by J. Ross Baughman
During 45 years as an investigative journalist, conflict photographer and editor of visual communications, my greatest frustration came from society’s willingness to talk (and presumably think) about many of the most important issues of the day, but not to look at them.
Even while valuing eye-witness accounts as the most reliable, unimpeachable and persuasive in our courtrooms and the public forum at large, there are plenty of prudes, crooks and political manipulators hoping to tamp down that power by blocking our view.
The risk of censoring any information, especially the visual kind, only promises a dwindling awareness of, even a total blindness to, important and contradicting points of view.
After all, the official British position during 1776 in Boston and Philadelphia was that subjects disloyal to the crown were guilty of treason, punishable by prison or death. All those who inflamed disobedience, such as Benjamin Franklin, with his printing presses and sharp political cartoons, deserved an immediate muzzle and strict punishment.
No one in colonial America could easily accept the label of terrorist, or trust the crown’s instinct to blot out disobedience. That we resorted to armed violence against British troops puts us into the same category of dissent as Menachem Begin and his Zionist Irgun rebels in Palestine, and ironically, the various Palestinian militants who fight Israel.
Should America’s desperate veterans, pushed to their limit, be prevented from being heard and seen? Will the mentally ill be tempted to steal the spotlight, sometimes through force? Will career criminals use or seek fame to further their own dark impulses?
If members of the LGBT community try to go about their lives, members of the Westboro Baptist Church will try to commandeer press attention by waving signs and shouting loud. It is only more of the same when guardian angels try to block out all views of the baptist protesters.
As journalists recording the freshest draft of history, we are simply not prepared to evaluate, nor should we be tempted, to judge which resistance is justified, or might one day triumph. Moreover, society should not even want us to be. It is much more important to have the raw, eye-witness testimony from all points of view.
For example, take the police move to pull the plug on live Facebook videos of a suspect they soon killed, on the grounds that her online friends encouraged her resistance;
On 2 August 2016, police from Randallstown in Baltimore County, Maryland, asked and got the help of Facebook to interrupt 23-year-old Korryn Gaines from showing her own arrest live on Facebook and Instagram. She seemed to be using her camera as a shield, putting the police on notice that she was telling the world her story.
Strategically, both she and society would have been better served in the long run by keeping the recording process unknown to the police. That approach might have helped to keep her streaming, rather than have the police begin to act differently, or simply shut it down. This reminded many of Lavish Reynold’s use of a cellphone camera to show the death of her fiance Philando Castile at the hands of police in Minnesota a month earlier.
French newspaper Le Monde’s recent decision to forbid any photo or name of a terrorist on the grounds that it only stimulates criminal or political hunger for fame.
Surely, there are some principles that do not improve while taking a middling, wishy-washy path.