Is it time to release the Newtown massacre photos?

Robert Parry, a former AP and Newsweek reporter, wrote last week that it was time to release the crime scene photos from the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 six- and seven- year olds were massacred by a young man who had taken his mother’s guns.

Parry argues that it’s time to release the crime scene photos, and it’s an interesting, if controversial, argument.

If we are to prevent future Newtown massacres, we need – as a country – to study what actually happens to human beings when they are subjected to the violence of these powerful weapons. Yet, viewing these awful photos is equally necessary if we – as a nation – decide to place some twisted notion of what the Framers intended in the Second Amendment over the bodies of these 20 first-graders and the many other victims from mass killings.

It’s an argument we’ve had before: Over the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden.  Though there were different reasons for releasing the bin Laden photos (e.g., closure for his victims, for starters).  But Americans, while not terribly prudish about committing, enabling and  tolerating violence, doesn’t much like to see it.  Nonetheless, if the parents were willing, what’s the downside of releasing the photos?

I do think photos (and now video) can send a powerful, if not the most powerful, message.  It’s why I agreed, during the Jeff Gannon affair way back in 2005, to publish the then- conservative and anti-gay reporter’s prostitution photos, even though some were quite graphic.  I had a long talk with gay journalist and activist Michelangleo Signorile about it, at the time, seeking his advice as to what to do.  First, I wanted Mike’s advice about whether I should run the story at all, but second, about whether I should run the photos.

Mike said, run ’em.

And here’s why.  As Mike explained it, and I agreed, I would actually be misrepresenting the story had I not shown the photos.  The photos weren’t prejudicial in their severity – they were the truth.  And the truth wouldn’t be nearly as stark if people didn’t see it for themselves.  It would be the journalistic equivalent of pulling a punch.

We had a similar discussion a few weeks back, in the comments to a post I wrote about new techniques they’re using to catch people who trade in child porn.  I’d written at the time, in my post:

My concern, as a journalist, is what if someone clicks on the file because they’re writing a story about child porn?  I’ve never seen child porn, I have no idea what it is, or how bad it is, though I can imagine. I could imagine someone doing the due diligence and wanting to see what this industry is really like if they’re trying to explain to the reader just how bad it really is.

Some of the readers disagreed with me – they didn’t see how seeing the actual photos would make a difference for a journalist writing about the issue:

I think everyone probably has an idea what it is without having seen it.

Another reader disagreed with the first:

I think many people really don’t know how repulsive it is. It’s that bad.

And that’s the problem, at least to bring the issue back to gun violence.  I don’t think people fully appreciate just how bad these massacres really are.  If anything, we’ve become somewhat deadened to them over the years of “insert new massacre here.”

Parry tells in the original article above, about one mother wanting the governor to see exactly what the Newtown violence had done to her son. Here’s the original reporting from the Stamford Advocate:

Veronique Pozner wanted [Connecticut Governor Dannel] Malloy to see what the bullets did to Noah, who was barely 6, the youngest Newtown victim.

In the casket, Noah’s eyes were closed, his long lashes resting on his cheeks, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Forward. The bottom half of his face was covered by a cloth.

” … there was no mouth left,” Veronique Pozner told the newspaper. “His jaw was blown away.”

In Noah’s right hand she placed a clear stone with a white angel inside. She wanted to place one in his left hand, too, but that hand was gone.

Noah was shot 11 times.

The mom was then asked why she wanted the governor to see her son in his casket:

“I needed it to have a face for him,” Pozner said. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”

Here are some Google images of little Noah. Look at those photos. Now imagine him shot 11 times, and in the condition his mother described. It’s true that simply seeing the happy photos of Noah, and know the rest of the story, is poignant enough.  But I still can’t help but wonder if anyone can truly appreciate what it must be like to have an entire classroom full of small children basically assassinated.  If they did, Congress, and the American people, might not already be as bored with this story as they seem to now be.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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