Watch this video at your own risk of emotional upheaval, sleep disturbance, nausea, possible desensitization to human suffering and other serious side effects. Or not.
So soon after all the navel gazing of whether or not to broadcast the Michael Jackson autopsy photo of the superstar lying on a medical examiner’s table so painfully thin, naked and lifeless, CNN somehow embraced a marathon film festival featuring the violent killing of the deposed Libyan dictator.
UPDATED 10/27:THE NEW LIBYAN GOVERNMENT HAS VOWED TO PROSECUTE QADDAFI’S KILLERS FOR THE CRIMES U.S. NEWS ANCHORS FAILED TO MENTION.
Once upon a time, we let these images live online and not enter our homes uninvited. This week, however, marked a watershed moment for emotional assault by violent news video.
And it wasn’t just CNN. They just happened to be the network that caught me off guard first.
I had selected CNN for this story cycle early on, when my morning sampling showed their coverage was immediate, smart and very measured.
I had switched over from ABC News after George Stephanopoulos delivered the unofficial report that Muammar Qaddafi had been killed and, after a brief interview with Christiane Amanpour, moved off the story for a Lara Spencer interview with one of the young actresses from ABC’s comedy hit, Modern Family.
CNN, in contrast, was live from the Pentagon and Libya as they set out to verify the breaking news which, in that part of the world, is often riddled with half-truths and propaganda, occasionally disseminated by our own officials. Case in point: the fairy tales of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.
During the Arab Spring we first heard Mubarak’s sons were safe in London. Then they weren’t.
CNN certainly captured a classic exchange as their reporter pressed the Libyan Minister of Information who, while refusing to provide an official statement, seemed to confirm many of the details of Qaddafi’s demise.
History was in the making and I was glued to the set. But despite having spent nearly 20 in network news, I was completely ill-prepared to see the Qaddafi “cell phone” footage which CNN obtained and rushed to air. There was no warning that I was about to see a snuff film.
Throughout the next hours and days, some news anchors did offer a pseudo warning, about the same decibel as when a morning show is about to discuss something too racy for six year olds. The Qaddafi footage, however, demanded something a lot more than the obligatory “you may find these images graphic.”
You’d need stronger language, for instance, in advance of broadcasting the footage of Daniel Pearl’s beheading (which no American news organization dared to air at all.)
And Anderson! I stumbled on a broadcast where he showed the killing of Qaddafi over and over and over. Has he suddenly become inoculated to death and human suffering? He certainly wasn’t like that in New Orleans or Haiti where he showed the greatest respect for human life.
Or was it simply more “okay” to share this horrific footage because it was Qaddafi, arguably one of the most despicable creatures to ever rule?
If you took a poll, I’m sure most of us familiar with the Qaddafi’s role in the Pam Am 103 bombing, along with his other acts of state-sponsored terrorism, would agree that Muammar Qaddafi deserved to die. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to watch him, or any human being, beaten, bloodied, disoriented with panic, then killed and dragged around like a hunting trophy.
UPDATED 10/27: NEW REPORTS ALLEGE THAT QADDAFI WAS SODOMIZED WITH A KNIFE BEFORE HE WAS KILLED, WHICH CAN BE SEEN BEGINNING ON A FREEZE OF FRAME 16 OF THE CELL PHONE VIDEO.
Before CNN tries to explain their decision to exploit the footage, I’d like to first ask what they would tell all the children they brought together just the week before for their national summit on bullying.
Instead, I hope CNN emails a copy of the Geneva Convention to all employees, then posts it in the rest rooms and public areas as well.
For their part, ABC News defended their network’s more limited use of the footage because, one spokesman said, it was the very definition of news (which apparently got trumped by very definition of corporate synergy as evidenced by the decision to abandon breaking news to promote Modern Family.)
I certainly didn’t hear a media outcry after the President’s somewhat self-serving decision to withhold the footage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden who had been hiding in Pakistan, in plain sight for years. Have any cable or broadcast news organizations filed under the Freedom of Information Act to demand access to what clearly is the defining moment in the 10-year news cycle, the heart of America’s homeland security.
Once upon a time (really just 20 years ago) the people of Romania overthrew their despotic leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. He was captured, dragged into a makeshift court room, quickly tried him for his crimes, then taken out back and shot to death along with his wife, Elena. I was satisfied seeing the before and after images, although the video tape of their executions in the snow lives online for all to see.
As a seasoned journalist I have seen some of the most gruesome photos and video tape imaginable. I have seen the murder file of a teenage cheerleader who was raped, shot and thrown into a river where her bloated body was discovered after eight days of “animal activity.”
I have sat though courtroom presentations of autopsy photos of the Jose Menendez who was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range by one son while the other turned a shotgun on his mother. I have examined all the fatal and defensive wounds inflicted on the victims of O.J. Simpson. In each case, it was part of my job and I was braced for that part of my assignment.
I may have even chosen, at the right time for me, to go online to see the brutal assault footage that marked the end of Qaddafi era.
I just don’t think those images, in their entirety, belong on a newscast which invades our homes and lives, like a journalistic terror attack that comes without a suitable warning or time for preparation. When we fail to see how pornographic that footage is, we become as savage as those we condemn.