Logging onto Facebook early this afternoon, I saw a post saying that Gadhafi had been shot and killed in Libya today. Thinking it might merely be a rumor, I checked the Drudge Report and learned from a New York Times story that it was true. My shadow side rejoiced, while the more ethical side I habitually show the world was troubled by the brutality of the murder without trial.
I was even more troubled when I clicked onto Drudge’s link for a “graphic video” on YouTube and came upon the grisly image of Gadhafi being dragged along the street by his attackers. Perhaps he was still alive at that point, because as reported by the AP, he was killed by two bullets, one to the heart and one to the head, and it took about 30 minutes for him to bleed to death.
That horrific video, brought to us in vivid color by the Al Jazeera news service, elicited a visceral reaction in a way that more matter-of-fact reporting never does. My heart pounded harder and my stomach lurched. Like all too many of us, I’ve become blasé about the incessant violence on TV and in the movies, but this was obviously the real thing.
Even more distressing than the images were the comments that poured into You Tube. There was a great deal of intense anger and venom. One viewer wrote that he wished it had been Obama being dragged dying through the streets; another thought the same fate should befall “Jews everywhere.” Few comments reached such toxic extremes, but there was plenty of profanity on all sides of the issue, and people hurled insults and epithets at each other. Others, less caught up in the issues, critiqued the amateurish quality of the camera work as if they were reviewing a movie.
I turned on CNN, and they aired a few seconds of the Al Jazeera footage. The glamorous, impeccably groomed reporter came close to apologizing, saying they were showing the video only to establish that it was indeed Gadhafi being dragged through the streets. When I got back to my computer, the Drudge Report had removed the link to that video, but it’s easy to find on YouTube.
Tonight, somewhat to my surprise, ABC and CBS aired slightly less gruesome footage of Kadhafi being roughly dragged by the rebels just prior to the shooting, followed by still shots of his dead body in the ambulance and wrapped in plastic sheeting, and close-ups of his fractured face in death. Neither network prefaced the video by warning viewers of the graphic nature of what they were about to see.
Is this form of reality TV getting more intense? When I think back to the tumultuous events of the 1960’s, black and white still photos come to mind. Many have become an iconic part of our collective memory – the Vietnamese child burned by napalm and running naked in the road, the girl kneeling with upraised arms next to the body of one of the victims at Kent State, Robert Kennedy dying on a California floor. I don’t recall seeing any movie or video footage, but in those days I considered myself too hip to own a television.
My husband tells me that the vivid filmed footage of the war in Vietnam heightened antiwar sentiment, and that after the war, the government tightened control of the images the public was allowed to see. Even the sight of coffins being airlifted back from Iraq became taboo.
I’m not advocating for that kind of censorship, however. On the contrary, in-your-face close-up coverage like today’s videos of Gadhafi’s assassination drives home the stark reality of the events playing out on the world stage. However painful the images may be, we can’t afford to look away.
What do you think? Is news coverage more graphic than it used to be? And is that good or bad? I’d love to hear from you.