How Graphic Should the Media Get When Covering War?

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When you work in a news organization, you sometimes hear more than you want to hear. Yesterday, I heard very graphic details about what happened to those two kidnapped — now murdered – U.S. soldiers in Iraq. No news organization that I know has broadcast these very graphic details. To say the details are painful or disturbing grossly understates it. We have an obligation to tell the news and we do, but we don't have to go into every minute detail as long as we get the news — completely — across to the viewer. Many stories require us to stop and reflect on what we should report and how. Judgment is an important part of any job — including ours.

I guess the point in not telling all the specific and extremely disturbing details is this: why should we? The actual news we need to communicate includes the death (we did), and even the manner (we did). Sometimes, in exercising good taste and good journalism, it is worth pulling back on all the graphic details as long as it does not falsely or incompletely convey the news. We do have a duty to be complete. You can say torture and get the point across without going into every painful detail.

Note: If any news organization or show does give you more information than I might, I understand that decision, too. A good argument can be made that we must face the realities of war and not sugarcoat those realities.

I guess the bottom line is this: Before I would report on this story, I would need to think long and hard how best to do it. As it turned out, so many other shows before us were doing the story that we did not cover it at 10 p.m. ET. I could not think of a way we could tell the news story differently, so I opted not to do it. It was told many times yesterday. Each time it was shown, I watched. We have done lots of war stories, but not this one — at least not last night.

But I do want to pose this question to you: How graphic should we get when we describe war? Tell it exactly like it is, no matter how brutal? Or tone it down a bit — but not so much as to distort the plain truth? Please e-mail me.

As an aside, this type of decision is not unique to war. We made a decision when we aired our videotape about Catherine Herridge and her son, Peter. In some of our video, you could see young Peter full of tubes. It was hard to look at if you don't routinely see this. Peter is so very little. The tubes — to a non-medical person — look horrible, painful and scary. Of course the tubes are not any of those – they are routine care (Peter is receiving top-notch care at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and is on his way to a long and healthy life.) We made a decision not to show you this part of our many hours of video since we could still tell the complete story without doing it. Some tape had to end up on the editing floor and why not this?

By the way, I spoke to both Peter's father and mother yesterday and he is doing very well. Catherine told me last night that she expects Peter's breathing tube could come out today. This is a huge milestone. When the tube comes out, Peter will get moved from the ICU to a regular room. The ordinary course is about two to three more weeks in a regular hospital room. Needless to say, you could hear the joy and excitement in Catherine's voice as she told me about Peter's progress. She also told me a funny story: She told me that she asked the nurse the other day if Peter looked pale and the nurse pointed out that is how Peter is supposed to look. Now that he has a great liver, he is not jaundiced. He is pink, not yellow. Catherine had been used to him looking bronze/yellow. All signs continue to be great ones.

Catherine also told me that Peter's doctor said they are getting lots of calls from people around the country who have babies with sick livers and who, until they read or heard about Peter, had no hope. Now there is a wave of excitement and hope for many families who had been in despair. The money that has been raised since Peter's operation became very public is being used to help families pay for anti-rejection drugs. The money is greatly appreciated — these drugs are very expensive — so, if you have not contributed and you want to do so, please do. Your contributions really help other families.

Here is some gossip: Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham was at our FOX D.C. bureau yesterday and came into my office today looking for help — on her BlackBerry. She is new to the "Crackberry" world and needed a tutorial. I have had a BlackBerry — addicted? — for almost 10 years, so I was pleased to show off… and I did. I even fixed the fonts on her BlackBerry so that she can now read it without a microscope (although I confess her BlackBerry font is still smaller than mine... but she is younger than I am. Give a year or two and she will be back asking me to enlarge the fonts!)

