Jay Rosen presents a thought provoking article on whether the Nick Berg video, or some of the more grusome moments as stills, be shown in the mainstream media. It also prods whether there is “liberal bias” at play. It isn’t a straightforward answer, and the article and comments that follow it demonstrate a range of views. Definitely worth reading.
One bone to pick, not on Jay, but on a general argument that the video should have been shown. The images coming out of Abu Ghraib have nothing on that video in terms of the immense negative impact it has on the viewer. As some of the comments highlighted:
Heart of Canada warns: “Once you see a film like that, it can affect you for the rest of your life. If you surf around the web, you’ll read people’s accounts of how they became physically ill, tormented, haunted, horrified, traumatized, and more by watching the murder.”
Aaron Brown of Newsnight on CNN (May 12): “To show a tape of the beheading is pornographic while not advancing the story at all. But we also get there is a risk that we are sanitizing too much sometimes, that taste can interfere with understanding; and, in that regard, we have no quarrel with what they are doing in Dallas tonight even as we will not show it.”
I’ve already commented on how sickening the video is. Seeing abuse and seeing a murder are worlds apart. It’s the difference between seeing two soldiers giving the thumbs up over a dead Iraqi body, and actually showing the video of the beating that took the life away from that person. They are not the same, and a line should be drawn.
As for claims of bias – right leaning commentators are claiming that “liberal bias” seems to be at play in showing the Abu Ghraib images, but not the Nick Berg video. To make that argument, however, the commentator must acknowledge that showing the images of some of the 10,000 odd Iraqi’s that were killed in the war is ok. That showing the image of a dismembered Iraqi child after coming across an unexploded cluster bomb is ok. It’s a bullshit argument – rich with irony that a claim that not showing one US “innocent” being killed in such a violent way is showing bias, when the same commentators cry foul when any sign of the violence being inflicted by the US military machine on Iraqi innocents across the country appears in print or on TV.
This graf from Rosen’s peace sums up the danger of such an argument beautifully:
Don’t be calling for self-censorship by Big Media today when you may be hoping for less of it tomorrow– because the images have changed, and the implications are now different. Be aware that if you want gatekeepers to let pass more of the news that helps your side, and less that helps “them,” then you aren’t really addressing the gatekeepers at all. In fact, you have surrendered the topic of news judgment to politics and its maneuvers. You’ve politicized it.
Jay is right to raise this point with both sides of the political spectrum. I’ve most definitely been guilty of this in the past, but I am learning to recognise that bias is a much harder thing to quantify than it first appears.