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(Credit: Wikimedia)

The New York Post went too far this morning with its print edition’s cover image showing freelance journalist James Foley about to be beheaded, in iMediaEthics’ view.

The front cover, headlined “SAVAGES: ISIS beheads American journalist on YouTube,” shows a masked person holding a knife to the man identified as Foley. With his other hand, the masked man is holding the man’s face.

Foley was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, according to the New York Times. Yesterday, a YouTube video posted by terrorist group ISIS, “A Message to America,” purported to show Foley’s beheading. The video also shows Steven Sotloff, another kidnapped American journalist, and aired threats to kill him as well. Along with its report, the New York Times included a screenshot from the video showing a masked person dressed in all black standing next to Foley, who was kneeling down.

Commenter Charlie Beckett (at the bottom of this story) rightfully pointed out iMediaEthics could have provided more context in why we’re taking this position criticizing the Post.

The issue is publishing on the front-page of a newspaper, without any warning to readers and the strong possibility children or vulnerable people could see, a violent propaganda photo of a man about to be murdered by in a graphic manner.

While graphic images are sometimes necessary to publish in order to tell a story, in this case it was inappropriate and offensive for the Post to pick one of the most violent still images from the video showing the journalist just before his death and publish it as a full front page photo. The Post may not have selected a still image of the actual beheading, but it might as well have with the image it selected.

The image is similar to the Post‘s front page photo of Ki-Suck Han, a Queens, N.Y., man photographed seconds before his death in front of a New York subway in 2012. We also criticized that cover at the time.

This sensational voyeurism is a perfect example of what has been called death porn.

Numerous other news outlets have covered the beheading video by showing a less violent still image, one that likely would not traumatize an unsuspecting reader. For example, the Guardian said it only is publishing one still from the video, a photo that shows Foley kneeling but with no knife present, much less at Foley’s neck.

iMediaEthics has written about the troubling double standard of other ethnicities being treated as “the other” in reporting on foreign victims, like in our award-winning reporting on coverage of Benazir Bhutto’s 2007 assassination.

It is interesting in this case that they’re showing an American about to be murdered and in such a graphic way, when as we pointed out, it’s usually only foreign people who are subjected to this distasteful coverage.  For iMediaEthics, when we criticized Americans being treated differently than foreigners, we certainly didn’t hope everyone would be treated with such exploitative disrespect for the victim and victim’s family.

 

Twitter Suspending Accounts posting Beheading

Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo tweeted last night Twitter would suspend accounts posting the video and images.

 

CNN reported on the video yesterday and described the video as “too horrific to show.” CNN did include some screenshots from the video.

The CEO of Global Post, the news outlet for whom Foley was working, told the Times “we are still evaluating the video at this time.” Foley’s mother commented after the video’s publication. Read below her statement:

 

Mediaite called it beyond a “new low” and chose not to publish the offensive cover by the New York Post.

 

The Daily News Publishes Pic of Head on Back

The New York Daily News also published graphic images from the video on its website. The Aug. 19 story, “ISIS militants behead abducted American journalist James Wright Foley in graphic video,” carries a warning in red bold font that says: “WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES.”

In a series of images, the Daily News shows an image of the drawn knife and the knife at Foley’s neck. The Daily News also published an image of “Foley’s head on his back after executing him.” In that photo, the head and the neck were pixellated out.

The Daily News’s front page showed an image of Foley kneeling on the ground with the masked person holding a knife in the air.

The UK Times of London also published a screenshot from the video on its front page. The Times image didn’t show a knife in the masked person’s hand unlike the Post and Daily News.

iMediaEthics has written to the New York Post for comment.

The Guardian’s James Ball explained in a column how the British newspaper is using — and not using — footage and images from the video of Foley

The Guardian’s stance on Foley is a demonstration of the fine balance of those decisions: at present, one image of Foley from the video is used, but not as a lead picture. None of his forced speech is portrayed, and the short audio elements from the video – some of his murderer’s speech – have been used against a still image.”

Hat Tip: Mediaite

UPDATE: 10:20AM EST Added info

UPDATE: 3:32PM EST Added context

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How Media Covered James Foley beheading: NYPost’s front page like death porn

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3 Responses

  1. charlie beckett says:

    I’d be interesting in why exactly you think this image goes ‘too far’?
    is it because it’s an american? Or because the family have made a statement? What is the point of principle at stake? I’ve seen lots of images of un-named ISIS victims in papers and lots of images of Gaza child victims. Is it because beheading is somehow more barbaric – even when not shown – than, say, the killing of Saddam Hussein?
    regards
    Charlie Beckett
    LSE

  2. Sydney says:

    Dear Charlie,
    Thanks very much for raising excellent points in your comment on this story and thank you for reading. We’ve updated above with a response and additional context. Sydney Smith, iMediaEthics

  3. Boris McMahon says:

    Isn’t this the painful truth. From Andrew Klavan, writing in the LA Times:
    It is not a journalist’s job to protect us from the ugly facts. Neither is it his job to protect the sensitive from the painful truth or anyone, really, from anything.

    In fact, speaking more broadly, it is not a journalist’s job to make the world a better place, to ensure our right thinking, or to defend the virtuous politicians that sophisticates like himself voted for while excoriating the evildoers elected by those country rubes on the other side. It is not his job to do good or be kind or be wise. The idea that any of this is a journalist’s job is a fallacy that seems to have infected the trade in the 1970s, when idealistic highbrows began to replace the Janes and Joes who knew a good story when they heard one.

    Because that’s the journalist’s job: the story. His only job: to tell the whole story straight.
    That’s pretty much all there is to it

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