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The Daily News Crosses The Line From Journalism To Murder Porn

newsman

The New York Daily News is getting some flack over its front page today, which includes a pretty graphic depiction of yesterday’s murder of a reporter and cameraman in Virginia:

Though the New York Daily News is not known for its understated front pages, the paper sparked the ire of many Wednesday night after tweeting an image of its Thursday cover that showcased the moment a news reporter was killed this week.

Alison Parker of WDBJ (Channel 7) in Roanoke was allegedly killed by Vester L. Flanagan II, a disgruntled former co-worker, on Wednesday morning during a live broadcast. Flanagan is also said to have killed a cameraman before killing himself. The Daily News cover used still images from video of the murder reportedly shot by Flanagan.

In a telephone interview, Jake Duhaime — a friend of WDBJ7 anchor Chris Hurst, Parker’s boyfriend — criticized the Daily News’s decision to use the images.

“It’s going to be very tough to walk around the city tomorrow and try to avoid that cover,” Duhaime said.

Duhaime, a sports marketer in New York, said he understood why the Daily News had published the provocative cover, but said the media should “showcase the victims rather than the acts.”

“There is an emphasis on winning the front page,” he said. “… But sometimes you have to step back and say, ‘This is a little bit too far.’ These are friends, family members — these are people’s lives.”

Among those expressing outrage about the cover were many news reporters.

“These beautiful souls deserve better than this cover,” Jessica Layton, a reporter and anchor at WNYT in Albany, wrote.

“Alison Parker — who by all accounts was full of joy and so loved by everyone who met her — deserved much more than a cover highlighting her final moment of life with such panic and terror on her face,” Layton wrote in a follow-up e-mail to The Washington Post. “Her parents, brother, boyfriend and WDBJ7 News Family deserve more too. And I would feel that way no matter the person’s profession.”

“Disgusting,” Alex DiPrato of WSVN 7 News in Miami wrote on Twitter. “To show a woman as she is murdered is low.”

“Speaking only for myself, there are a hundred journalistically responsible ways to convey the horror of this story,” Mike Drago, a commentary editor atthe Dallas Morning News, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “The NYDN page I saw tonight is not one of them. Showing the victim from the killer’s perspective at the moment of her death is beyond the pale of exploitation. It is death porn. My hope is that the editors find their wits before the paper hits newsstands.”

The editors, of course, did not change their minds despite the fact that Twitter exploded last night with criticism of the cover as soon as the paper posted a picture of it. You can take a look at the cover yourself, but suffice it say that it is about a graphic as such a thing can get without actually showing the murder itself. The New York Post’s cover, while somewhat more subdued than the Daily News wasn’t much better in that respect. Several British tabloids also got in on the game with their own variations on the cover that the two American papers had done. On some level, one wonders if these papers would have used a more graphic image had it been available. As it was, the images that they used were the most graphic from the video that the shooter had posted online hours after committing the murders and while still fleeing north to this eventual death.

On some level, of course, this is common fare for tabloids, and we’ve seen plenty of graphic images and headlines from these types of newspapers for years. Nonetheless, these particular front covers seem to have aroused a great deal of negative reaction both from members of the general public and from journalists. Many, such as iMediaWatch’s Sydney Smith objected to the fact that the papers had used images from the video created by the shooter, perhaps suggesting that the issue might be a different if they had used images from the broadcast video from WDBJ. This point of criticism seems valid to me. The shooter created this video exactly for the purpose of people seeing him commit these murders, and the papers that ran the photos taken from that video have given him exactly what he wanted.

This is an issue that comes up in journalism frequently in an era where pictures and video can be powerful messages, or horrible reminders of tragedy. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, many questioned the fact that news outlets would replay video of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center repeatedly in the days, weeks, and months after the attacks. Other outlets took the matter one step further by publishing photographs of the bodies of people who jumped from the buildings after realizing that they had no hope of being rescued. In more recent times, media outlets have struggled with the issue of whether or not to broadcast the beheading and other propaganda videos released by ISIS over the past year. I’m not sure that I know where the line should be drawn. Journalists and news editors shouldn’t censor or hide an image of an important news event just because it is graphic. Sometimes, as we learned during the Vietnam War, the very graphic nature of those photographs is relevant to showing Americans what is really happening and can be a tool in changing public opinion. Similarly, the images from 9/11 of the towers being hit and burning are a fact of history as real and important as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Perhaps they don’t need to shown repeatedly, but they should be shown. In this case, I’m not at all sure what the news value is in showing the images that the Daily News used. Yea, they’ll probably sell a lot of papers today and they’ll get a lot of attention online and in the media. It seems to me, though, that they ought to be aiming for something just a little higher than putting murder porn on their front page.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. bill says:

    “gay black man kills 2 unarmed white people” would be more apropos?!

