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Thread: Does Showing a Horrific Video Serve a Legitimate Journalistic Purpose?

  1. #1
    Ieilaelite pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Dec 2013

    Does Showing a Horrific Video Serve a Legitimate Journalistic Purpose?

    Thread title shamelessly stolen verbatim from a post on Slashdot:

    Erik Wemple writes at the Washington Post that Fox News recently took the controversial step of posting a horrific 22-minute video online that shows Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned to death. Fox warned internet users that the presentation features "extremely graphic video." "After careful consideration, we decided that giving readers of the option to see for themselves the barbarity of ISIS outweighed legitimate concerns about the graphic nature of the video," said Fox executive John Moody. "Online users can choose to view or not view this disturbing content."

    But Fox's decision drew condemnation from some terrorism experts. "[Fox News] are literally literally working for al-Qaida and ISIS's media arm," said Malcolm Nance. "They might as well start sending them royalty checks." YouTube removed a link to the video a few hours after it was posted, and a spokesperson for Facebook told the Guardian that if anyone posted the video to the social networking site it would be taken down. CNN explained that it wouldn't surface any of the disturbing images because they were gruesome and constituted propaganda that the network didn't want to distribute. "Does posting this video advance the aims of this terror group or hinder its progress by laying bare its depravity?" writes Wemple. "Islamic State leaders may indeed delight in the distribution of the video which could be helpful in converting extremists to its cause but they may be mis-calibrating its impact. If the terrorists expected to intimidate the world with their display of barbarity, they may be disappointed with the reaction of Jordan, which is vowing 'strong, earth-shaking and decisive' retaliation."
    I find the question really interesting and I'm not entirely sure where I stand on it myself. On the one hand, I'm usually vehemently anti-censorship and would prefer that everyone have access to any information they want at any time. On the other hand, it does occur to me that broad exposure is exactly what these terrorist groups want, and it's for the purpose of spreading fear and horror. I don't know if seeing things like this is necessarily bad for people, though. Uncomfortable, to be sure.

    I'm reminded of reading about the Vietnam war and how it was a brand new thing for people living during that time to see images of war on their televisions at home. I got the impression that that in itself was in no small part responsible for the scale of the antiwar protests. In the past people had mostly just read text accounts of fighting going on overseas, and when they were more disconnected it was easy to overlook. Reading that a number of people were killed is a lot different than seeing the bodies and the devastation. Now we're living in a time when the people whose homes are being bombed have access to the technology to post video of these things themselves. The world is changing.

    But then, this video wasn't made by a bystander caught up in something and just documenting his life. This is carefully produced propaganda intended to shock and in some way further their cause (personally I don't understand what their cause is or how this helps them, but I know it's intentional). It's not the first time I've seen someone burned alive, and I've been more disturbed by videos of african mobs beating individuals half to death before lighting them on fire - those videos weren't made to be propaganda, I don't think.

    I dunno. What do you guys think?

  2. #2
    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    Dec 2013
    Well, for one thing, censoring is different than broadcasting to everyone. For example: Fox could have just had the movie posted on some webpage for people who wanted to see it. Broadcasting it on cable news is more active on Fox's part, and consequently gives them more culpability for spreading the message.

    Honestly though, I don't get how broadcasting something like that would incite radicals to join them. Like you, I don't follow why they put those videos out in the first place. It's like they're trying to pick a fight with the world. Maybe they just want to die.
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

  3. #3
    very good question. this is hard because while I think initially the shocking graphic reality of war would be a wake up call to many of the ignorant sheltered warhawks, in the long run habituation is a risk. then what? blunting of empathy over generations?

    in immediate practical terms I would consider the political motivation of what is allowed to be seen.

  4. #4
    凸(ಠ_ರೃ )凸 stuck's Avatar
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    Dec 2013
    It's the psychopaths of the world finding other psychopaths to scrimmage with.

  5. #5
    Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    Dec 2013
    I remember reading that, during WWII, part of the US propaganda effort involved showing National propaganda films. I don't think this is really much different than that. It's intended, I'd suppose, to propagandize against ISIS. Without viewing the video, I have to suspect it's been effective.

    People susceptible to ISIS messaging aren't part of Fox's viewing demographic, and I'm sure have access to the broadcast via other channels. Any promblem I have with them showing the video has nothing to do with the idea that they might be unwitting stooges.

  6. #6
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    May 2014
    These videos are popular with the general public for the same reason that the mob flocked to public hangings in the 18th century. I see your argument against censorship in journalism, but in this case it's the audience that presents the problem: watching real people die for personal entertainment (which most are bound to do – and be it out of curiosity) unquestionably ranks among the lowest and most disgusting acts anyone can commit. As for the scoundrels monetising such footage by means of advertisement – I have no words for their monstrous depravity.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Sir Caveat's Avatar
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    Jan 2015
    Showing the horrific video serves a legitimate journalistic purpose, analogous to that served by making German National Socialist atrocities available for viewing.

    I agree with the Fox spokesman's implication that the Islamic State mis-calibrated the impact of their barbarism. Making the video more widely available does not on balance advance the aims of this terror group . It serves to lay bare their depravity. It's counterproductive propaganda. It encourages more opposition to the Islamic State than support.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Spartan26's Avatar
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    Feb 2014
    Not to be difficult but defining legitimate journalist purpose could be difficult. I had some journo class back in college and there was an exercise on determining which stories should make the front page of a newspaper. One was something like Royal family member takes a dump in the woods. Due to royal family matters being so popular in the US, yes, that'd go on the front page. What would be the news primary function? Do we want to hear that it's to make a profit? Maybe inform people? Then, it becomes of what? Matters they want to know about? Thousands and thousands of kids will be abducted this year but you never know which one is going to be the next Baby Jessica to kickoff the nightly news? How one rises to the top, I have no idea. Once a story hits, the news directors gotta run with it.S/he can't or won't really randomly stop covering the disappearance because there are other cases just as deserving or closer to home. People feed off some stories and they run with them.

    Now, more specifically to your question, Fox wants to decide whether to show a graphic video of what they'd like to portray as "those people being those people", do they show it? Heck yeah, cuz that's the affirmation their audience wants to confirm their world view. Although, here's where I believe it gets tricky. I don't know if they show it cuz their core audience wants to see it or if some sponsor wants to insert an image in their heads to push an agenda. Big Pharma, Industrial War Complex, big oil, wall st, can have indirect ways of making sure their message gets out. I'm actually less concerned when local or national news adhere's to adage, if it bleeds it leads, than Big Auto wanting to play up crime in Mississippi as a way to gain public support before they pull a factory from there and move it to Ecuador.

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