Via Sheila Krishnan
Daniel Okrent, The New York Times’ Public Editor, justifies the gray lady’s use of horrific, yet telling images from the tsunami-struck areas of the world. It’s an interesting read, though somewhat unconvincing. He writes:
When I spoke with director of photography Michele McNally, who believes the paper has the obligation “to bear witness” at moments like this, she had a question for me: “Wouldn’t you want us to show pictures from Auschwitz if the gates were opened in our time?”
I would be very curious to read Ms. McNally’s take on using similarly evocative images right after the 9/11 disaster or the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Would she have published images that showed the human element amongst the carnage at Ground Zero, or the grim remains after the bomb blast? I recall seeing images, surely horrific, of people plunging to their deaths from the disintegrating World Trade Center towers. Can anyone remember more intimate and somewhat grisly images from that ill-fated day? I am struggling to remember any of them. The images from Oklahoma, too, were conservative and restrained.
Their absence may, in large part, be due to the way the press has access to the scene. But it may also be an unwritten policy of self-censorship at most publications; in the interest of preserving the privacy and respect of those who are grieving. While I agree with this in principle, the lack of parity in the administration of this policy has me a little disgruntled.
How do Western publications get away with publishing images of strife and pain elsewhere in the world but fail to do the same right here at home? Does a grieving mother in Sri Lanka not have the same rights as that of a grieving mother in the US? Why is the policy different? Why do we extend this courtesy to those in the West, but disregard it when we train our cameras on people who don’t look anything like us?Is this a one-sided coin?
It would be interesting to conduct a study on image usage in publications world wide – putting images side by side from disasters in the West and compared them to images from the recent disasters from South and South East Asia. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Poynter Institute has already embarked on it. If anyone know of such a study at Poynter or elsewhere, please point it out to me.