are judged to fundamentally oppose such goals. When reporting on international crises, the news media consider postmortem pictures to be ethically necessary because they promise the emotional provocation needed to inspire solutions. An editor explaining why a photograph of a murder victim in Liberia seemed newsworthy noted, “The point of publishing horrific images is to anger, sadden, appall, help us mourn, teach us about the world, and make us feel compelled to act.”70 Because of their potential to help, pundits and audiences approve of these “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching” images.71 Given that these pictures are believed to “incite a demand for justice and change,”72 and ultimately save lives, their concealment risks the sin of omission. The news media will publish a foreign corpse picture because it is imagined to “move us”—to transport us to a remote reality, many miles away. It seems to magically collapse time and space to bring the audience “face to face” with a victim. Conversely, we do not imagine that the photo of American corpses has any unifying power; it does not add value by offering intimacy. Instead, a national columnist complains that such a picture is “a gross invasion of privacy” because millions are “allowed to intrude at that moment.”73 American tragedies seem to demand a wide visual buffer to keep death at a comfortable distance. In turn, when

204

| The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

Americans have perished, it is considered entirely inappropriate to use the camera to directly confront the loss.74 The ethical imperative to look is now sharply reversed. Repeatedly, with the force of faith, we conceive of some postmortem pictures as forces for good, and this conviction propels them into the public eye. Envisioned as an antidote to neglect and a goad towards action, some postmortem pictures are welcomed as precursors to morally noble interventions, including charitable, political, and military action, but whether these pictures actually have any such effects has not been established. Science cannot predict these outcomes, but with great conviction, we attribute stellar results to a select few pictures. With equal conviction we judge other pictures, which happen to depict dead Americans, as at best unnecessary, and at worst corrupting.

13

Victims Seeking Visibility

Two girls, ages twelve and fourteen, who were cousins living in a remote Indian village in 2014, were gang raped in a field and then hung by their colorful scarves from a large mango tree. Some American news media decided to visually document their death (figure 13.1). Others instead published images where the bodies were digitally removed or obscured by a haze. In yet other cases, editors cropped pictures of the event to remove the victims and permit a view of only the surrounding crowds. Although some editors did not want the dead girls to be seen, the next of kin felt otherwise; they believed that the girls’ deaths should be given attention. When the victims were found, their parents insisted that they remain hanging so that authorities would investigate and so that as many as possible could see what had happened. Community members gathered around the girls to witness their deaths, just as the parents had hoped they would. To attract wider attention, family members felt that the postmortem pictures should be published by local, national, and international news outlets. The father of the youngest girl clarified that he “didn’t have any problems in people taking the photographs; the problem is the thing that happened with our children.”1 Furthermore, he concluded, the images pressured the authorities to investigate the crime, which they had initially dismissed because the families were lower caste. He felt that without the media attention given to these pictures, the police would have refused to investigate at all. When an online article in the New York Times included the postmortem picture of the Indian girls hanging from a tree, the reporting discussed at length that family members valued the visibility the images permitted. However, in the online comment boxes, some readers adamantly opposed the image. One argued that, despite the published accounts to

205

206

| Victims Seeking Visibility

Figure 13.1. The father of the youngest Indian girl, who was raped and hung, explained that he was upset not by the photographs but by the killings. He also believed the documentation in this photo aided his fight for justice. Although Americans objected on his behalf, there is no consensus about whether photographs in this case proved harmful. Photo credit: Kuldeep Sharma.

the contrary, the family “wishes were to not publish the photos.” Because an alternative was inconceivable, the reader insisted that the picture was offensive to the families. Although family members wanted the news images to document their loss, American readers complained that they could not bear to look at the dead girls. Several readers announced that there was nothing to be gained by publishing these images.2 In fact, they argued that there was much to be lost and insisted that it was therefore wrong to show them.3 In academic circles, it has also been assumed that there is little value in this kind of visibility. In her book about news representations of victims, Carrie Rentschler suggests that news images make victims victims again, thus cruelly compounding the problem.4 Citing concerns for kin as well, she adamantly opposes these images, but those who speak on behalf of family members have ignored a more complicated truth. As several additional cases illustrate, those personally involved have felt that visibility can advocate for victims, rather than further their victimization.

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

207

A Classic Case: Emmett Till When the goal is to expose, rather than make invisible, postmortem news images have been valued by family and community members. In a classic case, a deeply distressed mother welcomed the press to show images of her dead son, which she hoped would bring attention to her loss and a great injustice. Her fourteen-year-old son, Emmett Till, had been killed in 1955 when he went to Mississippi to visit family. In a small grocery store, Till allegedly flirted with the married proprietor, a white woman. In the middle of the night, the woman’s husband and his brother went to the home where Till was staying and kidnapped him from his bed. They took him to a barn and beat him, gouged out an eye, blew off the back of his head with a gun, and then hung a seventypound cotton gin fan around his neck by barbed wire before dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. Shortly after, his body was found and retrieved, but it was disfigured so badly by the attack that he was unrecognizable and only identified by a ring he wore. Till’s body was returned to his grieving mother in Chicago, who decided to have an open-casket funeral. She instructed the mortician not to touch up his face so that, when her son was placed in an open casket, others could witness the violence. Tens of thousands of people viewed Till’s body in the mortuary, and days later, thousands more attended his funeral. The African American press published photographs documenting his mutilation, after being invited by his mother to do so. Meanwhile, mainstream news outlets around the country discussed race relations, but declined the pictures. The photograph of his corpse appeared in an issue of the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, and the American Negro: A Magazine of Protest, which quickly sold out. On September 15, 1955, Jet, a national African American magazine, published three detailed photographs of Till’s brutalized face along with the headline “Nation Horrified by Murder of Kidnapped Chicago Youth.” To keep up with demand, Jet had to reprint the issue. In one of the three images published by Jet, his mother stands, gazing down at her dead son. Two other images, taken with a bright light, provide extreme close-ups of his misshapen face, where even his eyelashes can be counted over his collapsed eye socket. His bloated cheeks bulge

208

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

and rolls of skin collect like melted wax around his chin. The teenager’s once thick hair is patchy, like that of a balding man. The caption reads, “close-up of lynch victim bears mute evidence of horrible slaying.” Explaining her decision to allow these images in the press and have an open-casket viewing, his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, explained, “I couldn’t bear the thought of people being horrified by the sight of my son. But on the other hand, I felt the alternative was even worse. After all,” she concluded, “we had averted our eyes for far too long, turning away from the ugly reality facing us as a nation.” With this, she made her decision: “Let the world see what I’ve seen.”5 Without the help of photographs, she feared that words alone would be insufficient: “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way.” Because of the brutality captured by the photographs, she believed the images would inspire fights against racial injustice, and almost immediately, the pictures published were described as having the effects intended. Although lynching was discussed by the press, the pictures themselves were credited for stirring “up such a burning desire for justice inside African Americans” while allowing the rest of the world “to witness with its own eyes the end result of vicious bigotry, [which] forced the nation to examine its conscience.”6 According to several accounts in mainstream and African American news media, the pictures galvanized the African American community,7 and they have been specifically credited with starting the civil rights movement, at least in Mississippi.8 To highlight their value, the publication of these pictures is said to have inspired a movement that spanned about a quarter of a century, starting in the early 1950s and lasting through the mid-1970s. The published pictures were described as “a call to action” for a generation of African Americans, whom sociologist Joyce Ladner referred to as the “Emmett Till Generation.” In Eyes on the Prize, a PBS documentary on civil rights, Charles Diggs, a former congressman from Detroit, described the Jet corpse photojournalism as “probably one of the greatest media products in the last 40 or 50 years because that picture stimulated a lot of anger on the part of blacks all over the country.”9 When Jet publisher John Johnson died in 2005, those reflecting on his career identified his decision to publish these pictures as his greatest professional moment.

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

209

The image is still vividly remembered today, prompting some to ask if similar pictures documenting contemporary violence against African Americans should be included in today’s news coverage. “Maybe if all Americans had to bear witness to such a photo, we would stop ignoring the violence” causing “massacres . . . in Chicago, New Orleans and other cities across this country.”10 Conceivably, this direct documentation of fatal gun violence could catalyze policy reform. In turn, the battle against invisibility may involve bolder news images.

The Black Lives Matter Movement Connecting the civil rights movement of the 1950s to the twenty-firstcentury Black Lives Matter movement, several African American scholars and activists have argued that in both cases “the camera has served as witness, provocateur and agent of change.”11 Reflecting on Black Lives Matter activism, the New York Times summarized that “the movement began with a single image: Michael Brown, lying face down on the asphalt, a stream of blood running from his head.”12 Following Brown’s 2014 death, the movement organized street demonstrations and became nationally recognized. On camera also in 2014, Eric Garner was suffocated to death by police officers on a Staten Island street while he gasped, “I can’t breathe.” Subsequently, several other news images helped focus the nation on a series of events in which police fatally shot unarmed black men and boys. The news documented the on-camera killing of Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, following a daytime traffic stop for a nonfunctioning brake light. Slager was charged with murder after the video surfaced contradicting his earlier police report. An eyewitness to the shooting had used his cell phone to record the killing. In the video, while the unarmed man was fleeing, the officer shot him eight times from behind. Scott was then seen lying motionless on the ground, where medics reported him dead. Scott’s mother said the video was the “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.” She recounted, “It just tore my heart to pieces,” and she recalled, “I almost couldn’t look at it to see my son running defenselessly, being shot.”13 Still, she and Scott’s father agreed that the news images were essential to justice because, without them, the injustice “would have never

210

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

come to light.” Scott’s father offered that law enforcement would have otherwise “swept it under the rug, like they did with so many others.” When it circulated widely in the news, family members stressed that they were deeply grateful for the attention the video provided their son’s death. As the family’s lawyer explained, when that video was created, it assured an otherwise unlikely justice.14 Because news editors could not anticipate the value that would be attributed to the video, they were initially squeamish about revealing the images documenting Scott’s death. Some editors superseded it with a warning about the “graphic” content even though the frames showed no gore or blood.15 The video was shot at a substantial distance, resulting in hazy, indistinct images. And yet, before the tide of public opinion swelled in support of the documentation, some viewers sharply disapproved of the decision to publish these images. They complained that these kinds of pictures illustrated the industry’s obsession with inappropriate pictures. However, as with Garner’s death, the visual documentation of Scott’s death was mostly described as strengthening the twenty-first-century’s civil rights movement precisely because it made death visible.16

“We Can’t Help Reality” Even in less politically charged circumstances, American families may not object to postmortem photojournalism. In the summer of 1985, a newspaper made the extremely unusual decision to publish a photograph of a dead American child. The Bakersfield Californian shared a photograph of Edward Romero, a five-year-old boy who had drowned when swimming in Hart Park Lake, and was now pictured lying in a body bag that was yet to be fully closed and left his face visible. In the picture, the boy’s father cries, kneeling beside the body. The boy’s brother and other family members stand over the body weeping with anguish. Eloy Romero, the boy’s father, explained later that he was griefstricken about the actual death and not the types of pictures published.17 A mother expressed similar sentiments when the news published a photograph of her twenty-four-year-old son, Army Spc. Travis Babbitt, in his last moments of life. The soldier was fatally injured while on patrol in Baghdad, during the Iraq War, and the camera caught the moment

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

211

after the ambush, when medics were rushing him to a field hospital, where his heart failed to beat again. Babbitt’s mother, Kathy Hernandez, acknowledged that it was hard to view the picture. “That is not an image you want to see. . . . Your kid is lying like that and there is no way you can get there to help them.”18 However, she emphasized that the image was still worth publishing. “I do think it’s an important thing, for people to see what goes on over there,” Hernandez explained. “It throws reality more in your face. And sometimes we can’t help reality.” Hernandez, along with other family members of American soldiers killed in war, have argued that the camera’s public and explicit documentation of their loss is a way to honor the sacrifice. But there is certainly no consensus on this point. John Ellsworth, who heads a group representing military families, explains that some do not want to the news to document the lives lost, even when in closed coffins.19 However, some “welcome cameras, wanting the world to see.”20 Indeed, there is no chance of agreement on the role cameras should play.

A Father Implores, “Give Me a Picture!” When U.S. news media included images of bodies left by Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, many viewers concluded that these pictures were further harming the victims. A newspaper reader reacted, “I feel that the people who have suffered the most are being spectacularized by your blood-and-gore photographs.”21 Some also described the pictures as “cruel” and as “unethical, unkind and inhumane.”22 However, Haitian survivors pleaded with photojournalists to take pictures of their dead loved ones. “This is my baby,” shouted a father to a Miami Herald photographer as he pushed through a crowd in hopes that the child’s demise would be documented by his camera (figure 13.2).23 “This is my baby! Give me a picture!” he pleaded, and then began crying as he cradled his five-year-old girl, Tamasha Jean. He wanted the camera to see and the world to take notice. The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Damon Winter had encountered several requests to document the bodies of family members when covering Haiti’s disaster. Winter recounted, “I have had so many people beg me to come to their home and photograph the

212

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

Figure 13.2. The father pictured begged the press to publicly document his dead child. Meanwhile, others argue that these kinds of images should be censored to protect kin. The caption explains, “Frantz Samedi holds his lifeless five-year-old daughter, Tamasha Jean, who died when Hurricane Ike’s flood waters swept children and the elderly from their homes in the small Haitian town of Cabaret in this September 7, 2008 photo.” Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, AP.

bodies of their children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers.” He added, “There are so many times that I have to apologize and say that I cannot, that I have photographed so many bodies already, and I think it breaks their hearts because they so desperately want people to know what has happened to them, what tremendous pain they are in, and that they desperately need help.”24 Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for photography at the New York Times, which sent half a dozen photojournalists to Haiti, surmised, “They wanted the world to see, to know how horrible it was.”25 Kenneth Irby, the leader of the visual journalism group at the Poynter Institute, who had been in touch with Haitians and had close family friends living in Haiti (who were unaccounted for at the time of the news coverage), also stressed that cameras were welcomed by “the actual loved ones, the bereaved.”26 Haitians who believed that their suffering should be seen sought out the camera’s representation more often than photojournalists could accommodate. In contrast, others not familiar with the situation, including many Americans, argued that these pictures should be censored precisely because the families needed to be protected.

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

213

Pleas to Keep Watching Recently on Twitter, some advocated banning a wide variety of images after a human rights activist reposted a picture of Ai Weiwei, a famous activist artist, reenacting a news image of a dead Syrian boy lying dead on a Turkish beach (figure 13.3).27 The original news images documenting the boy’s death (see example in chapter 1, figure 1.4) had inspired tributes around the world where activists used a variety of mediums, including spray-painted murals, massive sand sculptures, and their own bodies, to re-create the scene (figures 13.4 and 13.5). The image of Weiwei was shared by activists as another tribute to the refugees, but after seeing the news image of the prone artist, a woman objected, “[D]id you speak to his family before you used the dead child’s image?” An activist tried to explain that this was not a picture of the child, but instead an artist posing in the way the drowned child was found. Disregarding this distinction, the woman complained that “photos

Figure 13.3. This photograph, created by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei for one of the world’s largest news publications, was also reposted by activists using Twitter, such as Adriaan Hofstra, who posted the following on January 31: “To remind us of the rescue we aren’t providing, @aiww poses as #drowned refugee toddler. http://bit.ly/1Q2V9F5.”

Figure 13.4. Using sand sculptures, citizens around the world paid tribute to the Syrian toddler and other refugees killed.

Figure 13.5. Groups of concerned activists, like these Moroccans dressed in red t-shirts and denim shorts, lay down on beaches to invoke the image of the three-year-old Syrian refugee.28

214

Victims Seeking Visibility

| 215

of murdered kids” should not be published. She concluded, “Passing this around furthers their pain.” Presumably, she was concerned with protecting the surviving kin, who she insisted would be aided by bans against various types of images related to the tragedy. However, many surviving victims of the Syrian crisis wanted to increase visibility of those killed. For the survivors, large-scale circulation of pictures documenting the dead offered hope that witnessing will forge a social contract between Syrians and the rest of humanity. When Syrians were exterminated by large gas attacks, victim advocates supported the news images of dead children and selected them for use in public campaigns. After more than four hundred children perished in the 2013 gas attack, the Syrian Institute for Progress ran a half-page announcement in the Washington Post, which included a large photograph documenting approximately two dozen of the little victims.29 The image of the dead children was selected because it was believed to be in keeping with the nonprofit’s mission of “supporting, advancing, and protecting the civil and human rights of all people in Syria by recognizing the inherent dignity and unalienable rights of all persons.”30 The ad declared, “We share President Obama’s outrage over the chemical attacks in Syria.” The picture of those killed was chosen in hopes that it would cause others to feel similarly. Family members of those killed have also shared postmortem pictures of their deceased kin by posting them on social media. Immediately following the gas attacks, pictures of the bodies amassed on YouTube and Facebook. On Twitter, a picture of a dead victim came with the imploring caption, “Keep watching world. #Syria #Damascus.”31 Survivors desperately want the international community to see their personal loss.

A Battle Cry With each new conflict in the Middle East, families of the fallen, activists, and politicians on both sides criticize the American news media for not showing their dead more often. This was the reaction, in the summer of 2014, for instance, when the U.S. press coverage of beach bombings in Gaza included images of dead Palestinians. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the Israeli prime minister complained that Hamas was intentionally putting civilians in harm’s way so that news

216

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

images of their deaths would elicit sympathy from Americans: “They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause,” he said, fearing that such images ignite antisemitism.32 News images showing dead Palestinians have been welcomed by their families and larger communities, as was famously the case for the Muhammad al-Durrah incident in the Gaza Strip during the Second Intifada. In 2000, a freelancing cameraman filmed Jamal al-Durrah and Muhammad, his twelve-year-old son, seen holding onto each other as they crouch for cover behind a concrete cylinder during crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security forces (figure 13.6). On the video, a burst of gunfire stirs a thick cloud of dust, and when the dust settles, the boy is seen slumped across his father’s legs (figure 13.7). When broadcast first on French television, the voiceover declared that the boy is shown dead.

