When it came to broadcasting the gory images of Col. Muammar Qaddafi, mainstream news organizations didn't hesitate. The situation brought to mind President Obama's decision shortly after the May raid on Osama bin Laden's compound to withhold the postmortem photographs on the grounds of common decency and national security. There's no doubting the images of Qaddafi's corpse (which The Atlantic Wire included in its roundup of the day's news) served an important role in confirming the death, especially given that the National Transitional Council has been so unreliable in its assertions over the previous weeks and months. Obviously, the press and the president have different prerogatives so we asked the big three cable news networks and Al Jazeera how they justified their decision to air the images.
MSNBC On Morning Joe, hosts Joe Scarborough and Mike Brzezinksi introduced a gory photograph of Qaddafi taken by a cell phone and obtained by AFP while warning that the image was graphic. David McCormick, vice president of NBC News standards & policies, told The Atlantic Wire that the company tried to toe the line between newsworthiness and decency. "We want to give our audience the most accurate reports possible without crossing a line into offensive or unnecessarily graphic material," he said. "We feel the footage that has aired meets those boundaries, and we're constantly in touch with producers about what is and is not acceptable."
Fox News FNC also aired the AFP image of Qaddafi's corpse alongside video showing Qaddafi before he was killed obtained by Al Jazeera, which was introduced by Bill Hemmer, host of America's Newsroom. When asked for the network's justification, a Fox News spokeswoman pointed to Hemmer's on-air rationale, which leaned on the importance of verifying Qaddafi's death. "Part of the reason why we are showing this is because the many stories in the Middle East that need verification upon death and this appears to be beyond the shadow of a doubt Muammar Qaddafi on videotape after he was captured and shot in both legs and also in the head," Hemmer said. He noted that the combination of the video and the photograph "both taken during the day" corroborate each other. Hemmer also warned viewers before airing the footage.
CNN The network aired both the AFP image and the video obtained by Al Jazeera. A CNN spokeswoman didn't have a justification prepared but noted that it used the Al Jazeera video "judiciously with warning" to viewers.
Al Jazeera The Qatar-based news network was the first to obtain images and video of Qaddafi's corpse. Representatives of the network did not immediately respond to requests. However, Osama Saaed, a spokesman for the network did give Politico's Keach Hagey a brief explanation. "It’s clearly newsworthy, and we decided to air it. Everyone else seems to agree. Every major network has been using our footage."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.