The Corner

The Virginia Shooting Video, Awful As It Is, Shows the Truth.

In response to Cold Mountain

Charlie argues against repeated showing or viewing of the video of this morning’s shooting.

I can understand choosing to not watch it, and networks that do choose to show it should give viewers plenty of warning. (There’s a special place in Hell for any news web site that puts that particular video on auto-play for anyone who visits the site.)

But I feel like there’s at least one compelling reason to show the video: this is the actual truth of what happened. The job of journalists is to inform the public of what happened. One of our great complaints about modern media is that it feels a paternalistic need to emphasize certain aspects and obscure others, often in service of a particular narrative, no?

Showing what happened on a story like this doesn’t mean you toss out all other considerations. It’s undoubtedly horrific and nightmarish. But sometimes what happens in real life is horrific and nightmarish. Some might even argue that we owe it to the victims to not avert our eyes.

Almost all of us would rather not witness a murder or a dead body. But how do you understand the world if you refuse to ever look at images from the liberated concentration camps, or the Zapruder film, or Gen. Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon? Murder, death, cruelty — these are aspects of life, whether or not we choose to look at them.

I’m reminded of the observation that we don’t see certain images of the 9/11 attacks anymore.

In 2006, John J. Miller reviewed the A&E movie, Flight 93, and noted:

We see actual footage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It is virtually impossible to watch the same thing on a news channel because the mainstream media has opted for a blackout of the most potent 9/11 images on the grounds that doing otherwise would be distasteful to the dead and distressing to young viewers.

Miller pointed to a 2004 Byron York cover story about this practice that concluded:

It is far easier to argue that the War on Terror is about oil, or empire, or Halliburton, when you simply don’t show what it is really about: the attacks of September 11. Americans won’t forget that day. But as it recedes in time, they may lose the visceral feeling they experienced as terrorists struck at the centers of American power and killed 3,000 people. Showing that horrifying video would remind people of just how they felt — and of why the War on Terror goes on.

Some speculate that showing footage of an attack may inspire copycats. But anyone motivated to commit a mass shooting follows a morality and logic that is alien to ours. We can’t walk around on our tip-toes, terrified that any of our actions may inadvertently “set off” someone who is insane and violent. Follow that line of thinking far enough, and you start asserting that bullseyes on Facebook posts of political figures motivate paranoid schitzophrenics, or contending that reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard create violent white supremacists.

Again, if you choose not to watch the video of today’s murder – or the Charlie Hebdo attack, or any other bloody video, that’s fine. That’s your choice. But let’s not reflexively denounce news organizations that show the ugly truth, in all its unedited horror.

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