Figures 13.6 and 13.7. Throughout conflicts in the Middle East, the bereaved have welcomed public attention for images documenting the death of their loved ones. These news images representing Palestinian victimage have been distributed around the world.

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

217

This video coverage and related still images became a symbol of the Second Intifada, generating intense debate for about two decades, and counting. Related controversies have invoked the idea of the “blood libel”—the ancient allegation against those willing to sacrifice children. Some charge that the images prove Israelis guilty of blood libel while others have said they reveal the Palestinians’ willingness to deliberately sacrifice their own children in an anti-Zionist war. In an unsuccessful attempt to settle the meaning of this image, a committee, set up in 2012 by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reviewed all evidence about what is purportedly depicted. This investigation (along with ones conducted inside the news industry) tried to establish whether the image actually depicts a death (or whether it was staged), and if it did, whether the boy was killed by Israelis or Palestinians. The resulting thirty-six-page report concluded that there was little evidence the image depicted a boy killed by Israelis and judged it inauthentic.33 The Israeli government fervently argued that the image was antisemitic, and should therefore not be seen. The Israel Law Center asked a court to revoke Israeli press credentials for the journalist who narrated the image when televised, claiming it depicted a dead body.34 For some, the image is a fake full of mendacity, but to others, it is a truth-telling witness to death that will serve justice. News images of the boy and his father have been aptly described as acquiring the power of a battle flag.35 Arab countries issued postage stamps bearing the images, and artists made large murals of it. Much of the Arab and Muslim world has also viewed the picture as a symbol of martyrdom, and it inspired thousands to participate in online voting campaigns attempting to procure enough votes for the image to win a best picture of the year award. The image was also visible in the background when Daniel Pearl, an Israeli-American journalist, was beheaded on film by al-Qaeda in 2002, and it was blamed for the October 2000 lynching of two Israeli army reservists in Ramallah. Osama bin Laden mentioned the boy in the image in a warning to President George Bush after 9/11. The many who have wanted to keep the image in the public eye include family members of the boy depicted. Over decades, his father has maintained that he holds pride in his son’s image as a martyr: “Muhammad’s cause and the images of his martyrdom moved the entire world,

218

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

even people with little conscience.” With a sense of hope inspired by the enduring image, he concluded, “His cause is still out there, every day there are arguments over it.”36

Something Seemingly Essential Some seek to sequester all death as a private affair. To them, the postmortem picture seems to violate something universally sacred. They argue that privacy for the deceased is “primary,” even when responding to accounts of parents, community members, and activists who feel otherwise.37 Belittling the perspective of those intimately involved who want the public to see the loss of their loved ones, a critic warns, “Few seem to understand how [the dead’s] privacy is elementally important, more so than social change, political or ideological goal seeking.”38 Although they are popular, there are considerable problems with proclamations like this. In particular, it is inaccurate to claim that privacy is “elementally important,” given that this is a matter of personal and cultural preference. Relatedly, there is no consensus. Yet, a professor interested in the ethics of photojournalism recently crusaded against the publication of a postmortem photograph by similarly claiming that anything but a private death “undermines the integrity of the human being,” as if there is some universal imperative at stake.39 He concluded that the postmortem image is unethical because it does not, in his opinion, honor the “the dignity of the individual.” These commentators demand privacy for the dead as if it is a onesize-fits-all ethical imperative, but there is nothing inherently unethical about death rituals that favor public participation. The ideal practices have varied tremendously over time, and today they continue to. In a relatively recent news image that has been accused of violating privacy, a public procession is shown following the Palestinian men who carry the bodies of young boys (figure 13.8). A rigid insistence on a private death would have to ignore the reality of a crowd gathering in the streets. In historical terms, the current American fixation on a private death is a recent phenomenon.40 Several historical accounts detail how American death was once much more visible.41 Among nineteenth-century Americans and Europeans, for example, the camera was an approved means of making the dead available indefinitely for viewing.42 Profes-

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

219

Figure 13.8. Arguments in favor of censoring news images have insisted that it is unethical to publicly display the dead, but kin and communities have felt otherwise. This photograph from 2012 shows a two-year-old, Suhaib Hijazi, and his older brother, Muhammad, who were killed when an Israeli missile hit their house. To allow public viewing, the victims, accompanied by a large procession, are carried openly by their uncles to a mosque for the burial ceremony. Photo credit: Paul Hansen, Dagens Nyheter, AP.

sional photographers were commissioned to document loved ones lying in open caskets or propped up in chairs.43 The resulting photographs were cherished and prominently displayed in homes for visiting guests.

Granting Wishes In an essay arguing that a public figure should not be shown dead on the front page, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan shared letters from readers who object to showing images of individuals dead or dying. One letter she sampled rhetorically asked, if the deceased was “your friend, or your family member, how would seeing those images make you feel?”44 The question was rhetorical because it seemed common sense to assume not only that the pictures are unwanted by kin, but that the press should abide by these personal preferences. In the same vein, after a

220

| Victims Seeking Visibility

major earthquake killed thousands in China, an American pundit objected to news images documenting any of the victims by begging us to consider “the question of how a person might want to be remembered in life and in death.” He concludes that the legitimate news image should be “celebrating and honoring the value of a human life.”45 The goal of “celebrating and honoring” the deceased may be central to a funeral or memorial service, but it is fundamentally inconsistent with the objective goal of the press. Those who advocate censorship commonly conflate the goals of journalism with the end-of-life rituals designed specifically to celebrate and honor. Families, with the help of a multi-billion-dollar funeral industry, create ceremonies commemorating the deceased, and they do so in the ways dictated by family members. To do the same, the press would have to abandon its traditional objectives. The goal of avoiding distress is certainly a noble one, but much of what we consider newsworthy is fundamentally distressing, and if the goal of the news media is to avoid distressing family members, many types of news images (and not just those documenting a dead body) would need to be banned. For example, pictures profiling those who committed crimes (violent or otherwise) would likely upset the victim’s family simply by reminding them of the circumstances. Pictures documenting any part of a terrorist attack would also trigger distress. Pictures of the World Trade Center, even before it fell, bring sad reminders of the loved ones lost on 9/11. Similarly, images documenting the massive piles of debris after an earthquake or other natural disaster can cause painful thoughts of those who were trapped. A wide variety of images can stir troubling feelings. In addition, the absence of a picture can be upsetting to the family. As discussed above, there are many occasions when kin desperately want the world to see what they have lost. This was the case, for example, when Haitians pleaded with photojournalists to take pictures documenting earthquake victims. If the news media are obligated to avoid causing distress, sometimes they would be compelled to publish additional pictures documenting the dead. And if the goal of the news media is to avoid content that causes kin to suffer, presumably the effects of a report’s words must also be considered. In this scenario, many types of reports about local, national,

Victims Seeking Visibility

|

221

and international events would need to be banned, since information shared verbally can also be a source of pain. Offending headlines and even entire stories would need to be redacted. There are vast possibilities in which the provision or absence of information can inflict sorrow or rage. These examples may be considered extreme, but they highlight the precarious rationales for a ban. In addition to the questionable goals served by a ban, it is not feasible to outsource daily editorial decisions (about pictures or words) to family members. It would be highly impractical, if not impossible, to track family members’ preferences, which can change over time, for a specific type of news coverage. When a major tragedy strikes, tremendous resources would be needed to identify and contact hundreds or thousands of kin. Certainly, there is no guarantee of consensus, even among the members of a particular family.

Summary: Struggles over Visibility Sometimes, we rely on questionable logic to blame the messenger, scapegoating the news media for reporting on a fatal event, when we are actually upset about the death itself. Those attempting to justify censorship often advance the false claim that documenting the body is unethical because families of the victim will object to images showing it. A ban against revealing images, they argue, is needed to protect each family. But this move justifies censorship as ethically imperative by making assumptions that are not always warranted. In fact, when we equate the camera’s documentation with an ethical sin, we ignore some very real struggles for visibility. There is no universal preference for invisibility and, for some, even worse than suffering “is to have the reality of one’s suffering erased.”46 Some demand a public accounting of the tragedy, but others speaking on behalf of kin passionately object, claiming, “There is simply no need and no excuse to do so.”47 Motivated by good intentions, many have argued that the press should ban pictures documenting a body because of the emotional harm this image will cause the victim’s family. But if the press bans content on the grounds that it can cause survivors distress, many types of pictures, and even entire stories, would be off limits, as this chapter discusses. And if the press is bound to respecting the wishes of family members, some

222

|

Victims Seeking Visibility

postmortem pictures would have to be widely disseminated, not banned, to increase visibility. These deaths would need to be shown more frequently and prominently, not less. Those who demand a ban also argue that, in reports of a fatal event, news images should be selected for the purpose of honoring and celebrating. They denounce the matter-of-fact style of documentation that is otherwise considered ideal for news coverage in favor of sentimental imagery that can reflect the preferences of families. Such calls for censorship conflate the mission of the press with the memorializing function of funeral rituals. Any attempt to strip the press of its traditional mission raises serious concerns. Of course, there would also be frequently insurmountable logistical challenges inherent in crafting news reports only after identifying the pictures (and presumably the accompanying words that frame their meaning) preferred by family members, and negotiating among kin who may not share the same opinion.

14

In the End New Perspectives on the Spectacle

Pictures of dead bodies have been described as satisfying “the oldest journalistic instincts.”1 If such “instincts” do exist, this book argues that they are often overridden by editorial forces that make them the exception, not the rule. Photojournalists risk their lives at the front lines of battlefields, natural disasters, and other “hot spots” where many are killed, only to have editors reject their pictures if they actually reveal a dead body. Editors also explicitly instruct photojournalists to avoid directly documenting a death, and when photojournalists learn to anticipate their editors’ taste, they strategically hide the bodies at the center of the story. Photojournalists accept eventually that the goal is to create images that conceal the subjects of the story. As one photographer explained, he produces pictures that only seem to reveal death because they actually avoid doing so: “You let the reader assume that this is what is happening without actually showing them what is happening.”2 With this sleight-of-hand, he and many others pretend to present the central evidence for these stories while intentionally obscuring it. In reports of a fatal event, the pictures consistently considered newsworthy are those documenting damage to inanimate objects, like the windshield cracked by an automobile accident, or the metal pieces scattered by an airplane crash. Of course, the real significance inherent in these scenes is not the twisted steel, broken wood, or shattered glass, but the people who have died, and the euphemistic use of photojournalism avoids the unsanitized reality. At the same time that news cameras carefully avoid documenting these deaths, the public has loudly complained about a growing “epidemic” of morbid spectacles. Even the news industry has been eager to 223

224

|

In the End

condemn its own picture practices. Together, we have anxiously imagined a crisis in the news, where dead-body pictures purportedly abound, but by tracking the real use of images, this book dispels these and several other media myths. In fact, our team found that dead bodies are exceedingly rare in the news: they are seen in less than 1 percent of images. Although we live in a world where nearly everyone has a cell phone camera ready to document the next tragedy, and Internet connections mean the worst of humanity can be ubiquitously displayed, the American news media steadfastly resist these pictures. Throughout recent decades, technological changes caused the news to evolve from print to broadcast and then online platforms, but editorial norms hold surprisingly firm. As a result, year after year, actual news practices fly in the face of our prevailing notions. When we accuse news cameras of disrespecting death, we are especially likely to denounce the depravity of tabloids. A media ethicist summarizes the common complaint against tabloid photojournalism: “The rule seems to be the more shocking the better.” He laments that, for tabloids, “Shock value has always been a tool of the trade.”3 Tabloids purportedly exploit death’s spectacles as part of its attention-grabbing arsenal. Certainly, tabloids are not known for their restraint and do not always aspire towards all the high-minded purposes of the patrician press, but we found that, compared to elite news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post, tabloids are actually the least likely to show dead bodies. Television news, another venue for popular fare, is also expected to irreverently exploit tragedy, but mostly they also make death invisible.

Words Divorced from Images Although the bodies remain unseen, stories about death are among the most frequent and prominent kind of news. Each day, announcements of our demise lead television newscasts, and bold-font headlines mark the mounting death toll. The words provide the hard facts because they are prized for delivering “the real story.” As they keep pace with the quick drumbeat of murder and mayhem, many words describe the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Even the gory details are considered

In the End

| 225

newsworthy when presented in words: it is not unusual for the text to offer vivid accounts of broken skulls, with pools of blood or other human remains, as if it is their responsibility, and their responsibility alone, to create the graphic image in our mind’s eye. Whereas the news media typically strive to “show and tell,” this is a story of their commitment to telling, but not showing. As the camera continues to avert its gaze, the role of the picture is repeatedly severed from that of the word. Highlighting how differently we treat pictures compared to words, death is simultaneously made both newsworthy and not.

Erasure Is Even Achieved Digitally When covering death, photojournalists carefully craft pictures that try to hide the subject, but sometimes they fall short of these goals, and then editors turn to digital techniques. To remove death’s organic blight, editors direct staff to use computer software like Photoshop to abort the photograph’s content. They painstakingly manipulate images postproduction to strip information away and add ambiguity, digitally overlaying a body with a smear or blur. A particularly popular tactic enlarges the pixels and rearranges them until the image that originally documented a body is scrambled into something visually undecipherable. These alterations target the specifics caught on film until they are vague enough to lose meaning. With the pixels distorting the subject, turning it into an unreadable color field, the documentary mission is so compromised that the result resembles modern art. When CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown reported on Iraqi fatalities, the camera focused on what we were told were two bloody corpses.4 We had to take their word since the image was digitally manipulated into something beyond recognition. Similarly, another part of the segment showed the landscape with a person in the distance. After the camera zoomed in, automatic gunfire was heard, and a voiceover explained that the subject was killed. In contrast to the clarifying voiceover, the pixels suddenly jumbled the image. The digitally masked image appeals to editors who feel obliged to document the event but do not actually want the public to see it. They

226

|

In the End

get to have it both ways because the professional goal of documenting evidence is theoretically honored by an image that is remade to reveal nothing. The image was first judged as newsworthy because of what it did show, but the evidence was then made intentionally inaccessible. This tactic implicitly claims, “We have proof, just take our word.” Since its inception, however, photojournalism has been assigned the role of declaring, “ ‘This really happened. The camera was there. See for yourself.’ ”5 Historically, we have welcomed the documentary photograph as a credible public record of events—that mimetic relay that provides a precise copy with irrefutable proof. As Susan Sontag summarized in her famous essay, “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it.”6 These pictures allow us to confirm accusations as soon as the “smoking gun” visual evidence of a video surfaces, showing, for instance, a mayor smoking crack. Whereas visual journalism usually strives to offer an “eyewitness” account that relays directly and clearly, death ushers in the need to only imagine. When death strikes, photojournalism’s goal is not to reveal but to veil. Normally, the camera is used to capture proof at any cost, but in reports on death, images are often newsworthy precisely because of what is not clearly seen.

The Fading Appeal of Facts When defining the ideal news image, death upends the industry’s conventional commitment to the facts. Using actors instead of showing actual footage, news broadcasters have reenacted death scenes to dramatize the event. In addition, some have welcomed fictional images, arguing that documentary images need not depict actual events. Consider the acclaimed photograph by Robert Capa depicting the fallen soldier of the Spanish Civil War, which when compared to other images shot on the same roll of film, appears perhaps staged. Richard Whelan, a photography scholar, argued that it does not matter whether the photo actually depicted death or just suggested it through dramatization: “To insist upon knowing whether the photograph actually shows a man at the moment he has been hit by a bullet is both morbid and trivializing, for the picture’s greatness ultimately lies in its symbolic

In the End

|

227

implications, not in its literal accuracy as a report on the death of a particular man.”7 Whelan claims that “literal accuracy” is irrelevant and that it is silly to prioritize facts but, ordinarily, we require that a photograph claiming to document a particular event actually does so. The words used in the news are expected to recount fatal events, including the number of victims and their identity, without fabrication, and it is hard to imagine one dismissing this expectation as “morbid and trivializing.” Typically, the press follows a strong mandate against fictionalizing news accounts—an act that is otherwise condemned as falsification. But when death strikes, Whelan and many others are happy to trade fidelity for fiction. There is common glory in a photograph’s facts, until death is the subject, and then our enthusiasm for its empiricism can suddenly vanish.

Our Anti-Picture Prejudice With idioms like “a picture is worth a thousand words,” we judge photographs superior because of a communicative capacity that seemingly exceeds that of verbal expression. However, if the camera captures a corpse, editors tend to reject it, claiming that the picture has “no information” and “adds nothing.” Although pictures are generally valued for their intricately rich descriptions, with this reversal of fortune, photographs of death are judged bereft of information, as though they fail to copy, even though they transmit innumerable facts. Although the postmortem image is frequently seen as failing to relay information, it is also charged with the sin of revealing too much. These “vulgar” or “graphic” images offend because they document and expose, rather than conceal, and thereby transgress norms of decorum. News images of the dead are frequently condemned as “pornographic” because, although they do not depict sexual acts, a sense that they air illicit information triggers disdain at their lack of discretion. In addition to these sexual accusations, we also claim that these images themselves commit violence. As if the inert image can exert a physically dangerous force, we decry the pictures’ purported ability to “attack” viewers. We also describe pictures as “punching,” “hitting,” and even “torturing.” Describing it as a bearer of “brutality,”8 modern-day critics

228

| In the End

fear the postmortem picture, even though native populations have been mocked for believing that the camera can steal a soul and teased for being superstitiously cautious of this technology.9 Ironically, twentyfirst-century Americans maintain some similar fears, attesting to a cruel magic with a voodoo-like violence. Editors explain that these images have a “harmful” brute force and, in response, editors make it their duty to paternalistically protect the public from what is made to sound like a public health hazard. They explain that they see innumerable pictures each day that the rest of us cannot handle. But how dangerous is a picture, really? Pictures are simply “flat, two-dimensional objects marked with colors and shapes.”10 They are only as dangerous as we imagine them to be—and this becomes even clearer when we consider the great promise we place in some postmortem images.

