On the evening of February 19, preeminent gossip blog TMZ ran a mysteriously leaked photograph of Rihanna purportedly from the night the pop star was allegedly beaten by her boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. The picture quickly exploded across the Internet, appearing on Gawker, Perez Hilton, Star, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, Newsday, The Huffington Post and US Weekly, among others.
The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement that night acknowledging “the photograph has the appearance of one taken during an official domestic violence investigation” and announcing it would be launching an investigation into the leaked photo as well as filing a personnel complaint. According to the press release, “a violation of this type is considered serious misconduct with penalties up to and including termination.” The next day, industry blog The Media Buffet announced TMZ paid a law enforcement source $62.5 K for the picture.
Given the fact that the Los Angeles Police Department’s press release came the same night as TMZ ran the photo, it was immediately evident to the media that the picture was questionably obtained.
The media’s violation of Rihanna’s rights seems callous. They apparently purchased rights from TMZ to run the unreleased and illegally obtained image. The despicable practice of checkbook journalism ruled in this case.
However, one outlet did take the high road on February 19. Even though their “mother-ship” publisher Gawker posted the image, the modern feminist blog Jezebel, refused to run the image on its site. They wrote: “Ladies: There’s an awful, upsetting picture of Rihanna making the rounds. We won’t ignore it, but we also won’t post or link to it.”
Worthwhile quoting in total, they continued: “No doubt, most of you know – or soon will know – where to find the photo, but I will warn you that the injuries seen in it are upsetting, disturbing, heartbreaking, and, most importantly, not that uncommon. Assaults like this one are perpetrated on thousands of people – many of them women – every single day, the world over. Question: is posting such a photo exploitative or educational? (Is it both?) I honestly don’t have an answer, except the one I feel in my gut – but readers can feel free to discuss the photograph, and the larger issues surrounding it, here.”
And so readers did what was suggested. Some spoke out on domestic violence while others chose to lash out at other sites, particularly Jezebel sister site Gawker who chose to publish the image. It was a refreshing move on Jezebel’s part and very in-line with their mission as a feminist blog as well as a stellar example of responsibility and media ethics.
In a media frenzy where even established outlets reduced themselves to following the lowest element’s example to garner an audience, at least one site had the courage and the confidence to behave ethically.
We should mention that iMediaEthics chose to follow Jezebel’s leadership and not post or link to the photo.