Disrespectful Voyeurism Needs a Longer Look

I hate when people lose their lives, especially in senseless, awful ways. I will never devalue the importance of a human being, but the deaths of two news reporters this morning has left me thinking about the media’s pressing need to gravely examine our ethical standards of sharing and reporting what we define as news.
There’s already been a feeling of the need to “protect our own,” and a call for censorship of today’s murders in the name of “respect.” I can’t help but feel that makes us hypocrites in the purest form. Everyday media personnel defend themselves against accusations of indecency for doing their jobs. We often point out we are here to protect nobody; We are here to tell the truth… to share facts we all need to know to function in our world. How many times have we argued (aloud or internally) that images, facts or videos are often disturbing, but people NEED (or at least have a right) To see it? That it’s “not our job” to shield people from the disheartening business of the day? I have personally had to explain to callers that photos of fatal traffic accidents have been part of the news for decades, and that we understand it’s upsetting, but it’s our duty to tell people what goes on in the world.

The media has been one of if not the most active entities in creating a society of voyeurs. We pander to everyone’s insatiable thirst to know everything about what everyone is doing. We sensationalize every story about death in every way possible because why? Those are the stories our readers actually read, and share, and comment upon. We give the gluttonous child more chocolate and justify it by saying, “Hey, you asked for more!” Yet, here we are today shaming people for wanting to see a murder live on television because it’s now personal.
Shame on us for such imbalance.
This crime is awful, of course. It’s horrible that those individuals’ family, friends and followers could have unexpectedly watched this attack without even seeking the information. Imagine if Alison had a child who was tuning in before school that day. It’s dark and wretched and vile. I’m not downplaying that, but it happened.
Story after story, I see the videos have been edited. Social media accounts disappearing in record time. There’s an entire discussion unfolding about whether news outlets should be showing the video. I see people asking others to refrain from sharing out of respect… Respect we don’t bother extending to other victims unfortunate enough to have their deaths or injuries filmed. Was there a second of hesitation in posting the murder of Walter Scott’s death online? Why isn’t it “disrespectful” to watch that? Did we care if his loved ones would “mind?” Nobody was pegged as disgusting for wanting to see a man shot by a cop in the back multiple times.

Is it disrespectful to want to watch people die? Yep. But I also subscribe to the unpopular opinion that there is some strange value in seeing the hideous face of reality. When reporters first started going out overseas to report on the Vietnam conflict, Americans were exposed to some of the most raw, powerful and disturbing imagery they wouldn’t have received from radio or print only reports. What happened? They started to care enough to protest.

    I can read, “Someone died” in print and move on in about 30 seconds. I can see an image of the firing squad lining up and feel my heart tighten. When I see a video of someone killed, hear them beg for life, my entire being is involved. Tears flow down my face, and I feel. In which case do you think I would be most motivated to act to promote change?
Again, I find what happened this morning abhorrent no matter how it’s reported, and my condolences go out to everyone who loved Alison and Adam. They really were just doing the jobs we all love so much. I’m certainly not saying we should “suck it up” and revel in the fact that such a horrible event was filmed and broadcast in such detail. I just think if news agencies are concerned about decency in reporting the story – a story that would usually be considered a gold mine of video views and shares – because these are employees of sister stations, we should fully explore our feelings and consider how we report on future tragic deaths.

     It’s not fair to extend sensitivity on a case-by-case basis. It’s not fair to shame everyone for wanting to see death and pain when we pride ourselves on bringing it to them everyday to pay the bills. Maybe it’s time we stop exploiting pain for ratings all together.

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ANOTHER blog about #Ferguson

Kim Kardashian didn’t break the Internet; Protestors in Ferguson did.

Around 7 p.m. Monday, every Facebook feed in the United States of America was fully engulfed with rants, jokes or snippets about the grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown. By Tuesday morning, five of the top 10 trending tags on Twitter were related to the #Ferguson protests, and Internet was thick with a cloud of photos, blogs and news stories about the unrest.

“Yeah, sure, go ahead and ruin businesses in your town. THAT makes sense.”

“We have to stop pretending like race DOESN’T matter in this country.”

“Dancing With the Stars was interrupted. #rageface”

“If you don’t want to die, don’t punch a cop in the face!”

These are all valid commentaries, save for anger about a television show– sorry, a terrible television show. I can understand rage in the event the LOST season finale was cut short. Honestly, I’m a little pleased to see it all considering how complacent everyone has become in this country. Most of the time, issues that have little to no direct, measurable impact on our lives are filed away into the “don’t give a shit” file, but I guarantee you, discussions around the Thanksgiving tables this year might involve something more substantive than football.