When We Welcome a “Bright Light” With certain postmortem images, we return to praising picture power, thus marking another major reversal of fortune. Rather than being dismissed as sinfully vulgar, a select few seem newsworthy, and instead of being condemned as “pornographic,” the pictures attract Pulitzer Prizes. Instead of defining them as sensational because of their excess, we value a few for providing essential evidence. Recent public editors of the New York Times, including Daniel Okrent and Clark Hoyt, have posited that those that made the cut are needed because they “told the story.”11 Although most postmortem pictures are dismissed for “adding nothing,” it seems some are cured of this mute curse and become very competent communicators. Bringing things full circle, the postmortem picture is declared an important document that, like all photographs, can relay facts. A photograph published by Time in 2013 is the result of a Syrian corpse illuminated by a flashlight and then fixed in time by the camera (see figure 14.1). The photo’s caption in Time explains, “A man points a flashlight towards the body of a Syrian man killed by Syrian army shelling at a graveyard in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 13, 2012.”12 It was published elsewhere, too, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize because, unlike most postmortem pictures, this one was held in high regard. It was judged not

In the End

| 229

Figure 14.1. Photojournalism is celebrated generally for “shining a bright light,” but it is rarely permitted to actually do so when reports focus on death. The news industry makes exceptions for certain tragedies, like the one here in Syria, which is literally illuminated under a light. Photo credit: Manu Brabo, AP.

only a legitimate but an ideal forms of the news, worth honoring precisely because it did more than just hint at death. Indeed, it was valued for shining a bright light on death, literally and metaphorically. This picture resonated within an industry that has capitalized on the metaphor of the photograph as a beacon, that bearer of light that reveals truth and directs our attention towards it. Photojournalists and their editors rely on this metaphor when earnestly describing their professional aspirations. As Mary Anne Golon, a major figure in photojournalism, explained recently, “I would like to be remembered as someone who was true. . . . who was honest and loyal and true to the industry, because that’s what I aspired to be my whole life. And what I mean by that is that I believe that photojournalism is a light, and I’m a person who always wanted to carry it.”13 Sharing a similar vision, the awardwinning photographer Ruthie Ackerman explained, “My job is to shine a spotlight on the world, not keep it hidden in darkness. If by doing so people are awakened to the horrors that exist in their backyards, and others[’], [then] the images have done their job and I have done mine.”14 Accounts like these are common when photojournalistic goals are described in general terms, and they raise questions about when the beacon’s light is deliberately turned off. A New York Times website video

230

|

In the End

of fatal violence is edited to go black as gunshots are fired.15 We can hear the shots, and an accompanying story describes the details, but the fatal violence is visually cloaked completely, leaving no way for us to see. The light is shut off, in metaphorical terms, while the screen literally goes blank. Because the video camera present at the scene had unblinkingly transcribed the fatal event, editors later undid its faithful recording, substituting an obscuring darkness. In theory at least, photojournalism will “show the worst, and say with the blunt, desperate urgency of the best journalism: Look.”16 In this aspirational account, and others like it, photojournalism is an antidote to neglect because the essence of denial is to actively look away. The cultural critic Philip Kennicott argued in the Washington Post that photojournalism should bring us a vivid, “seemingly transparent window on misery,”17 but typically, when editors encounter such windows, they draw the curtains tightly closed.

The Tribal Partitioning of Imagery Despite the strong tendency of the news media to censor images of death, there are exceptions, and these exceptions are quite predictable, based on who has died. Upon close inspection, it appears that the imperative to look is triggered by crises abroad. Unless it is documenting the death of foreigners, photojournalism is an exercise in concealment. In fact, the sight of bodies of Americans is almost never considered newsworthy. Although stories of American misfortune dominate the press, pictures of dead foreigners are by far the most frequent and prominent. According to the industry, these pictures are newsworthy because they have the potential to achieve fantastic feats. Over several years, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan praised her paper for publishing certain pictures. In 2012, when the New York Times published multiple images of those killed in Syria, Sullivan extolled them as “capable of changing the narrative, possibly affecting the course of history.” She identified these postmortem pictures as having “essential importance.”18 That same year, Sullivan also argued that postmortem pictures, which in this case documented a dead American, violate something fundamen-

In the End

|

231

tally sacred. Specifically, Sullivan argued that newspapers should not publish an image of a fatally wounded U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, whose limp body was dragged through the streets of Benghazi, Libya, after he was attacked on September 11, 2012, at a consulate by a heavily armed militia. The story was one of the biggest that year, but Sullivan maintained that the press should restrict circulation of these end-of-life pictures. She argued that “human life” deserves to be treated with “value and dignity,”19 suggesting that it was inexcusable to make a dead body “permanent” in printed newspapers.20 Sullivan has argued that the news media should not show the fatalities at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing because the “journalistic imperative is to give readers an accurate sense of what happened—simply put, to tell the truth.”21 In Sullivan’s terms, the image of a deceased American fails to depict “what happened,” as if death is irrelevant to the fatal event. Sullivan argued that only highly sanitized images of the Boston Marathon bombing were newsworthy, but it is not clear how these are more “accurate” images when they conceal information about important facts. (The fatalities were judged important enough to drive the headlines, for instance.) Nonetheless, she argues that removing information from the public record helps fully relay the events. Sullivan is far from the only one to offer seemingly inconsistent accounts of what makes a picture newsworthy. Kenny Irby, a founding member of the National Press Photographers Association, who is devoted to the ethics of visual journalism, has supported publication of several images displaying dead foreigners. In these cases, Irby stresses that photojournalism must “share the harsh realities around the world.”22 For example, he congratulated a photographer for capturing an image showing Afghan corpses. However, when discussing images of Americans killed, Irby urged the news media to withhold these pictures from publication. (He even objected to pictures showing the victim when still alive but shortly before death.) Reflecting on the images of Americans, he argued that they are “too private in my view,” and cross the line of “dignity.”23 He felt that this postmortem documentation did not convey “compassion and respect,”24 but otherwise, he professed, he is “all for maximizing truth telling.”25 A contributing opinion writer at the New York Times and university professor who describes herself as “a person who has long advocated

232

| In the End

publishing of graphic photos”26 reflected on pictures of dead or imperiled bodies from several countries abroad and explained, “I often wish more of those pictures made it to mainstream newspapers.”27 She passionately contended that they would “shock the conscience toward corrective action”28 and credited them with a life-protecting effect that would “potentially help save many, many others.”29 But when these images happen to depict Americans, she implored the press to ban them. For example, she adamantly objected when a news video recorded two Americans right before they were fatally shot, and called the footage “stomach-churning snuff film.”30 The footage actually shows their bodies fully intact and without injury in a moment prior to a fatal strike, but in her opinion, these images are “crass and indefensible.”31 She also stressed the importance of confronting a troubling rise in American mass shootings, but submitted that images documenting these fatal attacks, and even the moments just prior, should be concealed by the press and collectively ignored. In fact, she pleaded for the press to instead provide “more pictures from the lives of the victims”—meaning those sentimental portraits that depict them in flattering ways long before their demise.32 She offered the vague conclusion that this kind of picture is newsworthy because it “has argument for life on its side.” Interestingly, she made similar claims when defending postmortem pictures from abroad as capable of saving lives. One may wonder if these flip-flopping positions only seem hypocritical but are actually somehow justified. Perhaps the changing positions reflect the magnitude of tragic events that rightly demand different types of news images. If photojournalistic decisions are commensurate with the scale of the tragedy, this seems reasonable. But this prospect does not pan out: although the highest death tolls abroad are most likely to be represented with a postmortem picture, the highest American death tolls are least likely to be represented in this manner. When tragedy strikes domestically, the worst events win the attention of the press, but they also establish a virtual ban on postmortem pictures. Perhaps there is another explanation for what otherwise seems like a distasteful double standard. The scale of a tragedy can be measured not only by the death toll but also by whether the most vulnerable and innocent people were victimized. Because children epitomize vulnerability

In the End

|

233

and innocence, their loss is considered the most tragic, and some have argued that if we measure misfortune in these terms, we can understand why the news media feel compelled to show some fatalities. But this theory does not hold up either. Virtually all postmortem pictures representing children show youth from other countries. Although they remain invisible, dead American children do whip up a media storm. Consider the blanket news coverage occasioned by the massacre of young students at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. There is also JonBenét Ramsey, a slain six-year-old beauty queen, who has over decades remained of interest. In each of these cases, cameras did document the children’s bodies, but these images have been carefully suppressed. Meanwhile, our news media accept a duty to explicitly document tragedies striking children abroad. National distinctions routinely shape the news, and when children are lost, they intensify dramatically, with profound implications for what we see and do not see. To summarize, death is constructed through a markedly national lens that sharply distinguishes between domestic and international victims, creating tribal divisions that run deep, not just during war but also during times of peace, influencing which pictures seem newsworthy, and how we view the world.

Gatekeepers of Emotion When evaluating the role of photojournalism during a foreign tragedy, but not domestic ones, news professionals often talk explicitly of the need to expose “horror.” For example, they praise postmortem images from Syria as newsworthy because they are skilled at “bringing home the horror,” and making us “confront the horror.” “Journalism is about truth, and the horrific images convey reality,” asserts a Washington Post ombusdman.33 Horror is made palpable by a front-page photo (seen in figure 14.2) documenting the 1998 Kosovo massacres. The large color photo gives the viewer the impression of being just a few feet from a victim who, as the caption notes, lies waiting for burial. By focusing on a single victim, the image intimately inspects the details of death. The camera captures the man’s waxy, grey skin, his open eyes, and his gaping mouth, as if he was frozen while protesting his fate. The poignant messenger seems

234

|

In the End

Figure 14.2. In many ways, this photograph is representative of the rare exceptions when news cameras document the dead. Like most exceptions, it depicts the corpse of a foreigner, rather than an American. For major tragedies abroad, like those in Kosovo, photojournalism evokes horror by taking us “face to face” with the awful truth, showing the body up close. This image is even judged newsworthy enough to run prominently on the front page. Similarly revealing images are prohibited from the front page, and any page, in reports on American tragedy.

to eternally scream in horror on behalf of the others, whose misfortune are signaled by the additional blankets nearby. Apparently, there are others who share his fate. The assistant managing editor in charge of photography at the New York Times, Michele McNally, described the ideal news photo as one that is “emotionally ridden” but that “doesn’t take you over the edge.”34 But where is that edge? When is an image too much? Depending on the

In the End

|

235

nationality of the deceased, the borders of the ideal emotional zone can suddenly shift. As discussed throughout this book, editors treat each picture of death as a powerful lever that can regulate the public’s emotions, and as far as they succeed at this social engineering, mass affect is at stake.35 As they admit, editing photojournalism is about controlling “emotional content.”36 Editors select or reject a particular image when it is judged likely to amplify or subdue a particular emotional response. In turn, they seek to shape our times with the picture that places a certain “emotional framework around the events.”37 Similarly, editors talk of the need to select a picture that strikes the right “tone,” which depends on the kind of story they want to tell. Sometimes the goal is to “tone things down,” but at other times they strive to sound the alarms. Editors also use the metaphor of adjusting a dial to control the “volume,” and postmortem pictures are said to have much more “volume” than other images. In turn, the news uses pictures in a way that bears some resemblance to the motion picture’s use of different types of music, with increasing or decreasing volume, in an attempt to elicit particular emotional reactions from the audience. To offer another analogy, photo editors work like orchestral conductors who coordinate the contributions of various instruments, modulating their volume, tone, and tempo, depending on the desired effect. Photojournalism is a visual version of these auditory maneuvers.

From Horrific to Hopeful The stories we tell ourselves about our nation depend on a completely different emotional register. When covering American tragedies, the news industry stresses that pictures should inspire “positive” emotions— something hopeful and heartwarming. The news cameras abandon the dead, who are forever beyond repair, to create images of resiliency in the face of vulnerability, not the defeating finality of death itself. Editors seem to prefer pictures suggesting the nation’s restorative and triumphant destiny. That is, depending on who has died, we want photojournalism to accomplish very different things. The published pictures prioritize the adrenaline-filled bravery of America’s first responders who aid injured victims and show a nation

236

| In the End

valiantly marshaling itself back to order. Meanwhile, the accompanying words in the news stories literally speak of heroism, honor, and a healing type of fellowship. Redeemable victimage is also portrayed by pictures of Americans with their hands clasped in prayer, or their arms wrapping one another in tearful hugs. Offering additional messages of affirmation, the news cameras focus on patriotic flags and homemade signs optimistically declaring “God Bless,” “Be Strong,” and “America will overcome.” In contrast to the coverage of international events, these images seem almost stridently optimistic. When news cameras document foreign tragedy, it is argued that these kinds of “unsettling” images should be shown precisely because they harness the horror,38 but pictures documenting American bodies are actually condemned for being disturbing. In fact, during domestic crises, the cultural impulse to censor is so strong that it sometimes extends beyond the news, shuttering fictional offerings as well. After the 2012 Newtown shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Syfy channel canceled an episode of the series Haven because it included scenes with campus violence. In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the NBC network banished an episode of Hannibal, a serial killer drama. ABC also pulled an episode of the crime drama Castle because of scenes involving a bomb. Although the serials are unrelated to real-world events, one of the show’s actors tweeted “Out of respect” to show support for the cancellation, and an executive producer explained that parts of the fictional storyline were eliminated “to be sensitive to where we are as a nation.”39 It is as if the nation’s actual trajectory is linked to the stories we construct, even the make-believe ones. To at least protect the nation’s self-image, this censoring impulse limits the types of images that appear in our entertainment media and news, leaving an expansive array of fictional and nonfictional images off limits.

Our Photo Fetish When covering tragedy abroad, the American news industry cheers that “photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world,”40 while welcoming the brute force of the hardest-hitting images. These images are

In the End

|

237

believed to induce charitable giving, provoke policy changes, end wars, and save lives, which are indisputably desirable effects. But just as some postmortem pictures are credited with jolting us into awareness, enlarging empathy, and demanding justice, others are blamed for exploiting victims. Some purportedly make the world a better place, but others are thought to epitomize evil. With each of these dramatic turns, we fetishize a postmortem picture with fantastical visions of what it can accomplish or ruin. It seems capable of extraordinary effects, like a blessing or a curse, because we imbue it with a sense of magic. An image can seem intrinsically efficacious, but, in reality, images of dead bodies are not innately harmful or helpful, and only when we fetishize the image can we give ourselves the false assurance that an image is destined to have a particular effect, and one that can be predicted. The so-called fourth estate is touted as a rational, high-minded enterprise that should follow a doctrine of objectivity when deciding whether a picture is newsworthy. The premise of objectivity contends that facts can and should determine which news is reported, and how. According to this logic, a picture of a current event can and should be judged newsworthy on objective grounds, where well-reasoned ideas trump others. Therefore, when we insist that a certain picture will have a bad effect, and that another will have a good effect, it is comforting to pretend that an image can be categorized according to its effect, and then ruled “fit” or “unfit” accordingly, as if science can empirically solve these editorial quandaries. Our fickle picture preferences are disguised as respect for scientific laws of cause and effect, which conveniently lends the aura of a rational enterprise. When evaluating images, we are guided by our intractable superstitions and we actually do not know the effects a picture will have. At press time, when editors must decide which pictures to include, they can never predict which effect a picture will have. Even years after a picture is published, it is difficult to separate the influence of a certain news image from other factors, like the number of headlines, their placement, or the depth of the news coverage, not to mention other forces, like political shifts previously underway. Even if we knew which types of pictures tend to have which types of effects, we cannot predict the effect

238

| In the End

that a particular picture will have. When it is time to pick a picture, there is no self-evident science to lean on. Although editorial decisions often presume that a particular image will have a single and fixed effect, it is quite likely that a picture can have both negative and positive effects. For example, when a Pakistani woman was shown dead after an “honor” killing by her father,41 and when two Indian girls were shown hanging lifelessly from a tree after being raped, human rights activists applauded the decision of the news media to reveal the injustices graphically.42 Gratefully, they deemed these images a “catalyst for justice,”43 as if they ensure humanitarian progress. At the same time, the images published can be blamed for motivating bigoted beliefs and inflaming jingoism by strengthening negative stereotypes. Remarks about a “land of animals” and a “sick nation” left in the comments sections of the news reports suggest this potential.44 Images documenting deaths abroad may sometimes be interpreted as displaying the moral failure or even savagery of foreigners who may seem less civilized, and therefore less willing or able to protect human life. Representing and not representing—each act can be interpreted as detrimental, which further complicates any attempt to assign a single effect to a specific picture. This is a dilemma with vast implications for a variety of “sensitive” images, including those of naked bodies. For example, images in the National Geographic have inspired numerous academic articles and books highly critical of the nudity shown. In particular, the magazine has been disparaged for allowing photographic portraits of bare-breasted women from Africa and Asia. These images have been described by many as racist, sexist, generally insensitive, and even “dehumanizing.”45 When justifying their decision to publish a photograph showing a bare-breasted Philippine woman, National Geographic had argued that “prudery should not influence the decision” to print nude images because such photographs were “a true reflection of the customs of the times in those islands.”46 Alternatively, the photographer could have made the woman cover up, but this would have been problematic on the grounds that Western dress codes and sexual notions should not be imposed; dressing the women could conceivably devalue their culture.47 Another option would be to symbolically banish the women, not showing them at all.48

In the End

|

239

When we feel aversion to a postmortem (or nude) picture, it may seem as if there is a natural need to look away. However, the aversion is acquired, and not preordained; sometimes it is even replaced by an affinity. When we take a historical perspective, this becomes particularly clear. In the nineteenth century, for example, it was common practice for families to pose a loved one’s corpse for a photograph that would be kept on display.49 Although today most reject such images as morbid, they were once cherished. Some contemporary Americans have revived this picture practice. As a way to mourn and preserve memories, some parents currently use cameras at the hospital to document their stillborn baby.50 When postmortem pictures are censored from the press, one of the most commonly cited reasons for the proscription states that such images have harmful effects on surviving family members, but there is no consensus among kin that invisibility is needed or even ideal. Family members, and larger communities, sometimes adamantly support these end-of-life news images, explaining that postmortem images are needed to give attention to their loss. News images of unarmed American black men being killed by police officers have been credited with mobilizing the modern-day civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter. Family members of some victims explained that they wanted the bodies documented because doing otherwise curtails attention to injustice and risks devaluing the death. Even when children are killed, invisibility is not necessarily considered ideal. For Syrian rights advocates, including family members of those slain, news images of their dead children have been welcomed as a clear sign of the tragedy. In online forums, survivors have begged the press not to hide the reality in Syria, but to instead make others confront it. Each time Haiti was hit by a natural disaster, many parents who lost a child implored photojournalists to share their personal nightmare. Many in Gaza who face ongoing killings of relatives, young and old, also support the media’s use of blunt imagery. All around the world, the battles play out on two fronts: the one on the ground, where people are dying, and the one relayed in images, with heavy symbolic implications. The same picture may be considered part of the problem to some, and part of the solution to others. A single image can offer a cultural prism, allowing viewers to see what they want to see.51 Because the meaning of a picture is affixed by each of us,

240

|

In the End

reflecting various perspectives, diverse meanings are possible, and the effect of an image will ultimately depend on the meaning we give it.

