On Saturday, the New York Times published remarkable close-up photographs by a staff photographer who happened to be near the bloody shopping center assault in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed at least 62 people.
But another Africa-based photographer asked in an open letter the next day, “Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? ” Both photographers are white.
The Times did not respond publicly to the question on Sunday or Monday, but the issue is not new. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, to whom the letter was addressed, discussed reader questions about troubling images from Syria twice this month.
In an interview with Times reporter James Estrin, Tyler Hicks, the staff photographer who lives in Nairobi and was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that garnered the Times honors for its coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, recounted Saturday:
“I was at a framing shop in an adjacent mall picking up some photographs that had been given to me as gifts by photojournalists who attended my wedding. I was very close. I didn’t have all of my equipment, just had a small camera that I always have with me in case something happens.
“I ran over to the mall and I was able to photograph until my wife [Nichole Sobecki], who is also a photojournalist and was at our house, was able to collect my Kevlar helmet and professional cameras before she came to cover the news herself..
“When I left the framing shop, I could see right away that there was something serious going on, because there were lots of people running away from the mall. I ran over there and within minutes I could see people who had been shot in the leg or stomach from what appeared to be small arms fire being helped by other civilians. This went on for about 30 minutes. . . .”
Under the headline, “Witness to a Massacre in a Nairobi Mall,” the Times ran Hicks’ photos and the interview with Estrin in the Lens blog on its website.
The next day, Michael Deibert, who identified himself as “an author and journalist who has reported from Africa off and on since 2007, having most extensively worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” objected in an open letter to Sullivan, as Richard Horgan reported for FishbowlNY.
“Quite honestly, as a journalist who has reported on conflict for going on quite a number of years, I was shocked and dismayed by this,” Deibert wrote. “Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? I doubt it. That they did so after the mass killings in Nairobi yesterday is very troubling, not just to me, but also to many other journalists, academics and analysts who focus on Africa.
“There are ways to depict violence so that people are not immediately recognizable to their loved ones, friends, and so on, and everyone, American, African, or whatever their nationality, deserves some dignity in death. One can show dead bodies without showing their faces, leaving people confronted for the rest of their lives with images of their family members and other loved ones soaked in blood and torn asunder. I’ve seen plenty of bodies dead through violence over the years, so I am not asking that the end result be sanitized, but rather wondering why some slight restraint was not used in allowing the bodies to be so immediately recognizable. . . .”
In fairness, most of Hicks’ photos were not graphic, and the Times accompanied them with a warning that some were. And, as Horgan wrote, “Deibert does not blame Hicks and the photographer’s wife for shooting the pictures that they did. Rather, he wonders why the NYT editors failed to show the proper restraint.”
The National Press Photographers Association’s code of ethics is open to interpretation. It says, “Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.”
Kenny Irby, senior faculty, visual journalism and diversity and director of community relations at the Poynter Institute, responded to the question of showing faces of the dead. He told Journal-isms by email that he does find an apparent double standard with brown faces, but in this case, “The challenge for me is one of balance… thus I did not find the single image ‘shocking.’
“I do feel that it is the responsibility of the editors to preserve dignity in death for the victims and their families during the coverage of mass murders,” he said by email.
“There continues to be an apparent double standard which I refer to as the ‘exotic rule’. The farther away and the browner the faces, the less sensitive I find the ethical rigor. For instance, I could not find a body in the Navy Yard or Boston Marathon shootings.
“The Tyler Hicks coverage was courageous and compelling and of the 23 images in the gallery only one showed a body.
“Overall, if found the coverage to be balanced and authentic.”
The assault on Nairobi’s Westlake shopping mall, which kept security forces at bay for more than three days, is considered a terrorist attack. It included several militants from al-Shabab, a group allied with al-Qaeda, and participants from several countries, possibly even the United States.
In discussing two photos from Syria, Sullivan wrote, “Images of war matter. Some highly emotional photographs from Vietnam — the brutal execution of a Vietcong guerrilla, a naked Vietnamese girl burned by napalm — brought home the horror in a way that words never could. The same has been true more recently; think of the charred corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Falluja, Iraq.
“Now Syria. These two images are capable of changing the narrative, possibly affecting the course of history. That’s all the more reason to handle them, and others, as thoughtfully and with as much awareness as possible. And to remember that, powerful as they are, they are only pieces of the emerging truth.”
Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute: Kenyan newspaper flipped bloody photo on front page
Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune, Minneapolis: Twin Cities Somali leaders condemn Kenya terror attack (Sept. 24)
Caroline Elkins, The Root: In Kenya, a Legacy of Resilience
Stanley Gazemba, New York Times: ‘Those Are Our People’
David Hanners, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.: Twin Cities Somali leaders deny local ties to Kenya mall attack
Huffington Post: CNN Reporters Dodge Gunfire In Kenya Mall Battle (VIDEO)
Steve Karnowski, Associated Press: Members of Minnesota’s Somali community condemn deadly attack on Kenya mall
Caroline Mutoko, the Star, Kenya: Down But Not Defeated!
Peter Ng’etich, the Star, Kenya: Quarcoo Mourns East FM Presenter Ruhila Adatia
The Star, Kenya: Radio Africa Staff Tell of Horror in Mall Attack
Darlene Superville, Associated Press: Obama: Kenyan Mall Attack a ‘Terrible Outrage’
Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Janet Cho of the Asian American Journalists Association, “I do hope you are elected” president of the Unity: Journalists for Diversity coalition, but told Journal-isms Monday that the four-member NAHJ delegation to the Unity board still does not plan to vote.
Balta made his declaration on the Unity Facebook page. Cho is running against David Steinberg, past president of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association, which was invited to join the coalition in August 2011 after the National Association of Black Journalists pulled out over governance and financial issues.