Now for some e-mails:

E-mail No. 1

I used to be an organ donor on my driver's license... I had them change it when they gave livers to drunks like Larry Hagman and Mickey Mantle. They received their organs awfully quickly after their need was ascertained. What happened to those who were in line ahead of them who didn't have bad lifestyle choices as their reason for need?
S. Molina
El Paso, TX

E-mail No. 2

When your panel is having a discussion, we want to hear all their opinions, even when we disagree. That is why it is very frustrating whenever it is Jim Hammer's turn to speak. He is quite often drowned out by someone who has already offered his/her opinion — Geoffrey Fieger, Jeff Brown and yes, even the hostess herself.
It isn't fair for one person to be able to voice his/her opinion, then eat up Jim's time by rudely shouting him down. Situations like this are what drove us away from shows like "Crossfire." If everyone is shouting at once, the viewer never gets to hear what a panelist's real opinion is. If Jim Hammer's (who, by the way, is very polite during these rude interruptions) opinion isn't worth hearing, then why have him on at all?

E-mail No. 3

Love the show (I'm a FOX News junky!) and for the first time ever I feel compelled to take the time and write. I live in Millington, Tennessee and have been riding my own motorcycle for over six years. In Tennessee I wear a helmet because it's the law. When I travel into a state that does not require a helmet (we call them "free states") I also wear my helmet. THAT IS MY CHOICE. Many of my friends that have been riding longer than myself want the choice not to wear a helmet. They believe it is a safety issue. If you are wearing a helmet and you hit the front part of your head the helmet can cause your neck to snap causing neck/spine injuries.
Had Mr. Roethlisberger been wearing a DOT authorized helmet (like mine) it would not have prevented the jaw and nose damage that he received. Many bikers will tell you had he been wearing a helmet it may have snapped his neck. Only God knows when it is your time to go "home."
Accidents happen, everyone that rides assumes that risk. You mentioned Florida — did you know that the statistics you gave are not only for motorcycles but they throw in 4-wheelers, etc. I was proud that you mentioned the big jump in motorcycle on the Florida Highways since they became a "free state." Some states realize that bikers are great tourists! The states that have the mandatory helmet laws forgot one thing.... you can not legislate safety. You can wear a DOT approved helmet and still ride carelessly and you can still die. You can wear a DOT approved helmet, drive safely and still someone can pull out in front of you.
I believe right of way violations committed against bikers should be the real issue. If you kill a child with your vehicle everyone is upset and most of the time the punishment is severe, but if you kill a biker you normally don't get anything. We should enforce the laws we have on the books now and most importantly teach everyone to "DRIVE BIKER FRIENDLY."
Rhonda "ELF" O'Dell
Military Veterans Motorcycle Club
TN President

E-mail No. 4

Hi Greta,
Apparently, the reporter from the Tribune Review in Pittsburgh doesn't listen to any other news sources. Ben Roethlisberger issued a statement late last week in which he very clearly states that IF he ever rides a motorcycle again he will most definitely wear a helmet.
Unfortunately, the reporter was unaware of this statement which was all over the local news.
Wexford, PA

E-mail No. 5

Hi Greta,
That Chester was a pretty tough dude to take that (seeing how he reacted after getting "wailed" on, that is, and not balling his eyes out). Pretty smart for a 10-year-old little dude, also! Did you see that kid in the seat behind him? Did nothing to stop it, just "hunkered down" in his seat. Boy, that kid who wailed on Chester was lucky I was not on that bus. I probably would of started "wailing" on him and made sure he cried too! Well, maybe not, would not want to be "charged" (being an adult also!). It would of been my first reaction after trying to comfort Chester.
Todd Nado
Brighton, MI

E-mail No. 6

Where is the paddle? If parents do not control these students that bully then the school or the other father should take these students and paddle them right in the middle of the buss where they think they can do these things. THIS is the reason that we have murders now. THEY NEVER HAD A SWAT in their lives!
Santa Maria, CA

E-mail No. 7

What happens if the two brats that beat this kid get whipped by their parents as punishment? Ask your legal panel which one will rush to their aid, claiming child abuse.
The way things are now in this country a parent can't do a damn thing except sit and take the abuse of everyone for not raising their children properly or if they try to straighten the kid up they face criminal prosecution.
Jack Sandoval
Plainfield, IL

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