Debates That Don’t Die As Washington Post public editor Andrew Alexander acknowledges, news organizations have ceaselessly “wrestled with where to draw the line in depicting death.”52 Each image seems to demand unique considerations, drawing multiple, high-level editors into extensive discussions. Day after day, they deliberate afresh over specific images, evaluating which should run in the absence of any hard-and-fast rules. The news industry demonstrates an enduring devotion to these time-consuming, hand-wringing deliberations. In fact, this is a remarkably slow, deliberate process that is fundamentally out of step with the tight deadlines of a fast-paced twenty-four-hour news culture. (Ironically, their decisions are highly predictable.) With the goal of determining when the news media should run pictures of dead bodies, as if an absolute verdict will imminently emerge, the industry also convenes formal seminars. In further pursuit of the elusive verdict, industry insiders argue these cases frequently and extensively in editorials, journal articles, newsletters, and blogs. In these various forums, earnest arguments sustain an undying illusion that a standard rule can and will emerge, as if we are on the verge of finally settling what objectively distinguishes the “fit” from the “unfit” image. But editors make decisions on the basis of emotionally-charged subjective standards, and given the volatile nature of our photo fetish, where the same type of image can seem either highly newsworthy or not, a hard-and-fast rule can never accommodate the task at hand. Attempts to formalize a rigidly rational rubric will fail because the image is actually hostage to the irrational, but compelling, logic of culture. Regardless of all the careful deliberations over pictures, the news media cannot escape controversy, which erupts frequently. As Time magazine noted, “A recent slew of situations resulting in catastrophic violence and death . . . has led to a renewed debate as to what kinds of imagery media outlets should be expected to show.”53 The New York Times also observed, “The conversation is alive again: What should we

In the End

| 241

show, what should we not publish?”54 Indeed, the conversation is alive again because this is a debate that never dies.

Final Thoughts for Future Debates Since the birth of photography, we have praised the picture’s power to document and reveal. However, this stance quickly unravels when death strikes. Even in coverage of death, dramatic reversals continue because beliefs about what should be shown change wildly, depending on who has died. There are occasions when we declare an ethical imperative to look squarely at death, and extol the postmortem pictures. We celebrate these pictures as Pulitzer Prize–worthy, but then despise others and label them “pornographic.” Such assessments are never neutral; they cannot be severed from political concerns, as choices reflect appraisals of value. Our treatment of these pictures burnishes far-reaching constructs, like national identity as well as social class and race, with potential implications for us all. Indeed, patterns of visibility and invisibility in the news may reinforce political cleavages shaping the uneven terrain of death. Since sometimes the goal is to reveal and at other times it is to conceal, images of death have the news media frequently asking, “What’s our journalistic purpose and how can pictures serve that purpose?” The truth is, we are deeply ambivalent about the duty of photojournalism and the role we wish images to play. In turn, as we flip-flop in our conclusions, we trigger the picture’s rising or falling fortune. The controversies over the image also expose our contentious disputes over the ideal role of the press. An authoritarian theory of the press may consider selfcensorship quite appropriate because a select few men and women who serve as editors are said to be in a position to guide the rest of us, sharing only what they think we need to know.55 A libertarian theory of the press considers members of the public to be more capable, and would caution against censoring facts simply because they unsettle some of us. Rather than dictating the truth for others, the libertarian press partners with the public in the search for truth by presenting evidence so people can reach their own conclusions. Heated debates over specific images, the role of photojournalism, and the mission of the press will continue, and although the facts

242

| In the End

uncovered here may change the contours of coming debates, they will not quiet controversy. Some will argue that corpse images should be fully censored. Others will stress that death deserves attention, and remind us that pictures and words each provide different, important ways of knowing. Inevitably, in this hotly contested context, passionate convictions will continue to clash, but hopefully what was shared here can provide a new starting point for future debates.

Appendix Defining a Postmortem Picture

Because we find that the news media rarely publish postmortem pictures (also referred to as corpse images), it is worthwhile to explain that this is the case even though we generously define what counts as a relevant image. The definition used included images that would be reasonable to instead exclude. Using other definitions, it would be fair to contend that these images are actually even rarer. Using our generous definition, research assistants were trained to include pictures that reveal any part of the deceased’s face or body, even if it was covered by clothing or shoes. Team members carefully inspected the pictures for what might otherwise be easy to overlook because a body could be included inconspicuously in the distance. And as an extra precaution against missing any qualifying images, all coverage was examined by at least two assistants. Given the generosity of this definition, it included photographs that do not show a face or any other skin. Several of the photographs included revealed only part of a shoe worn by the deceased. For example, one photograph (published on the front page of the New York Times on July 6, 2005) qualified even though it depicted a sheet covering all of the victim, except for her shoe’s sole. As reported, the shoe was worn by a woman who was on her way to work when gunned down. Our careful and lenient approach is also illustrated by the decision to include a photograph that appeared with a story about a fatal fire in a Harlem clothing store. The picture (on page 7 of the December 13, 1995, New York Post issue) shows adults standing before an open casket, obscuring most of it. The focus of the image is the mourners, but upon very close inspection, one may notice that the photograph reveals a small sliver of the deceased’s forehead. Although this is difficult to visually detect, the study team still counted this picture (and others like it). 243

244

| Defining a Postmortem Picture

In addition, when it was unclear exactly what was pictured in a photograph accompanying a death story, the image was coded as a corpse photo. For example, we included a photograph that potentially captured a dead victim, even though the image was not clear. According to the article’s description, it may have depicted a drug trafficker who was killed when his parachute failed to operate properly. Because the camera did not zoom in, the victim was placed in the far distance, and it was not possible to determine, on the basis of our viewing of the published image, whether the body or anything worn by it was captured by the camera. Possibly, the camera only documented the parachute, but just in case, this image was also included. As these examples illustrate, because of the lenient definition of what counted as a postmortem picture, the team included images that are generally not considered objectionable. Still, pictures counted even if they seemed unlikely to stir complaints that the news media sensationally exploit death. To summarize, it would certainly be fair to propose stricter definitions, but even when using a possibly inflated estimate of corpse photographs, we find that these images appear very infrequently.

Notes

Chapter 1. Introduction

1 Joe Holley, Should the coverage fit the crime? Columbia Journalism Review 35 (1996): 27. 2 David Hawkins, “The Hart Park drowning photo.” You Can’t Have My Job but I’ll Tell You a Story (blog), December 16, 2014, www.johnhartephoto.wordpress.com. 3 Daniel Okrent, No picture tells the truth: The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com. 4 Ibid. 5 I arranged in-depth, individual interviews with over two dozen editors and photojournalists working at the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, and the Associated Press wire service. As was promised, the identity of those interviewed has been concealed, and only those who expressed their views publicly are identified by name. Anonymity is typically offered when one is covering sensitive or controversial topics, for two main reasons. First, as Herbert Gans explained, sociological analyses are “more concerned with the roles people perform and the position they occupy in an organization than with individual personalities,” in part because news organizations are sufficiently bureaucratized and news norms sufficiently ingrained “that very different personalities will act much the same way in the same position.” Secondly, concealing identities may encourage communication because media coverage of death is hotly contested terrain. 6 Howard Kurtz, C. Marin, T. Rosensteil, D. Schechter, B. Staples, and M. Wallace, Erosion of values: A debate among journalists over how to cope, Columbia Journalism Review 36.6 (1998): 44–48. 7 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com. 8 Mario Garcia and Pegie Stark, Eyes on the news (St. Petersburg, FL: Poynter Institute, 1991); M. Lewenstein, G. Edwards, D. Tatar, A. DeVigal, Poynter eyetrack study, Poynter, 2000, www.poynter.org. 9 Dolf Zillmann, Rhonda Gibson, and Stephanie Sargent, Effects of photographs in news-magazine reports on issue perception, Media Psychology 1 (1999): 207–28. 10 Silvia Knobloch, Matthias Hastall, Dolf Zillmann, and Coy Callison, Imagery effects on the selective reading of internet newsmagazines, Communication Research 30 (2003): 3–29. 245

246

| Notes

11 David Perlmutter, Photojournalism and foreign policy: Icons of outrage in international crises (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998). 12 Sheena Goodyear, Migrant crisis: Should pictures of a drowned Syrian boy be shared on social media? CBC News, September 2, 2015, www.cbc.ca. 13 Jeffrey Goldstein, Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998). 14 Robert Mackey, Brutal images of Syrian boy drowned off Turkey must be seen, activists say, New York Times, September 2, 2015, www.nytimes.com. 15 Natalie Evans and Richard Wheatsone, Aylan Kurdi’s death recreated by 30 people dressed as Syrian boy on Moroccan beach, Mirror, September 10, 2015, www.mirror.co.uk. 16 Susan Ager, This wouldn’t be the first time a child’s photo changed history, National Geographic, September 3, 2015, www.nationalgeographic.com. 17 Ben Goldberger, Most influential photos, Time, December 5, 2016.

Chapter 2. Alarming Images

1 Gregory Kane, Media feast on family tragedies, Baltimore Sun, January 22, 1997, www.baltimoresun.com. 2 Jean Seaton, Carnage and the media: The making and breaking of news about violence (London: Penguin, 2005). 3 Susan Moeller, Compassion fatigue: How the media sell disease, famine, war, and death (New York: Routledge, 1999). 4 Ibid. 5 Jean Seaton, Carnage and the media: The making and breaking of news about violence (London: Penguin, 2005). 6 John Newhagen, TV news images that induce anger, fear, and disgust: Effects on approach-avoidance and memory, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 42.2 (1998): 265–76. 7 Paul Martin Lester, Photojournalism: An ethical approach (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991). 8 Frank Luntz, Reality talks: Twenty citizens who gathered to talk about the media sound off on its bias and sensationalism—and why they keep coming back for more, Brill’s Content, September 2000, 70. 9 James Ball, James Foley and the daily horrors of the internet: Think hard before clicking, Guardian, August 20, 2014, www.theguardian.com. 10 Donald R. Winslow, Eddie Adams: 10 years on, and war will never be the same, New York Times, September 18, 2014, www.nytimes.com. 11 Howard Chapnick, Truth needs no ally: Inside photojournalism (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994). 12 Garry Bryant, Ten-fifty P.I.: Emotion and the photographer’s role. Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality 2.2 (1987): 32–39. 13 Mark Jurkowitz, McVeigh request spurs debate over “live deaths” on television, Boston Globe, February 23, 2001, D1.

Notes

|

247

14 Kevin Canfield and Tara Weiss, Show or just tell? Hartford Courant, June 6, 2002, www.courant.com. 15 Jean Seaton, Carnage and the media: The making and breaking of news about violence (London: Penguin, 2005). 16 Mark Jurkowitz, McVeigh request spurs debate over “live deaths” on television, Boston Globe, February 23, 2001, D1. 17 Ibid. 18 Antonia Zerbisias, Humanity is first casualty of war, Toronto Star, April 4, 2004, D10. 19 Philip Kennicott, Graphic visuals in Haiti coverage break from tradition, Washington Post, January 16, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com. 20 John Taylor, War photography: Realism in the press (New York: Routledge, 1991); John Taylor, Body horror: Photojournalism, catastrophe, and war (New York: NYU Press, 1998). 21 John Taylor, War photography: Realism in the press (New York: Routledge, 1991). 22 Paul Martin Lester, Photojournalism: An ethical approach (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991). 23 Ibid. 24 David Carr, Train wreck: The New York Post’s subway cover, New York Times, December 5, 2012, www.nytimes.com. 25 Christopher Zara, New York Post subway death photo: Unethical or just tasteless? International Business Times, December 4, 2012, www.ibtimes.com. 26 Ibid. 27 Peter Maass, Deadly competition, Brill’s Content, September 2000, 98. 28 Natasha Lennard, There’s a double standard for showing white and non-white corpses in the media, Fusion, September 3, 2015, www.fusion.net. 29 Gregory Kane, Media feast on family tragedies, Baltimore Sun, January 22, 1997, www.baltimoresun.com. 30 For a discussion of what qualifies as a corpse picture, see the appendix. 31 A team of researchers carefully reviewed newspapers spanning three decades, starting with 1975 and continuing through 2005. For each newspaper, 784 days were sampled to represent sixteen weeks for each of seven years sampled: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. On each of these dates, the newspapers’ photographs were viewed, page by page. The team conducted tests of intercoder reliability at routine intervals on 10 percent of the sample. 32 Newsdeck Staff, Readers speak: The power of a picture survey results, Newsdeck. org, January 24, 2005, www.newsdesk.org. 33 Jack Haskins, The trouble with bad news, Newspaper Research Journal 2.2 (1981): 3–16; Haskins and Miller, The effects of bad news and good news on a newspaper’s image, Journalism Quarterly 61 (1984): 3–13. 34 Jack Haskins, The trouble with bad news, Newspaper Research Journal 2.2 (1981): 3–16; Haskins and Miller, The effects of bad news and good news on a newspaper’s image, Journalism Quarterly 61 (1984): 3–13.

248

| Notes

35 Susan Sontag, On photography (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977). 36 Fred Ritchin, Why violent news images matter, Time Magazine, September 2, 2014, www.time.com. 37 Violence in the news, National Crime Prevention Council, www.ncpc.org, accessed July 10, 2014. 38 Vicki Goldberg, ed., Photography in print: Writings from 1816 to the present (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988); Vicki Goldberg, The power of photography: How photographs changed our lives (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991). 39 Jim Colton, Photo journal: MaryAnne Golon; The Washington Post, National Press Photographers Association, Nppa.org., www.nppa.org, accessed April 26, 2016. 40 Felicity Barringer, Paper runs photo of head of reporter who was killed, New York Times, June 7, 2002, www.nytimes.com.

Chapter 3. Alternative Images

1 Full coverage—attacks in Paris: Europe’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2015, www.latimes.com, accessed November 21, 2015. 2 Ibid. 3 Mary Bowerman, New York Daily News’ cover causes outrage over graphic images of slain journalist, USA Today, August 27, 2015, www.usatoday.com, accessed October 15, 2015. 4 Jayme Deerwester, How Princess Diana’s death shook the media landscape, USA Today, August 31, 2015, www.usatoday.com, accessed March 14, 2016. 5 Complete coverage of the China earthquake, Los Angeles Times, www.latimes .com, accessed June 4, 2008. 6 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 2004, www.philly.com, accessed September 8, 2004. 7 David Andreatta and Laura Italiano, A lost treasure, New York Post, September 7, 2004, www.nypost.com, accessed September 7, 2004. 8 Massacre at Virginia Tech, CNN.com, April 17, 2007, www.cnn.com, accessed May 2, 2007. Also used in Annie Johnson, “I thought, ‘The next shot is for me,’ ” Time, April 18, 2007, www.time.com, accessed on May 5, 2017. 9 34 killed, including an American, in Sadr City clashes, New York Times, September 7, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed September 7, 2004. 10 Terrorist attacks in Madrid: Dead at the Atocha Station, New York Times, March 11, 2004. 11 Seth Mydans, Long lists of the missing in Bali and many bodies without names, New York Times, October 15, 2002: A1. 12 Francis X Clines, The hunt for a sniper, New York Times, October 15, 2002: A1 and online at www.nytimes.com, accessed October 25, 2002.

Notes

Chapter 4. Industry Access

|

249

1 Paul Martin Lester, Photojournalism: An ethical approach (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991). 2 The riot beat, Newsweek, 1976: 78, quoted in ibid. 3 Final moments, WorldPressPhoto.org, accessed March 12, 2016. 4 Marty Petty, Press-conference suicide presents newspapers with complex judgments, A Public Suicide: Papers Differ on Editing Graphic Images: An Associated Press Managing Editors Report, 1987: 3–4. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Lori Robertson, Images of war, American Journalism Review, October/November 2004, www.ajrarchive.org, accessed March 12, 2016. 8 Associated Press, Deaths from NYC bus crash rise to 15, Boston Globe, March 15, 2011, www.boston.com, accessed March 25, 2011. 9 Jim Fitzgerald and Tom Hays, New York City tour-bus crash kills 14, Denver Post, March 13, 2011, www.denverpost.com, accessed March 15, 2011. 10 Ibid. 11 As explained in chapter 1, to encourage frankness, those interviewed privately were promised anonymity. 12 Pew Research Center, 30 million Americans have seen war-related images online that mainstream news organizations deemed too graphic or disturbing to display, Pew Internet and American Life Project, July 8, 2004, www.pewinternet.org, accessed August 10, 2004; Deborah Fallows and Lee Rainie, The internet as a unique news source: Millions go online for news and images not covered in the mainstream press, Pew Internet and American Life Project, July 8, 2004, www .pewinternet.org, accessed July 10, 2004. 13 Deborah Fallows and Lee Rainie, The internet as a unique news source: Millions go online for news and images not covered in the mainstream press, Pew Internet and American Life Project, July 8, 2004, www.pewinternet.org, accessed July 10, 2004. 14 Syria’s sorrow: So many children have been killed, NBC News, June 1, 2011, www .msnbc.msn.com, accessed July 1, 2011. 15 Joe Holley, Should the coverage fit the crime? Columbia Journalism Review 35.1 (May/June 1996): 27. 16 Jessica Webb, Perspectives: A photojournalist’s worst nightmare, August 17, 2006, National Press Photographers Association, www.nppa.org, accessed March 12, 2016. 17 Jock Lauterer, Wrestling with the bear: Community photojournalism and ethical decision making, News Photographer, April 1998: 44. 18 James Sterngold, After a suicide, questions on lurid TV news, New York Times, May 2, 1998: A1. 19 Ibid.