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 18

  2. Mark Brooks says:

    No media that I am aware of in Virginia is reporting on this:

    Virginia media fails to report State Police instruction to BBC reporters to delete footage taken in shooter chase</a>

    Which should be enough to stop anyone in their tracks, that is, if you are someone who appreciates the Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    “Murder Porn” the same phrase I used last night when my brother and I switched from network TV to streaming a movie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Those are shocking pictures and I would NOT have put them on the front page – primarily out of respect for the families of those murdered.

    But honestly, I don’t know where Americans stand on this kind of thing any more. We’ve been on a trajectory of increasing crude and crass behavior and voyeurism for a long time. As far as I can see, we seem to think it’s okay to show it all if it’s entertainment based, but not if it’s ‘serious news,’ although the lines are often blurred.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. Kenny says:

    For front page art I’ve always liked the rhetorical rule of thumb one of my journalism professors offered.

    “Would I want to see this while I’m enjoying my Wheaties?”

    It gets pretty easy after that.

    Not that it was the point Daily News (or others, elsewhere), but there are plenty of other ways to create an evocative front page:

    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_id=VA_DNR
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_NA
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_NA
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_VP
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_RTD
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_TRT
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_NL
    http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=list&tfp_id=VA_NV

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. jewelbomb says:

    Perhaps Americans should be confronted with the horrible realities of our gun-obsessed culture. Not saying the Daily News had noble motives for putting this on the front page or anything, but I wonder if making gun fetishists see the kind of world they’ve helped create might not do some kind of good. Alas, probably not….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Many, such as iMediaWatch’s Sydney Smith objected to the fact that the papers had used images from the video created by the shooter, perhaps suggesting that the issue might be a different if they had used images from the broadcast video from WDBJ. This point of criticism seems valid to me.

    I fail to see the difference Doug, especially when one considers that as a former newsman for the station in question, and one who knew the 2 victims, it is not a reach of reason to figure that committing this double murder on live television was NOT an accident but planned from the beginning so that it would be broadcast live for maximum shock value. Releasing his own video later was an insurance policy against a 5 second delay in broadcast.

    As to the subject at hand, as I said yesterday, we are a sick society. Somebody will always stoop to the lowest level, and that is just the way it works. But just as they were free to print this, I am free to not partake of it. Others may feel the need to condemn it or boycott it and they are free to do so as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  8. Andre Kenji says:

    People that buy the Daily News will think that the solution are more police and more guns, not less guns. Crime obsessed TV shows in Brazil*(Imagine something far worse than Inside Edition) are known to be a raven for far right politics, including support for guns and for more cops.

    *- That was shown on prime time and live on Brazilian TV:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBWHATlICgM

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. In the future, shooters should know that they will not get their name in print or on TV. Their grievances should not be mentioned in detail. They will get no fame or mention out of their acts. All we need is for one major outlet to announce that the next mass murder will be identified by location of his act, such as the Roanoke shooter. The media can still publish and attract readers or viewers – this is their real purpose – but they will not give power, recognition or “honor” to the next killer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Franklin says:

    This may seem stupidly minor compared to the tragedy, but I’m just curious: how did they get the killer’s permission to use those particular shots?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: A Ouija board?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Jc says:

    We freak out over a boob at the Superbowl, but this to us is like everyday normal life. We really are backwards

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  13. Matt says:

    @jewelbomb: Violence obsession is the issue not the tool. Our violent crime rate in general is much higher. Be a man!!

    Seriously if we worshiped academia and intelligence half as much as we worship jocks and violence we’d be a better nation.

    @The unoriginal Herb: This is what I’ve been wanting for some time. The killers should be completely irrelevant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. MBunge says:

    We’ve been on a trajectory of increasing crude and crass behavior and voyeurism for a long time.

