Posted by: 4initalia | May 14, 2010

Throw The Cameraman Out

A  nine-year old boy was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed 103 people, including his parents and his eleven-year old brother.  The little boy was photographed in his hospital room, while he was dizzy from anesthesia after 4 1/2 hours of surgery to repair multiple leg fractures. CNN flashed tight closeups of the little boy’s face.  His face was pale and swollen, his head was snaked with IVs and wrapped in bandages, his skin was stretched by an oxygen mask.

Every major news site, including MSNBC, FOX, and CNN carried video and photos of the little boy in his hospital bed. The video showed flashes of light bounce off the sheets: in addition to the film crew, there were photographers in the room. Photographers took many shots from different angles, and recorded changes in the little boy’s face over time as the swelling in his face went down, and the bruises deepened.

Hours after surgery, before his aunt and uncle arrived at the hospital, his doctor handed the boy a cell phone, so he could talk to a reporter about the crash.  He didn’t know his family had died.

When he was released from the hospital, photographers mobbed the gurney as a little boy with two broken legs was carried to an ambulance. News sites continue to carry photos and video of the battered boy in his hospital bed.  On every major news site, there are photographs and videos of that small sad boy.


He is a second grader. His parents are dead and he was in pain. He was a Dutch kid in a Libyan hospital, surrounded by strangers.  He needed love and comfort, but at a minimum he deserved quiet and rest.  He survived a tragedy most of us couldn’t imagine. Who should be in with him?  His doctors and nurses. People who love him.

But not strangers seeking to capture his misery on video.  Who lets a cameraman into a hospital room?

None of us should be there, either.  The media should have respected his right to be left alone.

I emailed CNN about their policy on photographing minors who cannot give consent. A nine-year old orphan emerging from anesthesia cannot consent to be photographed, cannot give permission to broadcast video of his battered face.  I also asked about the line between news and exploitation. CNN responded with new footage today, of the home the boy will share with his aunt and uncle. There’s no breaking news like a firmly shut front door.

CNN didn’t answer my question, because media has erased the line between news and exploitation.  MSNBC today carried video of a mother who was swept out to sea and drowned after pushing her child to safety.  What better way to honor her memory than to post her death on MSNBC?

What is the difference between major news outlets and snuff videos? Only that news clips are narrated by sanctimonious reporters.  Either way, they’re pimping tragedy for our entertainment. Does anyone care?

Sometimes, suffering is news. Cameras can open a window into tragedy and trigger compassion.  If a tsunami hits in a place we can’t pronounce, we turn away. But when we see families fighting for survival, we write checks. We send money, in hopes that we can help the children we saw sobbing on the beach. The photographs connect us to the tragedy and our connection helps to alleviate suffering.

But this little boy is presented as a freak.  A miracle. The headlines tell the story:  “Fate or Fluke? Air Crash Sole Survivor.” “Crash Survivor Doesn’t Know Family is Dead.” “”‘Miracle” Crash Boy Returns to Netherlands.”  This little boy’s sole survivor status gives us the right to witness his suffering because he is news.  He crash-landed into The Truman Show.

I grew up during the Vietnam war, and remember distinctly the face of the little girl running from a napalm attack. I remember the grimace of a Viet Cong prisoner just as a bullet was about to enter his brain. Those are iconic images of individual suffering that captured the horrors of war.

What do the photos and video of this little boy capture?  The perils of air travel?

I live in Colorado, ten minutes from Columbine High School, and I will never forget the public memorial service.  The streets around the school were heaped with flowers, the fences were lined with tributes from kids from all over the country. Magic-markered condolences ran in the rain, a rainbow of tears. As grieving kids and their parents approached a popular spot to leave flowers, dozens of cameras snapped each mourner. The photographers took thousands of photos in order to capture the most evocative image of unimaginable pain. That is sick. Above the crowd, news helicopters droned.  This was private grief for public consumption.

At least the Columbine memorial was in a public place. But this insatiable search for fresh images of grief now follows small caskets into churches, where families mourn. Why would a church allow a camera into a funeral service? The raw suffering of a parent is not news, and a funeral is not a photo- op.

Private agony is not news. We have no right to gape at a child who has no one to protect him from our gaze. That mother’s death is a private tragedy seared into her family’s memory.  It shouldn’t be a click away for the idly curious.

We have to demand an end to this macabre quest for searing images of someone else’s pain.

Earth to Media: We’ve seen enough.



  1. great!!

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