250

| Notes

20 Ibid. 21 Nathan Kvinge, Death on tape, News Photographer, April 1998: 49. 22 While foreign executions have been televised in the United States, no U.S. execution ever has. Talk-show host Phil Donahue unsuccessfully petitioned to broadcast a gas chamber death in 1994 after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case. 23 As discussed in chapter 1, private interviews offered confidentiality. 24 Michel du Cille, Documenting with dignity in the Ebola zone, Washington Post, October 19, 2014, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 5, 2015. 25 Fred Ritchen, Why violent news images matter, Time, September 2, 2014, www .time.com, February 9, 2016. 26 Photojournalism career, Journalism degree, www.journalismdegree.com, accessed May 2, 2016.

Chapter 5. Intentional Ambiguity

1 Barbara Rosenblum, Style as social process, American Sociological Review 43 (1978): 424. 2 Ibid. 3 Dianne Hagaman, How I learned not to be a photojournalist (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996). 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 As explained in chapter 1, to encourage frankness, those interviewed privately were promised anonymity. 8 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed October 26, 2015. 9 Ibid. 10 Jeffrey Gettleman, Violence intensifies days before shift of sovereignty to Iraqis, New York Times, June 24, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed June 24, 2004. 11 Sheena Goodyear, Migrant crisis: Should pictures of a drowned Syrian boy be shared on social media? CBC News, September 2, 2015, www.cbc.ca, accessed October 21, 2015. 12 Ibid. 13 Brian Montopoli, Obama: I won’t release bin Laden death photos, CBS News, May 5, 2011, www.cbsnews.com, accessed June 26, 2011. 14 CBS News Staff, Martin: Bin Laden pictures not for the squeamish, CBS News, May 4, 2011, www.cbsnews.com, accessed May 5, 2011. 15 Ibid. 16 Code of ethics, National Press Photographers Association, www.nppa.org, accessed March 6, 2015.

Notes

|

251

17 NPPA Ethics Committee releases statement on disqualified World Press photos, National Press Photographers’ Association, February 21, 2015. www.nppa.org, accessed March 6, 2015. 18 Jason D. Little, What are the ethics of digital manipulation in photography? April 16, 2013, www.lightstalking.com, accessed February 24, 2015. 19 Vicki Goldberg, The power of photography: How photographs changed our lives (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991). 20 John Durham Peters, Witnessing, Media, Culture & Society 23.6 (2001): 707–23. 21 Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, www.camera.org, accessed July 10, 2005. 22 watch: Abducted teen jumps from moving car, CBC News, www.cbc.ca, posted October 8, 2015, 9:38 a.m. ET, accessed November 8, 2015. 23 Sheila Reaves, The vulnerable image: Categories of photos as predictor of digital manipulation, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 72.3 (1995): 708. 24 Ibid. 25 David Zurawik, TV accords more respect to victims in US: Images are horrifying but media show more restraint than in tsunami, Katrina’s wake, Baltimore Sun, September 3, 2005, www.baltimoresun.com, accessed March 12, 2016.

Chapter 6. Layers of Resistance

1 As explained in chapter 1, to encourage frankness, those interviewed privately were promised anonymity. 2 David Zurawik, TV accords more respect to victims in US: Images are horrifying but media show more restraint than in tsunami, Katrina’s wake, Baltimore Sun, September 3, 2005, www.baltimoresun.com, accessed November 3, 2015. 3 Sensationalism (definition), Dictionary.com, dictionary.reference.com, accessed July 22, 2013. 4 David Carr, Train wreck: The New York Post’s subway cover, New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed December 5, 2012. 5 Christopher Zara, New York Post subway death photo: Unethical or just tasteless? International Business Times, www.ibtimes.com, accessed December 4, 2012. 6 Mary Bowerman, New York Daily News cover causes outrage over graphic images of slain journalist, USA Today, August 27, 2015, www.usatoday.com, accessed October 15, 2015. 7 Quoted by Marguerite J. Moritz, Instant transmission. In Image ethics in the digital age, ed. Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz, and Jay Ruby (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 81. 8 David Carr, Train wreck: The New York Post’s subway cover, New York Times, December 5, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 9 Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com, accessed July 30, 2013. 10 Mary Bowerman, New York Daily News cover causes outrage over graphic images of slain journalist, USA Today, August 27, 2015, www.usatoday.com, accessed October 15, 2015.

252

| Notes

11 Jo Piazza, National Enquirer publisher calls Whitney Houston casket photo “beautiful.” Fox News, February 23, 2012, www foxnews com, accessed March 6, 2015 12 Perez Hilton, Whitney Houston’s funeral home says they did NOT leak that casket photo!! www.perezhilton.com, accessed March 6, 2015. 13 Jo Piazza, National Enquirer publisher calls Whitney Houston casket photo “beautiful,” Fox News, February 23, 2012, www.foxnews.com, accessed March 6, 2015. 14 Jay Ruby, Secure the shadow: Death and photography in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995); Audrey Linkman, Photography and death (London: Reaktion Books, Exposures, 2011). 15 Abby Phillip, Did New York tabloids go too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution? Washington Post, August 20, 2014, www.washingtonpost .com, accessed May 12, 2016. 16 Howard Kurtz, Beyond scandal, Washington Post, May 11, 2004, www.washington post.com, accessed May 12, 2016. 17 Jacqueline E. Sharkey, When is a picture too graphic to run? American Journalism Review, December 1993, www.ajrarchive.org, accessed May 12, 2016. 18 Lori Robertson, Images of war, American Journalism Review, October/November 2004, www.ajrarchive.org, accessed May 12, 2016. 19 Ibid. 20 Maurice Berger, For all the world to see: Visual culture and the struggle for civil rights (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010). 21 For further discussion of the conventional role assigned photographic images, see Alan Trachtenberg, ed., Classic essays on photography (New Haven, CT: Leete’s Island Books, 1980); Victor Burgin, ed., Thinking photography (London: Macmillan, 1982). 22 Stuart Hall, The determinations of news photographs. In The manufacture of news: Social problems, deviance, and the mass media, ed. Stanely Cohen and Jock Young (London: Constable, 1981). 23 Michael Schudson, The objectivity norm in American journalism, Journalism 2.2 (2001): 149–70. 24 While “breaking news” status is often preferred, it is not the only criterion for deeming events newsworthy. This is particularly true on “slow” news days, when certain events are covered that ordinarily would not be. 25 His argument also overlooks the fact that the U.S. news media do in fact run photographs of funeral corpses, including those of ordinary citizens and public figures. For example, along with other respected newspapers, the New York Times published an intimate view of Mao Zedong lying on his deathbed in its 1977 “Review in Pictures.” The same was true of front-page coverage given to the funeral bodies of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Pope Paul VI. Other famous bodies depicted include Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Although images of a funeral corpse are rare, historical precedence demonstrates that the news media consider at least some newsworthy.

Notes

|

253

26 Margaret Sullivan, Was photo of dead ambassador acceptable? New York Times, September 12, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 5, 2014. 27 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, Spring 2010, www .ajrarchive.org, accessed February 15, 2015. 28 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 5, 2014; Margaret Sullivan, Was photo of dead ambassador acceptable? New York Times, September 12, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 5, 2014. 29 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 5, 2014. 30 Stephen De Las Heras, Letters to the public editor: Other voices; Some words about those pictures, New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed December 16, 2015. 31 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed March 9, 2010. 32 Beverly Keys, Letters to the public editor: Other voices; Some words about those pictures, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed April 4, 2016. 33 Stephen De Las Heras, Letters to the public editor: Other voices; Some words about those pictures, New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed December 16, 2015. 34 Ryan Pitts, Readers speak: The power of a picture; Graphic images can shock and inform, Newsdesk.org, January 24, 2005, www.newsdesk.org, accessed June 8, 2013. 35 Stephen De Las Heras, Letters to the public editor: Other voices; Some words about those pictures, New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed December 16, 2015. 36 Dennis Dunleavy, Death as contributing background, Photojournalism, May 27, 2008, www.blackstar.com, accessed November 1, 2013. 37 Ibid. 38 Ibid. 39 Clark Hoyt, Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www .nytimes.com, accessed May 12, 2015. 40 Ryan Pitts, Readers speak: The power of a picture; Graphic images can shock and inform, Newsdesk.org, January 24, 2005, www.newsdesk.org, accessed June 8, 2013.

Chapter 7. Word versus Image

1 Bruce Handy, Pics or it didn’t happen: Ray Rice, journalist beheadings, and the culture of leaked videos, Vanity Fair, September 12, 2014, www.vanityfair.com. 2 Michael Powell, Suspended for abuse, then patted on the back, New York Times, July 24, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed July 29, 2014. 3 Lynda Cohen, Ray Rice cut, suspended after TMZ releases video showing football player punching girlfriend, Press of Atlantic City, www.pressofatlanticcity.com, accessed October 10, 2014.

254

| Notes

4 Nicholas Schmidle, The digital dirt, New Yorker, February 22, 2016, www.new yorker.com, accessed May 12, 2016. 5 Terry Shropshire, Twitter explodes after Ray Rice video showing knocking wife out, Atlanta Daily World, September 8, 2014, www.atlantadailyworld.com, accessed May 2, 2015. 6 Ray Rice elevator knockout: Fiancée takes crushing punch (video), TMZ, September 8, 2014, www.tmz.com, accessed October 20, 2014. 7 Terry Shropshire, Twitter explodes after Ray Rice video showing knocking wife out, Atlanta Daily World, September 8, 2014, www.atlantadailyworld.com, accessed May 2, 2015. 8 Nicholas Schmidle, The digital dirt, New Yorker, February 22, 2016, www.new yorker.com, accessed May 12, 2016. 9 Lynda Cohen, Ray Rice cut, suspended after TMZ releases video showing football player punching girlfriend, Press of Atlantic City, www.pressofatlanticcity.com, accessed October 10, 2014. 10 Some images documenting the prison scandal showed U.S. soldiers posing with corpses, but these photographs were not the images preferred by the news media. Those preferred focused on victims who were clearly alive. 11 Andrea Mitchell, Red Cross report: Pentagon ignored warnings, NBC News, May 11, 2004, www.nbcnews.com, accessed May 12, 2016. 12 Transcript: Rumsfeld testifies before Senate Armed Services Committee, FDCH E-Media, Washington Post, May 7, 2004, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 11, 2016. 13 Peter Carlson, Still pictures that are far more moving than words, Washington Post, September 25, 2001, 1. 14 Lynell George, Renee Tawa, and Cara Mia DiMassa, Groping for words, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2001, www.latimes.com, accessed May 12, 2016. 15 Ibid. 16 David Bauder, Media pause to reflect on Sept. 11 anniversary, Yahoo News, www .yahoo.com, accessed September 11, 2011. 17 Jim Colton, Photo journal: Maryanne Golon—The Washington Post. National Press Photographers Association, www.nppa.org, accessed May 12, 2016. 18 Donald Winslow, Tragedy, politics, race & photojournalism, News Photographer, as quoted in Digital Journalist, November 2005, www.digitaljournalist.org, accessed September 1, 2012. 19 Karen Slattery and Mark Doremus, Ethics: photojournalist: know thyself, Digital Journalist, May 2008, www.digitaljournalist.org, accessed April 4, 2012. 20 National Press Photographers Association, Best use of photography 2012, 3rd quarter results, January 14, 2013, www.nppa.org, accessed July 30, 2013. 21 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed September 2, 2012. 22 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed December 8, 2015.

Notes

|

255

23 Susie Linfield, The cruel radiance: Photography and political violence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). 24 Bruce Handy, Pics or it didn’t happen: Ray Rice, journalist beheadings, and the culture of leaked videos, Vanity Fair, September 12, 2014, www.vanityfair.com, accessed December 8, 2015. 25 Donald Winslow, Tragedy, politics, race & photojournalism, News Photographer, as quoted in Digital Journalist, November 2005, www.digitaljournalist.org, accessed September 1, 2012. 26 Maurice Berger, For all the world to see: Visual culture and the struggle for civil rights (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010). 27 Ibid. 28 bell hooks, Black looks: Race and representation (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1992). 29 David Perlmutter, Photojournalism and foreign policy: Icons of outrage in international crises (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998). 30 Quoted in ibid., p. 4. 31 Ibid. 32 The Somalian conflict and the power of TV images, Larry King Live, CNN, October 5, 1993. 33 Iconic Photos at iconicphotos wordpress com, accessed May 12, 2016. 34 Ibid. 35 David Perlmutter, Photojournalism and foreign policy: Icons of outrage in international crises (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998). 36 A Pulitzer for AFP: Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini wins award, Agence France-Presse, April 17, 2012, www.afp.com, accessed December 20, 2015. 37 As explained in chapter 1, those interviewed privately were promised anonymity. 38 “O. J. Simpson murder case” entry, Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, accessed December 30, 2015. 39 Ibid. 40 Lesley Wischmann, Dying on the front page, Journal of Mass Media Ethics 2.2 (1987). 41 Daniel Okrent, No picture tells the truth: The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed April 25, 2016. 42 Margaret Sullivan, A model of restraint in the race for new, New York Times, April 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed June 20, 2015. 43 Newsdesk.org Staff, Readers speak: The power of a picture survey results, January 24, 2005, www.newsdesk.org, accessed May 12, 2016. 44 Ryan Pitts, APME survey: Readers balance compassion with privacy when considering disturbing images, Poynter, January 20, 2005, www.poynter.org, accessed June 20, 2015. 45 Joe Holley, Should the coverage fit the crime? Columbia Journalism Review 35.1 (May/June 1996): 27–32. 46 Todd Benson, Fire kills 283 at supermarket in Paraguay, New York Times, August 2, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016.

256

| Notes

47 Jackie Spinner, At least 80 civilians die in Iraqi violence, Washington Post, September 13, 2004: A1. 48 Richard Holbrooke and Kenneth Bacon, Death’s grip on Darfur, Boston Globe, August 6, 2004, www.boston.com, accessed March 18, 2009. 49 Sabrina Tavernise, Fallen bodies, jet parts, and a child’s pink book: Malaysia Airlines plane leaves trail of debris, New York Times, July 17, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 11, 2016; Sabrina Tavernise, Bitter smell, crumpled remains at scene of Malaysia plane crash, Boston Globe, July 17, 2014, www.bostonglobe.com, accessed January 11, 2016. 50 Ibid. 51 Ibid. 52 July 17, 2014; July 18, 2014. 53 New York Post, January 16, 1995. 54 Pam Belluck and Paul von Zielbauer, Fire in a nightclub: Overview; 96 dead in fire ignited by band at Rhode Island club, New York Times, February 22, 2003, www.nytimes.com, May 11, 2016. 55 Ibid. 56 Josh Kovner, Escape: There was no time to think, only to act, Hartford Courant, February 22, 2003. 57 Michael Daly, Magnifying horror for Arab world, New York Daily News, March 24, 2003: 12. 58 Joe Klein, The PG–rated war, Time Magazine, April 7, 2003: 94. 59 Edmund Sanders, 35 children die in Baghdad bombings, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2004, www.latimes.com, accessed May 11, 2015. 60 Dexter Filkins, 2 car bombings in Iraq kill 41, many children, New York Times, October 1, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2017. 61 Ian Fisher, Iraqi council leader is killed in blast near U.S. headquarters, New York Times, May 17, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed October 21, 2004. 62 Yasmine Saleh and Tom Perry/Michael Georgy, Egypt police move against pro-Mursi sit-ins, August 14, 2013, Reuturs via Yahoo! News, www.yahoo.com, accessed August 14, 2013. 63 Yasmine Saleh and Tom Finn, More than 200 dead after Egypt forces crush protest camps, Reuters, August 14, 2013, www.reuters.com, accessed February 4, 2016.

Chapter 8. Pictures in the Popular and Patrician Press

1 Abby Phillip, Did New York tabloids go too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution? Washington Post, August 20, 2014, www.washingtonpost .com, accessed May 13, 2016. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Howard Rosenberg, Can respect mute media’s frenzy in Cosby slaying? Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1997, www.latimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016.

