On Friday, the news was rightly dominated by the dual standoffs between French police and terrorists involved in the murders of 13 people earlier in the week, standoffs which ended in violent death for three of the suspects, while one remains at large. Two of the suspects, brothers Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, were killed by police at a warehouse in Dammartin-en-Goële, while 32 year-old Amedy Coulibaly ended his siege of a Paris kosher grocery by killing four of the hostages, before being killed by police in a hail of gunfire. Coulibaly’s girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddienne, remains at large, and is suspected in the killing of a female police officer last week. There has even been speculation that Boumeddiene may have been present during the Paris standoff, and escaped with the hostages during the confusion of the raid.
One of the big issues to arise in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre was the refusal of some outlets to run images of the cartoons that offended the terrorists who carried out the attack (a cohort which did not include this site, or this author). Some made excuses about the offensiveness of the images from a standards perspective, as if they were being asked to show pictures of a cock. Given the newsworthiness of the cartoons, and the threatening context around them, this could easily have been dealt with by informing viewers that they were about to see a cock, mainly so that no one else would be killed for showing cock, but also because the cock is news, even if it’s offensive.
There are a hundred other ways news outlets could have worked around the sensibilities of their audiences, but at least that bit of self-censorship made some kind of sense, either as a practical matter of self-preservation or genuine sensitivity.
What I have a really hard time understanding is how TV news covered the raid that killed Coulibaly, and which was caught on video. Here’s a little sample:
Now, the first argument is probably going to be that the video of this murdering scumbag getting killed is too “disturbing” or “upsetting” for viewers, except the thing opens with a shot of an innocent, dead hostage in plain view. So, what, we have to blur Mohammad’s taint, but fresh terror victims’ corpses are fair game?
The other possibility, the one I assumed to be the case after seeing these reports, is that the footage was just too graphic. Several days later, I saw the uncut footage when someone sent me a link to this video, without warning, but consider yourself warned: it is explicit:
The video belied my expectations in a number of ways. The first thing I thought was “Wow, they really lit that guy the fuck up.”
It wasn’t all that graphic, either. I mean, you know the guy is getting Swiss-cheesed, but there are no brains or skull pieces flying around. And you’re damn right, it’s disturbing and upsetting — if you’re a terrorist. The media constantly frets about giving too much attention to terrorists, yet the moment when they deserve the most attention, when they’re being ended like a bad sitcom, gets hidden from public view. You know what’s disturbing and upsetting to normal people? Watching Eric Garner get choked to death, which TV news replayed like it was a sweeps promo, or Tamir Rice being shot by the police, which was played repeatedly the same day they were freeze-framing this terrorist’s shooting.
I understand maybe there’s some reasoning that showing the death glorifies it, but so does the freeze frame, which leaves the glory to the imagination. The real thing couldn’t be worse, but it could actually give some future homegrown terrorist pause, especially western ones caught up in the romance of a cause, and blind to the cold reality of being rendered lifeless by tactical gunfire. These guys talked about wanting to be martyrs, but hiding in the woods for two days doesn’t scream willingness to die.
There’s also the possibility that showing video like this would make the terrorists more mad. They show the planes hitting the towers, instantly killing hundreds or thousands of people, yet we can’t see the bin Laden death photos, or some helmet-cam? Has that bit of restraint really stumped terrorist propaganda? Is there an editor at BuzzFeed telling his guys, “No, we can’t run this bin Laden death listicle without photographic proof.”
News organizations should not be concerned with the propaganda value of footage like this, whether it deters or inflames, but they should apply the same judgment to dead terrorists that they do to the deaths of innocents, which they constantly show. If that should happen to convince some disgruntled Western millennial to stay on the couch in his mother’s basement, so much the better.