iMediaEthics is appalled by the way some news outlets — specifically, the New York Post and New York Daily News — presented images of a dead or dying Muammar Gadhafi in late October.
The Daily News’ front page showed a graphic, full-color closely cropped image of Gadhafi’s bloody and dead face and shoulders, accompanied by the headline “A Coward to the End,” a “package” that totally lacked objectivity and fairness. Further, an Oct. 24 NY Daily News story that included two graphic photos of Gadhafi — one close up of Gadhafi’s dead body on the floor and one close up bloody image of his face — also crossed the line. The Oct. 24 story reported on “graphic footage released Monday by GlobalPost.com” indicating that Gadhafi was “tortured…with a knife.” The Daily News described this incident as a “final humiliation” and included a video they claimed to show the sodomy, showing how far — and low — the Daily News was willing to go.
The headline in the New York Post was arguably even more tacky: “Khadafy Killed by Yankee’s Fan.” This, accompanying a graphic photograph, gave the suggestion that violent death is something to be celebrated.
Death is not a journalistic game. Publishing gruesome photos of a dead body is an ethical conundrum to begin with, but these two newspapers crossed the line by tacking on sensational headlines.
The Atlantic “fact checked” the Post’s headline and found that the newspaper’s claim was baseless. As the Atlantic explained, “the Post seems to have taken two semi-related photos and conflated them into a single storyline that does not actually exist” because the man pictured holding Gadhafi’s “famously gold-plated pistol” isn’t the person who killed Gadhafi.
According to the Atlantic, the Yankee-cap-wearing man (reportedly named Ahmed Shaibani) wasn’t there when Gadhafi was killed, according to footage of the death. Further, the picture of the Yankee-cap-wearing man was taken in a different place from the place Gadhafi was killed. And, as the Atlantic noted, just because the man wore a Yankees cap doesn’t mean he’s a fan of the New York Yankees. “The logo is a famous symbol, and often that’s enough,” according to the Atlantic.
What kind of impression do these front pages make on the world? It is never a fact that justice is served.
Other News Outlets’ Coverage
iMediaEthics searched through some of Newseum’s front pages from Oct. 21 to see if the New York Post’s and Daily News’ front pages were the most egregious.
We found about thirty newspapers internationally that prominently featured a graphic photo of a wounded or dead Gadhafi. Most of those newspapers were international and they mostly used versions of a handful of images of Gadhafi. Some of the most disturbing included France’s Liberation and Washington’s Express, which both featured a black background and a single photo of Gadhafi’s bloodied face and body from what appears to be a video screenshot.
iMediaEthics found that while the news outlets we reviewed handled the images in a variety of ways, the most disturbing images were large, above the fold, in bright color, very clear and closely cropped. News outlets like Canada’s Calgary Sun and Edmonton Sun’s photo appeared blurred so the injuries and blood aren’t as clear or shocking.
Also disturbing to us was an image of Gadhafi published by several news outlets including Malta’s The Times, Mexico’s Milenio, and Sweden’s Expresso. The image pictures Gadhafi’s dead body on a stretcher with men surrounding him taking pictures of the corpse.
The newsworthiness of these photos isn’t what StinkyJournalism questions. We are concerned with the gruesome nature of these photos and their prominent, graphic publication. We don’t know if images such as these will incite violence, but they do show a lack of sensitivity to readers who are forced to encounter graphic images of a death.
Reuters suggested that publication of the footage and images may have been more acceptable and justified in Libya and surrounding areas. “Showing the footage was especially important in Libya and the Middle East, since the lack of such photographic proof of Osama bin Laden’s death prompted many people in the region to ask whether the al Qaeda leader had really been killed,” Reuters wrote.
According to Reuters, while UK newspapers “the Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Sun splashed grim photos across their front pages…the Guardian website balanced that with an op-ed piece entitled ‘Even Muammar Gaddafi deserved a private death.”
NBC News, CNN Defend Publication of Video
NBC News defended its publication of the video of Gadhafi’s body in a statement published by the Hollywood Reporter.
“We want to give our audience the most accurate reports possible without crossing a line into offensive or unnecessarily graphic material.”
Further, NBC’s statement noted that the network has checked content pre-publication and has attempted to balance publication with possible offense.
“We want to give our audience the most accurate reports possible without crossing a line into offensive or unnecessarily graphic material. We feel the footage that has aired meets those boundaries, and we’re constantly in touch with producers about what is and is not acceptable.”
CNN explained it published the video as evidence of Gadhafi’s death, and did include a “graphic content” warning online.
UPDATE: 11/4/2011 11:35 AM EST: We have sent our criticism to both the Post and the Daily News asking for any response. We will update with any response.