Notes

|

257

5 Casey Bukro, Images of war, Ethics Advice Line for Journalists, www.ethicsad vicelineforjournalists.org, accessed May 13, 2016. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Doing the devil’s work, Columbia Journalism Review 18.5 (January 1980): 22–23. 9 Paul Martin Lester, Photojournalism: An ethical approach (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991). 10 Charles Apple, Tabloid design: “Let’s give the terrorists what they want,” www .charlesapple.com, accessed June 9, 2016. 11 Abby Phillip, Did New York tabloids go too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution? Washington Post, August 20, 2014, www.washingtonpost .com, accessed May 13, 2016. 12 Dylan Stableford, New York Post piles on the horror with front-page photo of man about to be killed by subway train. Yahoo! News, December 4, 2012, news.yahoo .com, accessed December 22, 2012. 13 Perez Hilton, Whitney Houston’s funeral home says they did NOT leak that casket photo!! www.perezhilton.com, accessed March 6, 2015. 14 As noted in chapter 1, those privately interviewed were promised confidentiality. 15 Research assistants coded photographs appearing in the sample and conducted tests of intercoder reliability at routine intervals on 10 percent of the images. The assistants examined the news from the four major newspapers appearing during a total of 112 weeks, which included sixteen weeks for each of seven years sampled: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. During this period, for each of the two tabloids and two patrician newspapers, on the same selected days, we tracked the number of corpse pictures published. 16 Other terms, like the “patrician,” “prestige,” and “elite” press, are used interchangeably, in contrast to the “popular” or “plebeian” press. (Although these terms were developed before the Internet, they are also used to refer to the online versions of printed newspapers.) 17 “Tabloid” entry, Wikipedia, wikipedia.com, accessed October 29, 2007. 18 Max Frankel, Times of my life and my life with the “Times” (New York: Random House, 1999). 19 There have been a few high-profile exceptions when the National Enquirer published a postmortem image. For example, it ran a picture of the singer and actor Whitney Houston in her open casket, as discussed earlier in chapter 6. 20 As measured by the column width of photos, the New York Times and Washington Post were more likely than tabloids to allow large corpse photographs, defined as spanning three or more columns. Approximately 22 percent of corpse photographs in the patrician press and only 4 percent of corpse photographs in the popular press were published in large size—a difference that was again statistically significant. 21 Jo Tavener, Media, morality, and madness: The case against sleaze TV, Critical Studies in Media Communication 17.1 (2000): 63–85.

258

|

Notes

22 At each point in time, the average number of corpse photographs for a tabloid never exceeded four per month. Most typically, the average number of corpse photographs appearing in tabloids was about two per month or less, and during three of the seven sampled years, the average number of corpse photographs for a tabloid was approximately one per month. Meanwhile, the average number of corpse photographs for a broadsheet newspaper ranged from nearly four per month to a high of nearly eight per month, and most typically, a broadsheet ran an average of about four corpse photos per month. 23 To test this, we counted all portraits for which the headline, photo caption, or story text identified the pictured individual as deceased. The study included only the news explicitly reporting on death since these portraits are sometimes used to illustrate other types of stories. 24 In both the popular and the patrician press, living portraits are substantially more frequent than corpse photographs: on a monthly average, a tabloid will run about thirty-seven living portraits of the deceased and fewer than two corpse photos, and a broadsheet will run about seventeen living portraits of the deceased and about four corpse photos. Thus, both types of news media exhibit an overwhelming preference for images that can allude to death without explicitly portraying the dead. 25 The decorative border and the use of ovals is also a traditional, Victorian-styled press practice, as noted in Pictorial Journalism (1939) by Laura Vitray, John Mills Jr., and Roscoe Ellard. 26 Julia Keller, Posting Pearl slaying online: Voyeurism or an act of principle? Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2002, www.chicagotribune.com, March 16, 2016. 27 Heather Bird, News that knows no bounds: A respected paper sinks to new lows with beheading, Toronto Sun, June 13, 2002. 28 Doing the devil’s work, Columbia Journalism Review 18.5 (1980): 22–23. 29 The erosion of values: A debate among journalists over how to cope, Columbia Journalism Review (March–April 1998): 44–47. 30 David Carr, Train wreck: The New York Post’s subway cover, New York Times, December 5, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 31 Margaret Sullivan, A model of restraint in the race for news, New York Times, April 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 32 Paul Finkelman, Execution as carnival: Will the televised spectacle bring closure for the victims’ families, or will it be Timothy J. McVeigh’s final victory over American society? Baltimore Sun, April, 22, 2001. Quoted in Should executions be made public? deathpenalty.procon.org, accessed March 16, 2016. 33 Jon Fine, Sunday, bloody Sunday: A new turn in the tab wars, Columbia Journalism Review 37.6 (1999): 11–12. 34 Cheryl Reed, Time to move these pages forward—with a return to our past, Chicago Sun-Times, July 10, 2007, www.suntimes.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 35 Ibid.

Notes

|

259

36 Walter Lippmann, Public opinion, www.columbia.edu, accessed May 25, 2016; J. L. Brown, Picture magazines and morons, American Mercury, December 1938: 404–8. 37 Karin Becker, Photojournalism and the tabloid press. In The Photography Reader, ed. L. Wells (London: Routledge, 2003). 38 Standard setter, Brill’s Content, February 26, 1999. 39 Ibid. 40 Front page, New York Post, November 13, 2007, nypost.com, accessed February 15, 2011. 41 Front page, New York Post, April 15, 1983; Steve Cuozzo, The genius behind “headless body in topless bar” headline dies at 74, New York Post, June 9, 2015, www .nypost.com, accessed May 20, 2016. 42 Home page, New York Post, September 19, 2011, nypost.com, accessed September 19, 2011. 43 Nyt.com home page and story link at www.nytimes.com accessed 12:40 p.m. on September 19, 2011. 44 Jennifer Medina, Air race fans, despite crash, remain steadfast, New York Times, September 19, 2011, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 3, 2016. 45 V. Penelope Pelizzon and Nancy M. West, “Good stories” from the mean streets: Weegee and hard-boiled autobiography, Yale Journal of Criticism 17.1 (2004): 20–50. 46 “Weegee” entry, Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, accessed September 20, 2010.

Chapter 9. Nationality and the “Newsworthy” Image

1 Peter Boyer, Famine in Ethiopia, Washington Journalism Review 7 (1985), quoted in Eleanor Singer and Phyliss M. Endreny, eds., Reporting on risk: How the mass media portray accidents, diseases, other hazards (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1993). 2 Jessica M. Fishman and Carolyn Marvin, Portrayals of violence and group difference in newspaper photographs: Nationalism and media, Journal of Communication 53.1 (2003): 32–44. 3 The newspapers studied include the New York Times and Washington Post, plus two major tabloids—the New York Post and Philadelphia Daily News 4 When examining pictures of current events, our research team excluded what can be considered historical images. From time to time, the U.S. press does publish old pictures, most of which were taken many decades prior. For example, some historical images published in the news depict the dead from the American Civil War or World War II. Among all corpse photos, including the historical ones, only 36 percent of them depicted dead Americans, meaning that the vast majority of them still depict the bodies in other countries. 5 Best Photos of the Year, Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 3, 2015.

260

| Notes

6 Abby Phillip, Did New York tabloids go too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution? Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 7 Casey Bukro, Images of war, Ethics Advice Line for Journalists, August 22, 2014, www.ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org, accessed May 13, 2016. 8 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010. 9 Natasha Lennard, There’s a double standard for showing white and nonwhite corpses in the media, Fusion, September 3, 2015, www.fusion.net, accessed June 13, 2016. 10 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010. 11 Given the contested definition of race, and categories within this construct, there are various methodological challenges facing attempts to track the deceased depicted by race. The gold standard for measuring race requires asking the individual in question which race s/he identifies as, but when studying the deceased, that is not feasible. In addition, collecting related information from next of kin is beyond the scope of this study. 12 White corpses are most likely to be shown in domestic and international coverage (by far), but it is also worth considering in future studies whether the racial breakdown among the American or foreign corpse photos is disproportionate in some way. For example, the black corpse photos could be disproportionate compared to some other fact, such as the number of news stories about the death of a black person. The appropriate comparison could be debated since the decision to run a story may be influenced by the race of the deceased. 13 Andy Alexander, Drawing the line on images of death, Washington Post, January 25, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 13, 2016. 14 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010. 15 David Barstown and Suhasini Raj, Indian Muslim, accused of stealing a cow, is beaten to death by a Hindu mob, New York Times, November 4, 2015, www .nytimes.com, accessed March 18, 2016. 16 Del Quentin Wilber, At service for girl, a prayer for youth: Funeral brings call to stop the killing, Washington Post, August 3, 2004: B1, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed September 20, 2006. 17 In Asia, growing desperation, Boston Globe, December 30, 2004: A1. 18 Along the ocean, a tourist destination copes with death, Boston Globe, January 2, 2005: A18. 19 Relief effort pushes deeper into Asia, Boston Globe, January 3, 2005: A6. 20 Other major U.S. news media followed this trend, restricting the documentation of American corpses. For example, although the New York Times did provide corpse imagery in its Hurricane Katrina coverage, it mostly used photojournalism to document survivors, emergency officials, and the reformed landscape

Notes

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

29

30 31 32 33

34 35 36 37 38

|

261

to suggest the fatalities without depicting them. The New York Times, like other American news media, was also more willing to include corpse images during coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Sudden death descends on Indian shore, Washington Post, December 27, 2004: A23. The tidal wave that touches our safe shore, Washington Post, December 30, 2004: C1. Mourning the children lost in a sea of sorrow, Washington Post, December 30, 2004: C4. Wall of water converges on bus depot, killing hundreds, Washington Post, December 28, 2004: A11. Land became sea, Washington Post, January 2, 2005: 45. Porismita Borah, Comparing visual framing in newspapers: Hurricane Katrina versus tsunami, Newspaper Research Journal 30 (2009): 1. Phillip Knightley, The first casualty (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975). Jackie Spinner, Marines killed in blast near Fallujah: Apparent suicide attack is deadliest for troops since April 7; 3 Iraqis slain, Washington Post, September 7, 2004: A1. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Insurgents mount attacks across Baghdad: 2 US soldiers killed in Tuesday’s action brings two-day total to 13, Washington Post, September 7, 2004. Anthony Lane, Hack work: A tabloid culture runs amok, New Yorker, August 1, 2011: 24–30. B. Franklin, Newszak and news media (London: Arnold, 1997). Handout photo, via Reuters, www.nytimes.com, accessed August 31, 2004. The Agence France-Presse photo caption explained, “A picture taken from the Islamist Army of Ansar al-Sunna Web site shows an armed man standing next to the bodies of five Nepalese men in an undisclosed location. Twelve Nepalese taken hostage in Iraq by an al Qaeda-linked group have been executed, according to a statement posted on the Web site.” Washington Post, August 31, 2004, www .washingtonpost.com, accessed August 31, 2004. Ravi Nessman, 12 Nepalese hostages said slain in Iraq, New York Post, August 31, 2004, www.nypost.com, accessed August 31, 2004. Steven Lee Myers, Suicide bomber kills 9 at Moscow subway station, New York Times, September 1, 2004, www.nytimes.com, accessed September 1, 2004. Steve Gutterman, Suicide bomber kills 10 at Moscow subway, New York Post, September 1, 2004, www.nypost.com, accessed September 1, 2004. Two bus blasts in southern Israel kill 16, New York Post, September 1, 2004, www .nypost.com, accessed September 1, 2004. September 1, 2004, on www.nytimes.com, accessed September 1, 2004.

Chapter 10. Innocence and the “Newsworthy” Image

1 Mark Memmott, Tragedy in Connecticut: 20 children, 6 adults killed at elementary school, National Public Radio, December 14, 2012, www.npr.org, accessed April 2, 2013.

262

| Notes

2 Ibid. 3 Rachel Aviv, Letter from Newtown: Local story; A community newspaper covers a national tragedy, New Yorker, March 4, 2013: 24–29. 4 Raf Sanchez, Connecticut school shooting: Six-year-old stayed alive by playing dead, Daily Telegraph, December 17, 2012, www.telegraph.co.uk, accessed December 19, 2012. 5 In the sample of 396 postmortem photographs, fifty-one depicted dead children. 6 Terms like “child” and “youth” are used interchangeably and refer to persons eighteen years old or younger. 7 The year in review: Best photos of the year, Washington Post’s homepage, www .washingtonpost.com, accessed December 17, 2013. 8 Ibid. 9 The loss of attractive, Caucasian children seems to be judged particularly newsworthy. 10 Wendy Koch, Lives of indelible impact, USA Today, May 25, 2007, usatoday.com, accessed November 24, 2010. 11 Katherine Rosman, JonBenet, Inc., Brills Content, February 2000, www.acandy rose.com, accessed February 16, 2016. 12 Paul Bloom, The baby in the well: The case against empathy, New Yorker, May 20, 2013: 119. 13 Rachel Aviv, Letter from Newtown: Local story; A community newspaper covers a national tragedy, New Yorker, March 4, 2013: 24–29. 14 Noam Cohen, From Newtown, and a puppet provocateur, New York Times, December 17, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 15, 2013. 15 Rachel Aviv, Letter from Newtown: Local story; A community newspaper covers a national tragedy, New Yorker, March 4, 2013: 24–29. 16 Ibid. 17 Newtown school shooting: Remembering the victims, Washington Post, December 15, 2012, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 3, 2013. 18 Ryu Spaeth, The disturbing rise of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, Week, January 18, 2013; Rachel Aviv, Letter from Newtown: Local story; A community newspaper covers a national tragedy, New Yorker, March 4, 2013: 24–29. 19 Rachel Aviv, Letter from Newtown: Local story; A community newspaper covers a national tragedy, New Yorker, March 4, 2013: 24–29. 20 Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com, September 3, 2004, accessed September 3, 2004. 21 Kim Gamel, Afghanistan: NATO air strike kills 11 children, Huffington Post, April 7, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 5, 2013. 22 Jane Perlez, Massacres by Serbian forces in 3 Kosovo villages, New York Times, September 30, 1998: A6. 23 Mourning the children lost in a sea of sorrow, Washington Post, December 30, 2004: C4. 24 FBI: McVeigh knew children would be killed in OKC blast, CNN, March 29, 2001, www.cnn.com, accessed May 16, 2016.

Notes

|

263

25 Newsweek staff, Why the children? Newsweek, April 30, 1995, www.newsweek .com, accessed May 16, 2016. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Jennifer Harper, Media coverage of Newtown shootings draws criticism, Washington Times, December 16, 2012, www.washingtontimes.com, accessed February 17, 2014. 32 Brian Blair, Tabloid to return crime scene photos, Daily Universe, January 15, 1997, universe.byu.edu, accessed May 16, 2016. 33 Andrew Higgins, Brushing off threats, E.U. votes to toughen its sanctions on Russia, New York Times, September 8, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 34 Mike Clark, Do graphic news photographs convey too much of the truth? Reader advocate, Florida Times-Union, January 30, 2005, www.jacksonville.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 35 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 25, 2010.

Chapter 11. Mass Tragedy and the “Newsworthy” Image

1 Daniel Okrent, The public editor: No picture tells the truth; The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 2 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 3 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 25, 2010. 4 Lori Robertson, Images of war, American Journalism Review, October/November 2004, www.ajrarchive.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 5 Ibid. 6 Andy Alexander, Drawing the line on images of death, Washington Post, January 25, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 7 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www .ajrarchive.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 8 Michelle V. Rafter, The story behind the story: How media outlets are covering Haiti earthquake, Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age, January 18, 2010, www.michellerafter.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 9 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www .ajrarchive.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 10 Ibid.

264 |

Notes

11 Editorial, Difficult images: Other voices; Photos depicting the grim truth in Haiti are chilling—and necessary, St Louis Post-Dispatch, January 28, 2010, www.stlto day.com, accessed September 5, 2014. 12 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010. www.npr.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 13 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 14 Michel du Cille, Documenting with dignity in the Ebola zone, Washington Post, October 19, 2014, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed January 7, 2016. 15 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 16 Erik Ugland and Karen Slattery, Are these victims worthy? Digital Journalist, 2005, works.bepress.com/erik_ugland/10/, accessed December 25, 2015. 17 Hari Kumar, Bootleg liquor kills at least 23 in India, New York Times, January 13, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 18 Still, when historical images are included, only 16 percent of all photos depicting American corpses represent an event that killed at least five people, which is again quite a contrast given that nearly all foreign corpse photos do. 19 Peter Golding and Philip Elliott, Making the news (London: Longman, 1979); Johan Galtung and Marie H. Ruge, The structure of foreign news: The presentation of the Congo, Cuba, and Cyprus crises in four Norwegian newspapers, Journal of International Peace Research 1 (1965): 64–91. 20 Ken Light, Witness in our time: Working lives of documentary photographers (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2010). 21 Ryan Pitts, APME survey: Readers balance compassion with privacy when considering disturbing images, Poynter, January 20, 2005, www.poynter.org, accessed March 28, 2016. 22 Monica Hesse, The Boston Marathon explosions: In history’s shutter click, sudden icons, Washington Post, April 22, 2013: C1, C7. 23 Personal interview with anonymity promised, as discussed in chapter 1. 24 Edward T. Linenthal, The unfinished bombing: Oklahoma City in American memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). 25 Carolyn Kitch, Mourning in America: Ritual, redemption, and recovery in news narrative after September 11, Journalism Studies 4.2: 213–24. 26 Kenneth Auchincloss, We shall overcome, Newsweek, September 24, 2001, accessed May 17, 2016. 27 Marcy Heinz, A flashback to Oklahoma City bombing, CNN, April 19, 2013, www .cnn.com, accessed April 23, 2013. 28 Ibid. 29 Michael Daly, Carlos Arredondo, Boston Marathon hero in a cowboy hat, on the bombs, Daily Beast, April 16, 2013, www.thedailybeast.com, accessed April 23, 2014.

Notes

| 265

30 David Jackson, Obama vows full support for Oklahoma, USA Today, May 21, 2013, www.usatoday.com. 31 Ben Brumfield, Moore, Oklahoma, looks back on tornado that killed 24 one year ago, CNN, May 20, 2014, www.cnn.com, accessed April 5, 2016. 32 Eun Kyung Kim, “Good job, teach”: Educators emerge as heroes in Okla. Tragedy, Today, NBC, June 2, 2013, www.today.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 33 Ibid. 34 Joe Holley, Should the coverage fit the crime? A Texas TV station tries to resist the allure of mayhem, Columbia Journalism Review 35.1 (May/June 1996): 27 ff. 35 Ibid., 30. 36 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 37 Ibid.

