“We Can’t Censor War”


During an afternoon broadcast today of MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s “Deadline: Whitehouse,” The New York Times’ Lynsey Addario discussed an image that ran on the paper’s website (see “Russian forces fire on evacuees, leaving 4 people dead outside Kyiv”) and in its print edition showing four victims of fighting (three of whom were deceased at the time the photo was taken) in the Ukrainian city of Irpin (see below). Addario had been in Ukraine covering the Russian invasion of the country, including in Irpin where especially intense shelling had taken place. During the broadcast, Addario told Wallace that it was difficult to take the photograph (which she took herself) and equally as difficult to discuss with her editors the publishing of it. She said they spent much time discussing publishing the photo, but ultimately decided to do so, she said, because “people need to see the effects of [Russia] targeting civilians.” In the end, she added, they felt that “we can’t censor war.”

Reporting on armed conflicts can often result in similar moral dilemmas. In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, photographer Kenneth Jarecke’s photo of a charred body of an Iraqi soldier was the subject of a similar debate. As chronicled by Torie Rose DeGhett in The Atlantic (see “The War Photo No One Would Publish”), Time magazine and the Associated Press refused to run the graphic image, a decision mirrored by other U.S. media outlets.

Such are the moral questions precipitated by war coverage: Do media outlets, in the interest of transparency and the need to inform the public, publish graphic images of warfare? Or should they refrain from running such images that may serve as harmful emotional triggers for readers or viewers? Perhaps it is purely situational in context, dependent on a particular conflict, dependent on public opinion regarding a particular conflict, or dependent on the egregious nature of the conflict and its victims. What are the moral standards in play here? Is this a case of cultural ethical relativism at work? What do you think?

Source: The New York Times

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