Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 30, 2015

The Visual Sin of the Year

Members of the media take photos and video while looking through documents inside the home. Landlord Doyle Miller told The Washington Post that after the FBI had “released the property” to him, he decided to allow one media organization, which he did not identify, to tour the site, a low-slung, two-story property. Others then “stormed in” he said.

Blame the landlord?

At year end, I wanted to return to the photos of the media barging into, capturing and publishing raw scenes from the apartment of the San Bernardino shooters. If the imagery was the cause for red faces and finger wagging, the photos of “the get” and the photos of “the getting” only mashed together (as in this WAPO slideshow) as still more clickbait.

What went missing — because the photos and the story, like every other, went by so fast — was the deeper reveal. (This especially applies to the photos, by the way. Editing and publishing photos over the course of a day or two is a much more deliberate act than the broadcast of live news images.)

One thing that’s sad about this incident is how the disclaimer doubles as permission. I guess, affixing the statement “we blew it” in front of any content means it can just as well circulate. The admission of an unethical act is not an excuse for publishing these photos. And passing off the unethical act as news in itself in not justification either. And these practices go hand-in-hand with a larger rationalization — that others would have released them anyway. If rampant competition and the rush to market is a problem, though, that’s different than an excuse. Or worse, an opportunity for media to claim it’s the victim of its own culture.

Photos lie inside the bathroom of the home of the San Bernardino attackers in Redlands, Calif.

What is actually more telling, though, is this scene from the bathroom. What I imagine — take away the Johnson’s and the Ajax, the sink, toilet and tub — are stacks of these same snapshots laid out on a desk in a proper photo department. Or more appropriately, a conference room large enough to hold representatives from multiple media organizations to evaluate the news value and ethical considerations to determine if the images should be exposed at all. …Short of that, what I imagine are  hoards of cameramen and camerawomen in your bathroom, or mine.

Please don’t think I’m drawing a moral equivalence between Tashfeen Malik, Syed Rizwan Farook and those responsible for the shooting of these images. The vast majority of journalists, especially the reporters and photographers at the tail of the media food chain, are deeply earnest and ethical people.  But, do these visuals help us understand the motives and actions of those who would lord their own vital interests over the larger citizenry? In this instance, yes they do.

(photos: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post. extended caption 1: Dec. 4, 2015 Members of the media take photos and video while looking through documents inside the home. Landlord Doyle Miller told The Washington Post that after the FBI had “released the property” to him, he decided to allow one media organization, which he did not identify, to tour the site, a low-slung, two-story property. Others then “stormed in” he said. caption 2: Photos lie inside the bathroom of the home of the San Bernardino attackers in Redlands, Calif.)

Comments Powered by Disqus

Refresh Archives

Random Notes