Chapter 12. The Fantastic Feats of a Few Photos

1 Syrian mother hugs dead children after alleged gas attack (video), World Post, August 22, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 17, 2016; Daniel Okrent, The public editor: No picture tells the truth; The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 2 David Carr, At front lines, bearing witness in real time, New York Times, July 27, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 3 Dashiell Bennett, The visual evidence of a chemical attack in Syria is overwhelming and disturbing, Atlantic Wire, August 21, 2013, www.theatlanticwire.com, accessed March 30, 2016. 4 Syrian mother hugs dead children after alleged gas attack (video), World Post, August 22, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 5 Dashiell Bennett, The visual evidence of a chemical attack in Syria is overwhelming and disturbing, Atlantic Wire, August 21, 2013, www.theatlanticwire.com, accessed March 30, 2016. 6 Deirdre Edgar, Bodies of Syrian children: Different views of a difficult image, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2013, www.latimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 7 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 8 Talk of the town, comment: Crossing the line, New Yorker, September 9, 2013: 29–30. 9 Tabassum Zakaria, Smallest victims punctuate U.S. debate on Syria strike, September 9, 2013, www.reuters.com, accessed September 24, 2013. 10 Deirdre Edgar, Bodies of Syrian children: Different views of a difficult image, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2013, www.latimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 11 Susan Moeller, Compassion fatigue about Syria . . . already? HuffPost Media, www .huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 12 Philip Kennicott, Why Syria’s images of suffering haven’t moved us, Washington Post, September 13, 2013, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed October 3, 2014.

266

|

Notes

13 Ibid. 14 Angie Lovelace, “Iconic photos of the Vietnam War and their influence on collective memory,” August 26, 2010, vietnamiconicphotos.wordpress.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 15 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 16 Joby Warrick, Even after 100,000 deaths in Syria, chemical weapons attack evoked visceral response, Washington Post, August 31, 2013, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed September 17, 2013. 17 Susan Moeller, Compassion fatigue about Syria . . . already? HuffPost Media, www .huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 18 Anne Barnard, Brutal ISIS videos show potency of shock value, New York Times, February 20, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 4, 2016. 19 Roland Martin, America should see the Newtown carnage, CNN, December 23, 2012, www.cnn.com, accessed July 14, 2014. 20 CNN’s Roland Martin: Showing Newtown death photos would “shake the conscience of America,” Twitchy, www.twitchy.com, accessed June 3, 2016. 21 Ibid. 22 Roland Martin, America should see the Newtown carnage, CNN, December 23, 2012, www.cnn.com, accessed July 14, 2014. 23 Barbie Crafts, Sandy Hook crime scene photos: CNN’s Roland Martin wants them public (video), Examiner, December 23, 2012, www.examiner.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 24 Ibid. 25 How photos of crisis can shape the events they represent, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, September 3, 2015, www.npr.org, accessed March 9, 2016. 26 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www.ajr .org, accessed May 17, 2016. 27 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 28 Fred Mukinda, Hard questions emerge over handling of terror attack, Daily Nation, September 28, 2013, www.nation.co.ke, accessed June 3, 2016. 29 Documenting a massacre in Kenya (video), New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed September 29, 2013. 30 James Estrin, Photography in the docket, as evidence, New York Times, April 2, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed July 12, 2013. 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid. 33 Clark Hoyt, Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www .nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 34 Michelle Bogre, Photography as activism: Images for social change (New York: Focal Press, 2012).

Notes

|

267

35 Clark Hoyt, Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www .nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 36 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www.ajr .org, accessed May 17, 2016. 37 Ryan Pitts, APME survey: Readers balance compassion with privacy when considering disturbing images, Poynter, January 20, 2005, www.poynter.org, accessed February 4, 2016. 38 James Estrin, Photography in the docket, as evidence, New York Times, April 2, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed July 12, 2013. 39 “A Pulitzer for AFP: Afghan photographer Massoud Hossanini wins award,” Agence France Presse, April 17, 2012, www.afp.com, accessed January 11, 2017. 40 Ibid. 41 Daniel Okrent, The public editor: No picture tells the truth; The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 42 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed March 31, 2016. 43 Rya Pitts, Readers speak: The power of a picture, Newsdesk, January 24, 2005, www.newsdesk.org, accessed June 8, 2013. 44 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 45 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy,” New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 11, 2017. 46 Ken Light, Witness in our time: Working lives of documentary photographers (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2010), 268. 47 Ryan Pitts, APME survey: Readers balance compassion with privacy when considering disturbing images, Poynter, January 20, 2005, www.poynter.org, accessed February 4, 2016. 48 Bob Greene, Photo of tragedy is a prize mistake, Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1985, www.chicagotribune.com, accessed January 11, 2017. 49 “And babies” entry, Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, accessed June 13, 2016. 50 Vicki Goldberg, The power of photography (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991). 51 Marvin Heiferman, ed., Photography changes everything (New York: Aperture Foundation & Smithsonian Institution, 2012). 52 Marita Sturken, Tangled memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, and the politics of remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). 53 Andy Alexander, Drawing the line on images of death, Washington Post, January 25, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 54 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed May 16, 2016; How photos of crisis can shape the events they represent, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, September 3, 2015, www.npr.org, accessed May 4, 2016.

268

| Notes

55 Dennis Dunleavy, Un-bearing witness, June 4, 2008, rising.blackstar.com, accessed November 1, 2012. 56 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www.ajr .org, accessed May 17, 2016. 57 Ibid. 58 Michelle V. Rafter, The story behind the story: How media outlets are covering Haiti earthquake, Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age, January 18, 2010, www.michellerafter.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 59 Philip Kennicott, Media offers full, blunt, hideous picture of trauma caused by Haiti earthquake, Washington Post, January 16, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 60 Paul Lynch, Letter to the editor. Quoted by Daniel Okrent, Other voices: Some words about those pictures, New York Times, January 16, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 61 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 62 Daniel Okrent, The public editor: No picture tells the truth; The best do better than that, New York Times, January 9, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 16, 2016. 63 James Estrin, Photography in the docket, as evidence, New York Times, April 2, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed July 12, 2013. 64 www.ronhaviv.com, accessed August 14, 2013. 65 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 66 Robert Mackey, Brutal images of Syrian boy drowned off Turkey must be seen, activists say, New York Times, September 2, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 25, 2016. 67 Susan Ager, This wouldn’t be the first time a child’s photo changed history, National Geographic, September 3, 2015, www.nationalgeographic.com, accessed May 21, 2016. 68 Lori Robertson, Images of war, American Journalism Review, October/November 2004, www.ajrarchive.org, accessed May 16, 2016. 69 Julie Moos and Steve Myers, LA Times publishes graphic front page photo of US soldiers with Afghan corpses, Poynter, April 18, 2012, www.poynter.org, accessed May 17, 2016. 70 Ruthie Ackerman, To publish or not publish, World Post, May 20, 2010, www .huffingtonpost.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 71 Ryan Pitts, Readers, journalists struggle with same issues in publishing graphic photos, www.spokesmanreview.com, accessed June 8, 2013. 72 James Estrin, A graphic photo stirs reflection, New York Times, July 24, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 73 Bob Greene, Photo of tragedy is a prize mistake, Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1985, www.chicagotribune.com, accessed June 1, 2016.

Notes

|

269

74 Recall, for example, that as discussed in chapter 6, when a California sheriff died, the picture of his corpse was rejected because it gave an uncomfortable sense of “being there” and it was judged unfit because of this unwanted intimacy.

Chapter 13. Victims Seeking Visibility

1 James Estrin, A graphic photo stirs reflection, New York Times, July 24, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Carrie Rentschler, Second wounds: Victims’ rights and the media in the U S. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). 5 “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights.” Handout for adult learners, For All the World to See project. University of Maryland, Baltimore County, www.cadvc.umbc.edu, accessed January 11, 2017. 6 Roland Martin, America should see the Newtown carnage, CNN, December 23, 2012, www.cnn.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 7 Stephen Whitfield, A death in the Delta: The story of Emmett Till (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991). 8 David Beito and Linda Beito, Black maverick: T R M Howard’s fight for civil rights and economic power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009). 9 Shaila Dewan, How photos became icon of civil rights movement, New York Times, August 28, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 4, 2010. 10 Ibid. 11 Maurice Berger, In Ferguson, photographs as powerful agents, New York Times, August 20, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016; Jay Caspian Kang, “Our demand is simple: Stop killing us,” New York Times, May 4, 2015, www .nytimes.com, accessed June 1, 2016; Lindsey Bever, Man who filmed S.C. police shooting: Maybe God “put me there for some reason,” Washington Post, www .washingtonpost.com, April 9, 2015, accessed May 17, 2016. 12 Jay Caspian Kang, “Our demand is simple: Stop killing us,” New York Times, May 4, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed June 1, 2016. 13 Steve Osunsami and Dan Good, Walter Scott police shooting “tore my heart to pieces,” victim’s mother says, Good Morning America, ABC, April 8, 2015, abcnews.go.com, accessed April 27, 2016. 14 Ibid. 15 Raw video shows white cop fatally shooting black man in S.C., NBC News, April 7, 2015, www.nbcnews.com, accessed June 1, 2016. 16 Jay Caspian Kang, “Our demand is simple: Stop killing us,” New York Times, May 4, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed June 1, 2016. 17 John Harte, “The Hart Park drowning photo.” You Can’t Have My Job but I’ll Tell You a Story (blog), December 16, 2014, www.johnhartephoto.wordpress.com. 18 James Rainey, Unseen pictures, untold stories, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2005, www.latimes.com, accessed May 27, 2016.

270

|

Notes

19 Don Gonyea, Ban on media coverage of military coffins revisited, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, February 25, 2009, www.npr. org, accessed June 2, 2016; Moms of fallen soldiers discuss coffin photo ban, National Public Radio, February 25, 2009, www.npr.org, accessed January 11, 2017. 20 Ibid. 21 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 22 Ibid. 23 Patrick Farrell, Images help keep promise to grieving father, Miami Herald, February 15, 2014, www.miamiherald.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 24 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 25 Arielle Emmett, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www.ajr .org, accessed May 20, 2013. 26 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 27 Artist Ai Weiwei poses as Aylan Kurdi for India Today magazine, India Today, February 1, 2016, www.indiatoday.intoday.in, accessed January 11, 2017. 28 Natalie Evans and Richard Wheatsone, Aylan Kurdi’s death recreated by 30 people dressed as Syrian boy on Moroccan beach, Mirror Online, September 10, 2015, www.mirror.co.uk, accessed May 1, 2016. 29 Washington Post, September 3, 2013: A3. 30 Syrian Institute for Progress, www.syrianinstitute4progress.com, accessed September 23, 2013. 31 Rawia Alhoussaini @souriastrong. pic.twitter.com/0PV0r5WNvO. 10:25 p.m.— August 20, 2013, quoted by Ben Dashiell, The visual evidence of a chemical attack in Syria is overwhelming and disturbing, Atlantic Wire, August 21, 2013, www .theatlanticwire.com, accessed April 4, 2016. 32 Peter Beaumont, Harriet Sherwood, and Ian Black, Gaza’s bloodiest day as at least 100 Palestinians are killed, Guardian, July 17, 2014, www.theguardian.com, accessed May 23, 2016. 33 Ibid. 34 “Muhammad al-Durrah incident” entry, Wikipedia. www.wikipedia.org, accessed January 3, 2015. 35 Doreen Carvajal, The mysteries and passions of an iconic video frame, New York Times, February 7, 2005, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 36 Ibid. 37 James Estrin, A graphic photo spurs reflection, New York Times, July 24, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 38 Ibid. 39 Dennis Dunleavy, Death as contributing background, May 27, 2008, rising.black star.com, accessed November 1, 2012.

Notes

|

271

40 James W. Green, Beyond the good death (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). 41 For example, see Jessica Mitford, The American way of death (New York: Vintage Press, 2000); Gary Laderman, Rest in peace: A cultural history of death and the funeral home in twentieth-century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). 42 Jay Ruby, Secure the shadow: Death and photography in America (Boston: MIT Press, 1995); Stanley B. Burns, Sleeping beauty: Memorial photography in America (Santa Fe, NM: Twelvetrees/Twin Palms Press, 1990); Stanley B. Burns and Elizabeth A. Burns, Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, bereavement in memorial photography; American and European traditions (New York: Burns Archive Press, 2002). 43 Jay Ruby, Secure the shadow: Death and photography in America (Boston: MIT Press, 1995). 44 Margaret Sullivan, Was photo of dead ambassador acceptable? New York Times, September 12, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 45 Dennis Dunleavy, Death as contributing background, May 27, 2008, rising.black star.com, accessed November 1, 2012. 46 The poet Dan Pagis, a concentration camp survivor, quoted by James Wood, The art of witness, New Yorker, September 28, 2015: 71. 47 Lesley Wischmann, Dying on the front page, Journal of Mass Media Ethics 2.2 (1987): 67–74.

Chapter 14. In the End

1 John Taylor, Body horror: Photojournalism, catastrophe, and war (New York: NYU Press, 1998). 2 Jessica M. Fishman, News, norms, and emotions: Pictures of pain and metaphors of distress. In Image ethics in the digital age, ed. Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz, and Jay Ruby (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 53–70. 3 Casey Bukro, Images of war, Ethics Advice Line for Journalists, August 22, 2014, www.ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org, accessed May 18, 2016. 4 NewsNight with Aaron Brown, CNN, July 9, 2004. 5 John Tagg, The burden of representation: Essays on photographies and histories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). 6 Susan Sontag, On photography (New York: Delta, 1977). 7 Richard Whelan, Robert Capa (New York: Knopf, 1985), quoted in Edwin Martin, Against photographic deception, Journal of Mass Media Ethics 2.2 (Spring– Summer 1987): 49–59. 8 For examples of this common rhetoric, see essays by Ella Christensen writing for M/C Reviews: Culture and the Media; plus Comments by Calvin Hunter and others at newsroom.blogs.cnn.com; and also Arielle Emmett’s essay, Too graphic? American Journalism Review, March 2010, www.ajrarchive.org. 9 Susan Sontag, On photography (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1978), 153–80. 10 Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall, Visual culture: The reader (New York: Sage, 1999).

272

| Notes

11 Clark Hoyt, The public editor: Face to face with tragedy, New York Times, January 23, 2010, www.nytimes.com, accessed March 28, 2016. 12 This image is included in the slide show at www.time.com. 13 Jim Colton, Photo journal: Maryanne Golon—The Washington Post. National Press Photographers Association, www.nppa.org, accessed May 12, 2016. 14 Ruthie Ackerman, To publish or not to publish, Huffpost, n.d., www.huffington post.com. 15 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 16 Ibid. 17 Philip Kennicott, Graphic visuals in Haiti coverage break from tradition, Washington Post, January 16, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 18 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 19 Margaret Sullivan, Was photo of dead ambassador acceptable? New York Times, September 12, 2012, www.nytimes.com, accessed January 5, 2014. 20 Ibid. 21 Margaret Sullivan, A model of restraint in the race for news, New York Times, April 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed April 17, 2016. 22 What’s “too graphic”? How to photograph disaster, Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio, February 1, 2010, www.npr.org, accessed March 31, 2016. 23 Ian McDonald, New York Post takes heat over haunting subway photo, Fox 40, December 4, 2012, fox40.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid. 26 Zeynep Tufekci, Yes, graphic photos should be published but New York Post was wrong to publish victim on tracks, Technosociology, www.technosociology.org, accessed May 18, 2016. 27 Ibid. 28 Zeynep Tufekci, The Virginia shooter wanted fame: Let’s not give it to him, New York Times, August 27, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 29 Zeynep Tufekci, Yes, graphic photos should be published but New York Post was wrong to publish victim on tracks, Technosociology, www.technosociology.org, accessed May 18, 2016. 30 Zeynep Tufekci, The Virginia shooter wanted fame: Let’s not give it to him, New York Times, August 27, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 31 Jeff Sonderman, Victim’s family “couldn’t sleep” after seeing “traumatic” NY Post subway photo, Poynter, December 6, 2012, www.poynter.org, accessed January 9, 2014. 32 Zeynep Tufekci, The Virginia shooter wanted fame: Let’s not give it to him, New York Times, August 27, 2015, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 33 Andrew Alexander, Drawing the line on images of death, Washington Post, January 25, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 18, 2016.

Notes

|

273

34 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 35 Previously, the press has been credited with an agenda-setting function— whereby the frequency and prominence of a topic in the news influences how important it is considered to be by the public. Although this is often neglected, the role of emotion can be a key part of this model. Feeling, or affect, can leverage different mental processes than cognition, but each influences how reality is filtered. 36 Margaret Sullivan, The delicate handling of images of war, New York Times, September 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 17, 2016. 37 Michelle, Photojournalism career, www.journalismdegree.com, accessed February 23, 2016. 38 Rheana Murray, 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for breaking news photography shows horrific aftermath of suicide bombing in Kabul, New York Daily News, April 16, 2012, www.nydailynews.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 39 Lynn Elber, “Hannibal” episode pulled by NBC due to Boston and Newtown tragedies, Huffington Post, April 19, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com, accessed February 29, 2016. 40 Eddie Adams, eulogy, Time Magazine, July 27, 1998: 17; Donald Winslow, Eddie Adams: 10 years on, and war will never be the same, New York Times, September 18, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 41 Scott Neuman, Pakistani woman stoned to death by family outside courtroom, National Public Radio, May 27, 2014, www.npr.org, accessed May 6, 2016. 42 James Estrin, A graphic photo spurs reflection, New York Times, July 24, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 6, 2016. 43 Ibid. 44 Scott Neuman, Pakistani woman stoned to death by family outside courtroom, National Public Radio, May 27, 2014, www.npr.org, accessed May 6, 2016. 45 Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, ed., Skin deep, spirit strong: The black female body in American culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002). 46 Ibid. 47 Adam Gopnik, Yellow fever, New Yorker, April 22, 2013: 102–7. 48 Ibid. 49 Jay Ruby, Secure the shadow: Death and photography in America (Boston: MIT Press, 1995); Stanley B. Burns, Sleeping Beauty: Memorial photography in America (Santa Fe, NM: Twelvetrees/Twin Palms Press, 1990); Stanley B. Burns and Elizabeth A. Burns, Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, bereavement in memorial photography; American and European traditions (New York: Burns Archive Press, 2002). 50 Joel Landau, California parents share pictures of themselves mourning stillborn baby, New York Daily News, August 3, 2014, www.nydailynews.com, accessed February 21, 2016. 51 “Muhammad al-Durrah incident” entry, Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, accessed January 3, 2015.

