July 30, 2004

An indictment of Journalism as a "Profession"

Thanks to Black Five, I read the following account by a journalist/photographer of his time in combat in Iraq with the US Marines. It is a gripping read. One thing jumped off the page at me, though:

At this time, another Marine who had rushed out to a second floor balcony moments earlier yelled, "I'm hit." One of several thousands of rounds fired in the opening 30 minutes of the battle had found its target. He gave an agonizing scream and yelled again that he was hit, hoping someone would rescue him.

Sgt. Nunez threw open the door and rushed out, returning moments later dragging Sgt. Magana across the floor by the grab handle on the back of his flak jacket. Confusion ensued. He was eventually dragged into the room where I was hunkered down. He had been shot through the back and was in severe pain.

While corpsman were concentrating on his injury, I could see that he was beginning to fade. His eyes were empty and began to close. He was mumbling about a letter from his daughter and I'm sure he began to concede that his life could end right there on the floor.

I was compelled to grab his hand and assured him that he would see his daughter once again. I looked him straight in his eye, telling him to look back at me, then squeeze my hand so I knew he was still with me. It was all I knew to do.

I felt caught between being an objective journalist and responding as a human being. I apologized to a news crew that was sharing this horror with , "I have to be a human first," I heard myself saying awkwardly. It was a lesson I had learned early on from a photo professor that had a profound effect on my life.

I shot only a few frames to depict the scene; some right as he was being dragged into the room and then some after he began to stabilize. I felt satisfied that I had both done my job and also done what was right in a potentially life and death situation.

What is wrong with a profession in which you have to feel ashamed to act like a human being? To feel ashamed when you offer comfort to a dying man who is asking about his child as he dies? When did the practice of journalism become so morally bereft and debased?

Posted by Random Penseur at July 30, 2004 10:26 AM

It's awful. I think the public's desire to have access to even the most intimate of moments during combat has forced most journalists to set themselves apart from the action, emotionally that is, and act as impartial narrators.

I do agree with the mentality that there comes a moment when you have to toss aside your so-called duties as a journalist and provide some human comfort to a soldier in need. How very base would you be otherwise?

Posted by: Mick at July 30, 2004 11:31 AM

More is the pity that "journalists" have forgotten what the milk of human kindness is. Taking advantage of another's pain or tragedy may make for great TV or radio coverage and makes the reporter/journalist look and feel like he/she is a sadist. I look at these talking "heads" and wonder if they are capable of a gentle or tender feeling or action.

Posted by: Azalea at July 30, 2004 03:23 PM

I don't read the newspaper or watch the news becuase it all thrives on the hurt and pain of fellow humans. I can't see how you can let your profession cloud over instinct to comfort and care for someone injured. It makes me cry to hear such things.

Posted by: holly at July 30, 2004 04:28 PM

Like Holly, I don't watch the news anymore. I read online what I need to know so I can make informed choices. And I don't buy magazines or papers that sensationalize suffering either.

It's funny, I'm still trying to get through "Bowling for Columbine" (I got further last night than ever; a whole half hour before I turned it off), and it brought back memories of when Columbine happened. I was on a business trip with my associates and the woman I was sharing a hotel room with (remember, I was broke back then...*grin*), couldn't stop watching the TV coverage in our room. The reporters were desperate for more grief to show. They were actually going up to people, sticking a mic in their face and saying, "Did you know anyone who died? Well, how did it make you feel?"

!!!! How the *hell* do you think it made them feel, you f***ing moron?!

I was so sickened, I said, turn it off, please, we've all seen enough. It is enough to know it happened; why show it over and over and over again? She was rivited, though...like watching a car crash.

It is not the most exalted human trait we have, that.

Posted by: Amber at July 30, 2004 05:12 PM

I don't fault the journalists-they are supposed to be bias- and interaction-free. They signed up for that gig. They knew it when they did it. I did similar, when I signed up to be an anthropologist-you have to observe, never influence.

I got out of anthropology since I can't keep my damn mouth shut.

This is their job. They know it, they signed up for it. It may suck, it may hurt, but they knew what was there when they started.

Posted by: Helen at August 1, 2004 06:32 AM

I should also say that I don't watch tv journalism either-I am not interested in seeing destroyed lives for my entertainment. I want just the facts, I think my head is filled with enough awful images.

Posted by: Helen at August 1, 2004 06:34 AM
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