Steinberg is the first white presidential candidate for the organization formerly known as Unity: Journalists of Color. The two candidates made their case Saturday to board members from the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and NLGJA, but not NAHJ. The election takes place among board members.
Balta has said the four NAHJ members on the Unity board “will not participate in any meeting of Unity until the NAHJ board definitely decides” NAHJ’s role in the coalition.
He said of Unity on the coalition’s Facebook page, “when you take the emotion out of it (and no decision like this should be made by emotion); what you’re left with is an antiquated system [whose] time has passed. There is an unwillingness to zero base it and start anew. So it was true for NABJ 2 years ago…so, it is now for NAHJ.”
However, he said no decision would be made without consulting NAHJ members.
Mary Hudetz, president of NAJA and nominating committee chair, said that electronic voting started Monday and that “the board gets several days to make their decision. Results will be announced by Friday at 4pm” Eastern time.
Meanwhile, Unity released audited financial statements late Monday, part of what NAHJ said it had been waiting for. But Balta asserted in another posting that they “fail to disclose (be transparent) its accounting mistakes that will cost NAHJ, AAJA and benefit NAJA and NLGJA. . . .”
Cho replied, “UNITY is not trying to hide anything, Hugo. When we made the final payments to the alliance associations at the end of 2012, we did so with the caveat that the payments were based on projected registration numbers for UNITY ’12. Now that the Audit Committee (including an NAHJ representative) has verified the numbers, the ledger has to be reconciled to reflect reality.”
“Rollie Chance was home in Stafford [Va.], about 40 miles south of Washington, when he began watching the news about the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard Monday morning,” Tom Jackman reported Friday for the Washington Post. “A retired Navy lieutenant, he had worked in Building 197 on the fourth floor and was worried that some of his friends and former colleagues might have been killed.
“Then shortly after noon, he got a phone call from someone who said they were with ABC News. ‘They asked me if I knew Rollie Chance,’ Rollie Chance said. ‘Then they said, “Did you know Rollie Chance was the perpetrator of the Washington Navy Yard shootings?” ‘
“Chance, 50, thought the call was a joke. He told the caller, ‘I guarantee you 100 percent Rollie Chance didn’t do it,’ and hung up.
“Moments later, FBI agents arrived at his home. Soon after, reporters began piling up at the curb. And on Twitter, reporters for both NBC and CBS named Chance as the now-deceased killer. CBS also identified Chance on national radio. ABC, which called Chance, did not report any connection.
“The two network news outlets quickly retracted their tweets and CBS corrected its radio report. But Chance is wondering how he will ever erase the accusatory Internet trail that led to his door and is trying to work through days of anxiety for his family, including his 9-year-old daughter, whom he held out of school for a day.
” ‘Verify before you vilify,’ Chance implored in an interview Friday with his lawyer Mark Cummings. . . .”
Jackman also wrote, “Chance’s name filtered to the media because one of his identification cards reportedly was found near the body of Aaron Alexis, the man actually responsible for the shootings.”
Charles M. Blow, New York Times: A Ghastly Ritual Repeats Itself
Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: ‘Columbine’ Author Dave Cullen Criticizes Media’s Handling Of Mass Shootings
Don Lemon, BlackAmericaWeb.com: REALITY CHECK: Let’s Talk About Guns
Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Gun terror continues as Washington fiddles, then cowers
Andrew Solomon, the New Yorker: An Avoidable Tragedy: Aaron Alexis and Mental Illness
Annie-Rose Strasser, thinkprogress.org: How American Interest In The Navy Yard Shooting Quickly Fizzled Out, In One Chart
President Obama’s keynote appearance before the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference usually warrants live coverage on at least one network, but viewers searched in vain for the Phoenix Awards Dinner Saturday night.
NBC cameras provided pool coverage, but only MSNBC broadcast the speech live — for about six minutes before technical problems aborted the effort. “We had every intention of running the full speech but the live feed quality was poor – we started it but [it] did dip out before the end of the speech,” spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski told Journal-isms by email.
C-SPAN showed the speech [video] on Sunday at 12:09 a.m., 3:45 a.m., 6:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. “C-SPAN aired the speech soon as the scheduling allowed for the entire speech to be shown on the network,” spokesman Howard Mortman said.
“CNN did not take the President’s speech live, but did run parts of the speech during Sunday morning programming,” spokeswoman Christal Jones said.
A Fox News Channel spokeswoman did not respond, and the two major black-oriented networks said they covered the speech on the Internet.
Monica Neal, a TV One spokeswoman, said, “Roland Martin was at CBC gathering material for use in his upcoming News One Now daily show which you can see here:http://newsone.com/category/politics/congressional-black-caucus-foundation/.”
After Obama’s election in 2008, Black Entertainment Television covered the inauguration and even the new president’s news conferences. Chairman and CEO Debra L. Lee told Journal-isms then that the change in Washington helped prompt her to believe it was “time to sit back with my management team and say, ‘where are we going.‘ What do I want my legacy to be? After 30 years, what do we want to stand for?”
On Saturday, BET remained with its usual programming. “We didn’t televise the dinner but had extensive coverage of the conference on bet.com,” spokeswoman Jeanine Liburd told Journal-isms by email. “Pls check out as it was very comprehensive!”
Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Black Community Needs Obama’s Voice on Urban Gun Violence
Hillary Crosley, The Root: At CBC, Obama Delivers Fiery Message to GOP
Alan Hughes, Black Enterprise: Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to Help Strengthen Black Banks
Joy-Ann Reid, the Grio: For Black Caucus, African-American politics in an age of austerity