274

|

Notes

52 Andrew Alexander, Horrible images of death in Haiti, Washington Post, January 24, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 53 Fred Ritchin, Why violent news images matter, Time, September 2, 2014, www .time.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 54 Donald Winslow, Eddie Adams: 10 years on, and war will never be the same, New York Times, September 18, 2014, www.nytimes.com, accessed May 18, 2016. 55 Fred Seaton Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm, Four theories of the press (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1963).

Index

ABC network, 24; self-censorship of entertainment, 236; World News with Diane Sawyer, 102 Abu Ghraib prison torture: Americans viewing pictures online, 50; pictures of superior to words, 97, 107; praising pictures of, 91 Aesthetics: as ethics, 88, 122; pleasing images of tragedy, 16, 75–77, 118; and subjectivity, 74, 78, 85; and working class, 122, 128 Afghanistan: Kabul suicide bombing, 196; NATO airstrikes in killing children, 162–64; postmortem pictures as truth, 203, 231 Africa: Ebola epidemic, 57, 174; famine in Somalia, 95–96; iconic Kevin Carter picture of starving child, 96, 190; Liberia 57, 203; Nairobi, Kenya shopping mall, 193–94; and national bias, 129; nudes in National Geographic, 238; and race, 132; South African soccer stadium stampede, 44 African American press: American Negro, 207; Chicago Defender, 207; Jet, 207–208 al-Durrah, Muhammad, 216–218 Alexander, Andrew: on deceased babies, 171; on Holocaust images, 202; on horrific images as truthful, 193; on magnitude of tragedy, 6, 173, 185; on never-ending controversy, 240; on photojournalism’s racial bias, 131; on pictures’ political power, 200; on proximity to victims, 132

Algeria, 41, 43 al-Qaeda, 66, 142, 163, 217. See also terrorism anti-picture prejudice: from achievements considered failures, 11, 15; and pictures without information, 227; versus pictures as proof, 97; and a television station ban, 100; and victimizing images, 107 Baltimore Sun, 121–122; and Gregory Kane, 19 bin Laden, Osama, 66–67, 217 Black Lives Matter movement, 209–210, 239; Eric Garner, 209; Michael Brown, 209; Walter Scott, 209–210. See also civil rights era bombing: Afghan suicide bombing at Kabul shrine, 196–197; by al-Qaeda on U.S. Embassy, 66; of Americans in Pakistan, 80; of Baghdad car, 106; of Boston Marathon, 70–71, 100, 130, 177, 180, 231, 236; of commuter trains in Madrid, 42; on Gaza beach, 215; of Marine compound in Beirut, 119; of Oklahoma City, 38, 165–168, 178; by Palestinian suicide, 130; of Sri Lanka bus, 62, 201; in tabloids versus elite press, 144–148. See also terrorism Bosnia, 131, 194–195, 200, 202 Boston Globe, 48, 101, 137, 181 Boston Marathon: calls for sanitizing images of, 100; Ellen Rudolph on healing pictures of, 177–178; images used for proof, 70; self-censoring images, 130, 231, 236; and nation’s triumphant destiny, 180

275

276

|

Index

casket. See coffin CBS network, 24, 157, 189; CBS News, 1, 67, 75; David Martin, 67; Marcy McGinnis, 75 celebrities: Marlon Brando, 33; Princess Diana of Wales, 32; professional football player Jerome Brown, 43; in tabloids, 116, 124; 169; Whitney Houston in casket, 78 cell phones, 21, 23, 25, 30–31, 69, 209, 224 censorship: and authoritarian theory of press, 241; governmental censorship,138; Jay Carney, White House press secretary, on bin Laden’s death pictures, 67; for kin’s benefit, 220–222; Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney’s media ban, 138; self-censorship, 5, 11, 14, 26, 46, 75, 236 Chicago Tribune, 173; editor Torry Bruno, 173 China: Hanwang earthquake, 34–35; postmortem pictures from, 132, 220; Sichuan earthquake, 34; Yingxiu earthquake 34 civil rights era: bell hooks on images, 95; Maurice Berger on images, 95; modern-day movement, 239; and pictures of Emmett Till, 207–209; pictures and history, 95. See also Black Lives Matter movement class divisions, 16, 113, 121–128; media consumption by class, 115; marketing by class, 122; and morality, 121 CNN: Aaron Brown on, 225; on American prisoners of war, 74; Anderson Cooper on, 69, 101; on baby Jessica in well, 152; on Boston Marathon, 180; on Ennis Cosby’s murder, 56; on JonBenét Ramsey, 154; on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, 101; on Minneapolis bridge collapse, 39; producer Mike Klein, 56; on Sandy Hook Elementary School, 154, 191–192; Ted Turner, 54;

on Virginia Tech massacre, 36–37; on Whitney Houston funeral, 78; Wolf Blitzer on, 215 coffins, 43, 134, 137, 139. See also funeral Darfur, 101, 154, 202 earthquake, 86–87; China, 34, Haiti, 99, 173–175, 193, 195, 200–202, 211–212, 220; Indian Ocean, 136, 174; Kobe, Japan, 102; San Salvador, 48 Ebola epidemic, 57, 174 Egypt, 24, 50, 106 entertainment media, 11; self-censorship of, 236; watching executions for entertainment, 121 evidence. See truth in photography execution: in Bosnia, 194; of Daniel Pearl in Boston Phoenix, 120; as entertainment, 121; in Guatemala 56; of Nicholas Berg, 140; tabloid coverage of, 111; on Telemundo, 56; in Vietnam, 190, 200 famine, 3, 95–96, 190 fetish. See magic flag, 31, 102, 142, 179–187 flood, 34, 43, 93, 136, 171 funeral, 29; for child, 76, 157, 163, 167; criteria for reporting on, 84; for Emmett Till, 207; for first responders, 43; funeral industry versus purpose of press, 220–222; and nationalism, 149; with open-casket, 134–135; for Whitney Houston, 78. See also coffin Gulf War, 36, 138–139 gun shooting: and Black Lives Matter movement, 209; doctor in Italy, 177; of Ennis Cosby, 56; and fallen soldier picture by Robert Capa, 226; and gun control policy, 14, 191; hidden by New York Times website video, 230; on live

Index

television news, 32, 77, 232; of looters in Haiti, 193; by Los Angeles gang, 52; of Osama bin Laden, 67; by police of knife-wielding woman, 55; of protesters in Egypt, 106; of Russian ambassador to Turkey, 6–7; at Russian school massacre, 159–161; at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 9, 14, 150–160; by Serbian paramilitary soldiers 194; and suicide, 46, 52, 54; during Syrian uprising, 50; at Virginia Tech massacre, 36; by Washington, DC–area serial sniper, 44 Haiti: earthquake, 99, 132, 173–175, 193, 195, 200–202, 211–212, 220; Patrick Farrell in, 174, 196, 212; pictures that help, 201; surviving kin in, 211–212, 220 Holocaust, 190, 202–203 Hoyt, Clark, 173, 193, 195, 198, 228 Huffington Post, 163, 188–190 Hurricane Katrina, 93–96, 136–138 iconic image, 29, 39, 95; of Boston Marathon bombing, 182; from Holocaust, 202; of Kent State shootings, 177; of Oklahoma City bombing, 166; and Syrian crisis, 190; from Vietnam War, 199–200 India, 133, 138, 176, 205; Saran District school poisoning, 151 Indonesia, 165; Bali, 42 Iraq: Abu Ghraib prison, 50, 91, 97, 107; Bagdad, 41, 50, 62, 74, 106, 140, 211; civilians killed, 101; dead American soldiers in, 105; executed U.S. prisoners, 139–143, 210; Gulf War, 36, 105, 106, 139; heroic Americans in, 177; Nicholas Berg’s killing in, 50, 140; verbal details in reporting from, 106 Irby, Kenneth, 94, 174, 186, 193, 198, 231 ISIS, 20, 31; execution of James Foley, 130 Israel, 147, 215–217; Jerusalem, 130

| 277

Japan, 132; Kobe earthquake, 34, 102–103; Miyagi Prefecture, 104 Kennicott, Philip, 21, 190, 230 Kosovo, 98, 131, 163–164, 233 Los Angeles Times, 6, 22, 137; on Afghan bombing, 197, 203; on Baghdad bombing, 106; on China earthquake, 34; on Haiti, 193; on murder trial of O. J. Simpson, 98; on Paris attack, 30; reader’s representative Deirdre Edgar, 190; Russian school siege, 160–161; on September 11 terrorism, 93; on Syria, 189–190; on tabloids, 111 magic, 15, 228, 237 McNally, Michele, 201, 212, 234 media effects of pictures, 14–15, 25, 26, 68, 80, 86; compared to words, 92–100, 126, 221; controlling public affect, 76–77, 203, 232–236; emotional effects, 9, 21, 74, 77, 86, 97; fear of emotional effects, 100, 107, 221; ideal emotional impact, 94, 115, 188–190; promoting political progress and historical change, 14, 90, 92, 95–98, 18, 188, 192, 200–204, 208; Susie Linfield on, 94; transporting effect and privacy, 198; traumatizing viewers, 80–82, 87; violence and crime, 26 Miami Herald, 174, 200, 211; editor Anders Gyllenhaal, 173, 201 Muslim victims, 41, 133, 194, 217 National Press Photographers Association: calls for restraining photojournalism, 20, on children killed, 171; Code of Ethics, 68; Kenneth Irby’s national bias, 231; photo contest, 94 NBC, 24, 50, 150, 154, 236; producer John Reiss on self-censorship, 72; Today coverage of Moore, Oklahoma, 183; trial of O. J. Simpson, 98

278

|

Index

News Photographer, 53, 94, 171 Newsweek, 154, 166, 168, 180 Newtown. See CNN; gun shooting: Sandy Hook Elementary School New York Daily News: Debby Krenek on working class, 122; front page execution, 111; Michael Daly on al-Jazeera, 105 New York Post, 23; audience demographics, 122; car crash photo by G. Miller, 36; coverage of children, 157; headlines, 123–125; Japan earthquake, 103; local coverage 132; nationalism compared to elite press, 142–148; negative reputation, 4–5, 112–115, 120–122; Oklahoma City bombing, 38; open casket, 243; sanitized images, 35, 116; Vietnam, 200. See also tabloids/ tabloidization New York Times: bearing witness, 201; Black Lives Matter, 209; censoring pictures, 219; children killed, 163–164, 167, 169; compared to tabloids, 116, 121, 124, 127, 142; on crisis in photojournalism, 21; Damon Winter in Haiti, 211; Daniel Okrent on fit images, 2; David Carr on “graphic” images, 77; dead children, 12, 38–39; dead Palestinian, 20; death obscured, 44, 61–63, 66; demographics of audience, 122; editor Bill Keller, 173; Haiti’s earthquake, 173–174, 193; Indian girls shown dead, 205; Indian Ocean earthquake, 174; local coverage, 132; Margaret Sullivan on image editing, 1; Michael Powell, 89; national bias, 130, 137, 142–148; never-ending controversy, 240; pictures versus words, 189–191, 96, 101, 103, 106; praising post-mortem pictures, 188–198, 201, 212, 228–234; readers against images, 86–87; reputation, 5–6, 115, 127, 224; Ron Haviv’s pictures as proof, 194;

self-censorship, 22; survivors shown, 41–44; Tyler Hicks on Kenya, 194; Vietnam, 200 Nightly News with Brian Williams, 72, 150 objectivity, 15; camera technology, 68, 189, 195; goals of press, 220, 237, 240; nationalism’s challenges to, 149; press rituals of, 83–84 obscenity. See pornography Oklahoma: Baylee Almon’s picture, 165–167; Oklahoma City attack, 38, 39, 165–167, 178; Moore, Oklahoma, 151, 182 Okrent, Daniel, 2, 174, 188, 197, 201, 228 Pakistan, 80; “honor” killing, 64; Karachi, 130; prisoners, 91 Palestine, 20, 130, 215–218, 239 Pearl, Daniel, 120, 130, 217 Philadelphia Daily News, 41, 43, 115, 116, 119, 142. See also tabloids/ tabloidization Photoshop, 4, 59, 68, 72; pixelate, 64–66 plane crash, 61, 123–126, 223; Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, 101–102 police, 22, 29, 36, 43, 51, 54, 55, 95, 106, 123 pornography, 11, 76, 85, 87, 227; nudity in National Geographic, 238 Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 174, 186, 193, 212 President of the United States: Barack Obama, 67, 139, 150, 184, 215; Bill Clinton, 178; Donald Trump, 190; George W. Bush, 159, 217; John Kennedy, 70, 120; Ronald Reagan, 153 privacy, 16, 23, 199, 203, 218 proof. See truth in photography Pulitzer Prize: administrator Sig Giss,197; for Afghan corpse picture, 196; for Damon Winter, 196, 211; for elite press, 115, 120; for Kevin Carter’s picture of starving African child, 96; for newspaper in Daniel Pearl picture contro-

Index

versy, 120; for Patrick Farrell, 174; for picture of baby Jessica in well, 153; versus pornography, 12–13, 228, 241 race, 6, 16, 93, 131, 207–209 Ramsey, JonBenét, 9, 154, 169, 233 Rice, Ray, 89–91, 97, 106 Russia: Beslan school massacre, 159–162; Moscow parking lot bombing, 144–146; postmortem pictures from, 131; Russian ambassador to Turkey, 6; sanctions on 170 Rwanda, 26, 167, 202 school shootings: Columbine High School massacre, 76; Roland Martin on, 191–192; Sandy Hook Elementary School, 9, 14, 150, 150–160, 169, 184, 191–193, 236; Sandy Hook Truther Movement, 158 Seaton, Jean, 19, 21 sensationalism, 11, 20, 75, 85, 87, 111, 123 shooting, see gun snuff porn, 11, 15, 85, 113, 232. See also pornography social media: Facebook, 50, 215; Twitter, 85, 112, 131, 215; YouTube 50, 215 Somalia, 26, 95, 96 Sontag, Susan, 25 Spain, 131, 160; Madrid, 42 suicide: of Budd Dwyer, 45–47; concealing American victims, 139; pictures that conceal, 52, 57, 59; tabloid coverage of, 145; words about and pictures of, 106 Sullivan, Margaret, 1, 191, 198, 219, 230 survivors: Americans as, 70, 171, 180; of Hurricane Katrina, 94; of Japan earthquake, 103; justifying censorship, 221; of Oklahoma tornado, 153, 183; in tabloids, 144–146; visibility of, 41, 211, 215, 239 Syria: beheadings by ISIS, 20; boy dead on beach pictured by Nilüfer Demir,

|

279

13, 65, 67, 202, 213; children killed by chemical weapons, 161, 188–192; government crackdown on protests, 50; Pulitzer Prizes for pictures of, 12, 228; seeking visibility for, 213–215, 230, 233, 239 tabloids/tabloidization, 3–5, 111–128, 142–149; Anthony Lane in New Yorker on, 142; and Arthur Fellig (Weegee), 127; Cherly Reed on Chicago Sun-Times working class audience, 122; compared to elite press, 142–148; Daily News, 111; Karin Becker on, 123; National Enquirer, 116; nationalism/ jingoism in, 129–149; Perez Hilton on, 113; Philadelphia Daily News, 41, 43, 115–116, 119, 142; Ruth Snyder execution photo, 111; Star, 116; Weekly World News, 116; use of words in, 122–126. See also New York Post; Philadelphia Daily News terrorism: al-Qaeda, 142, 163–167; in Kenya, 194; Marine compound attack in Beirut, 119; at Moscow subway station, 145; and nationalism, 178–180; Oklahoma City 165; in Paris, 30–33; Russian school siege, 159–161; sanitized images of, 29; 38, 42, 57, 80; September 11 attacks, 26, 66, 93, 96, 107, 180, 182, 217, 220. See also bombing Till, Emmett, 207–209; Joyce Ladner on, 208 Time magazine, 14, 37, 154, 240; fear of images, 25; and Jim Kelly, 83; Kira Pollack on Syrian children, 192; and nationalism, 179 truth in photography, 16, 87, 91, 94, 97, 100, 107; Abraham Zapruder film, 70; and camera technology, 68, 71; and Whelan on Robert Capa photo, 226 tsunami, 34, 103, 136–138, 165, 174, 197, 198, 201

280

|

Index

Ukraine, 101, 170 USA Today, 24, 32, 77, 153 victimhood, 11, 25, 74, 85, 86, 107; Carrie Rentschler on, 206 Vietnam, 132; My Lai Massacre, 199–200; Ronald Haeberle in, 199; war, 190 Wall Street Journal, 120, 123, 130 Washington Post: Abby Phillip, 111, 130; best photos of the year, 130, 151; and continuing controversies, 21, 240; and magnitude of tragedy, 173, 174, 185;

media critic Howard Kurtz, 3; and nationalism, 6, 137–144; on Newtown, 156; Philip Kennicott for, 230; praising pictures, 81, 93, 95, 190, 191, 193, 200–202, 233; and proximity to dead, 132–134; and racial bias, 131; by reputation, 4, 115, 127; sanitizing images of death, 41, 44; self-censoring, 48, 57, 86; Syria seeking visibility, 215; on tsunami, 165 Weegee. See tabloids/tabloidization Yahoo News, 24, 48, 106

About the Author

Jessica M. Fishman holds a joint appointment at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Annenberg School for Communication, where she studies behavioral and social science, including mass media effects.

281