The reason why people of all colors, all social standings, professions and sexes are compelled to say something, I believe, is because Ferguson is a microcosm of a nationwide problem. Men being shot and/or killed by overzealous, perhaps even overly aggressive police, is nothing unique to that community. It happens all the time, all over the country. I’ve had to cover it many times right here in Oklahoma:
http://www.swoknews.com/misc-columns/daniel-martin-autopsy-report-radio-transmissions
http://archive.lawton-constitution.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Search&Key=TLC/2008/09/29/1/Ar00101.xml&CollName=TLC_APA3&DOCID=298635&PageLabelPrint=1A&skin=LawtonConstitution&AW=1416932688766&AppName=2&sPublication=TLC&sScopeID=DR&sSorting=Score%2cdesc&sQuery=Marcell%20Johnson&rEntityType=&sSearchInAll=false&sDateFrom=%2530%2531%2f%2530%2531%2f%2532%2530%2530%2537&sDateTo=%2531%2531%2f%2533%2530%2f%2532%2530%2530%2538&dc:creator=&PageLabel=&dc:publisher=&ViewMode=GIF

http://www.swoknews.com/local/report-sheds-light-death-man-local-police-custody

But what is unique about Ferguson is that the resulting protests justified the anxiety that Americans have had since entire neighborhoods were shut down during the search for the Boston marathon bombing suspect (BTW, whatever happened to THAT guy?)

It confirmed to us that there is an thick, blue line separating “us” from “them,” with the “them” being law enforcement officers. The complex love/hate, need/despise relationship between citizens and police has been festering for some time, but as the populous embraces the idea that people can kill anyone who they deem to be “up to no good,” a threat or simply a “scary thug,” the disconnect has deepened.

On one hand, citizens need police to maintain order and help the wheels of justice turn. They are the people who come when your husband beats you up, again. They are the ones that gather the evidence that puts away your nephew’s murderer. They are the ones that walk into the darkest places of humanity in an effort to bring some light.

Not all police officers are terrible people.

But what we’re seeing now is officers who look more like soldiers than law enforcement– Paramilitary gear, assault rifles in hand, literally rolling fucking tanks into the streets… in Boston and now Missouri. No police force should be equipped with a tank. Period. And in Ferguson, we’ve gone one step further… the National Guard is put on standby to suppress citizens?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a violent, unruly mob can’t exactly be talked down with listening words. I can’t even pretend I have an appropriate suggestion about how police should or shouldn’t diffuse the anger. I just know that Americans are feeling more and more trapped within their own boarders; That we feel as though the police state is worsening, and the only retort is “Well, don’t break the law.”

Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to fire 12 shots at an unarmed man. Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to shoot a man you KNEW was armed nine times in front of his own wife… on his own property… when he called to report he was the victim of a crime. “Reaching” into a pocket isn’t a reason for police to make a kill shot following a traffic stop, simply because the perpetrator was a “known thug.”

What happened to people being given a chance to be innocent until they’re proven guilty? Now, most “thugs” and “badguys” have a day in court posthumously with tangled tales of their existence woven into elaborate representations by attorneys. The social response seems to be shrugged shoulders and a crude comment about how people should know better than to raise their voice or eyebrows, hell even breathe the wrong way around police officers.

Essentially, Americans have accepted the socially-constructed notion that “some people just deserve to die because they don’t follow the rules.” Americans have internalized the concept that justice is somehow a tradeoff– police have difficult and dangerous jobs so sometimes people are going to accidentally die– and we look the other way.

Police may not actually be guilty of murdering individuals when they get trigger-happy. They are also victims of a fear-mongering, told every day that they won’t come home to their families if they don’t shoot first and ask questions later. Their jobs are, in fact, quite dangerous, and many officers have successfully disarmed, shot or detained very dangerous people. Those cases don’t seem to resonate with the public as much.

But change is obviously needed. There is a perception that the police can shoot and kill citizens with little to no reason and without consequence. An officer may be fired, yes, but there is nothing that would keep him or her from working at another jurisdiction, especially since police band together and rally to protect their own. Until there becomes some way to hold police officers responsible for making a mistake, maybe not with an indictment (criminal allegations still must have a factual basis), or law enforcement make serious efforts to show they understand and want to correct (NOT rolling tanks into the streets) the misery in Missouri will only become more venomous.