    That’s not really the case. Compare crudity and vulgarity on network TV and I’m fairly sure you’ll find the 90s far worse than the present day. In movies, the torture porn wave has largely subsided and PG-13 horror has taken its place. Yeah, the Kardashians and the rest of reality TV is pretty terrible but how much violence, profanity or truly bad behavior do you see there? It’s mostly just vapid.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. stonetools says:

    I dunno. I’m with jewelbomb. Guns aren’t fun toys. They’re for killing, and they should be seen for what they are-killing machines. I think the constant sanitization and glamorization of gun violence on television has led to a feeling among Americans that shooting someone dead with a gun isn’t “all that bad” . Pictures of it, and footage of it, will make it clear to people that we should do what we can to have a lot less of it, rather than seeing 10,000 gun deaths per year as an acceptable by product of our “freedom.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. DrDaveT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    As far as I can see, we seem to think it’s okay to show it all if it’s entertainment based, but not if it’s ‘serious news,’ although the lines are often blurred.

    I think you just glided past the key point here, which is that there used to be a difference (in the minds of the providers) between entertainment and news — and now there isn’t really. News is one category of entertainment product, and the criterion used by news providers is “will it sell reliably?”. The National Enquirer and The New York Times are targeting different market segments, but they are both in the same game. That was not always the case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. ernieyeball says:

    My earliest memories of television news are from the Korean War. It started when I was 2 years old and ended when I was 5. I remember seeing what had to be news reels of tanks rolling across the battlefield. When I asked about the war my parents said something like “there are bad people in the world.”
    The Cuban Revolution ended when I was 11 in 1959. The then 15 minute network news showed silent footage of Castro’s army executing the enemies of the revolution by firing squad. Several blindfolded men standing with their hands tied behind their backs in front of a trench they had no doubt been forced to dig. Soldiers a few yards away with their rifles aimed. Puffs of smoke from the end of the gun barrels and the prisoners falling backwards into their graves. I did not have to ask my parents anything, I knew what I had just seen. They were dead.
    I can not count the times I have seen the Zapruder film of John Kennedy shot dead like a dog.
    Of all the uncensored images of the violence of the Viet Nam war this is just one that stands out in my mind.
    http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1384035/images/o-VIETNAM-WAR-PHOTO-facebook.jpg
    I have seen a dead child in the street moments after he was killed by a motorist when the doomed lad ran out from between two parked cars.
    So maybe I would be a different person today had I been somehow shielded from all this death and destruction.
    Maybe the press should have edited their images to protect my 11 year old eyes back in 1959.
    Maybe Kennedy’s assassination should have never been shown to the public.
    Someone will have to explain to me how this nation would have been better off had all these images been suppressed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. ernieyeball says:

    @The unoriginal Herb:..In the future, shooters should know that they will not get their name in print or on TV.

    John Doe assassinates President Kennedy.
    John Doe assassinates Martin Luther King Jr.
    John Doe assassinates Robert Kennedy
    Jane Doe attempts to kill President Ford
    Jane Doe shoots President Reagan

    Headlines provided by the Ministry of Truth.
    The ONLY news you need to know.
    AND WE MEAN IT!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. ernieyball, good point. The news will be required to report names of assassins of major public figures. Still I the motto in the news media is “if it bleeds, it leads.” They could refuse to recognize mass shooters, at least for a while.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. ernieyeball says:

    @The unoriginal Herb:..They could refuse to recognize mass shooters, at least for a while.

    We know who killed those kids at Sandy Hook. It was Adam Lanza. Yet there are citizens who insist it was a fabrication so the government can justify confiscating everyones guns.
    I don’t think the public would have been served by supressing Lanza’s name. That would be even more fuel for the dopes that think it was staged.
    And what of ‎Timothy McVeigh? We should have kept his identy secret till when? His trial was over and he was convicted and executed?

    Mystery OKC Killer Name Revealed
    ‎Timothy McVeigh executed and his body fed to sharks.

    Personally I think McVeigh’s head should be on a pike at the site of the bombing. Maybe that would deter future acts of murder of innocents.
    But I am a sick fuk and that probably would not work either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. ernieyeball says:

    @The unoriginal Herb:..The news will be required to report names of assassins of major public figures.

    Required? (officially compulsory by my dictionary)
    Maybe you could share your thoughts as to which officials will be forcing the press to report things.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. ernieyeball, Any requirement would have to come from the news editors sense of ethics and what the public should know to be informed. I can see the problem inherent in refusing to publish the shooter’s name. But I am also disturbed at the apparent effect of glamorizing their actions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0