About News

Atrocities in Israel Cause News Media to Show More of Horrifying Truth

Hamas rocket shrapnel being picked up in Ashkelon. (Source: Israel police spokesperson)

With social media showing so much ghastly video from the Hamas terrorism in Israel in the past week, the news media certainly don’t serve as the gatekeeper for what the public can see. But news organizations still reach a lot of people who won’t go hunting for content on social media, so their decisions of how graphically to depict awful events still matter.

What I’ve seen lately are news media that believe the realities in Israel and in the Gaza Strip demand pushing, but still not ripping, the envelope of traditional bounds.

I wrote last year, during the early days of Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, that publication of images of the victims of any kind of violence disrespects the dead, but also that more and more journalists and advocates believe it’ll take some visual shock to get the public and decision makers motivated to end the suffering.

I’m posting three examples from the Hamas-Israel war that tested typical editorial limits. Clicking means you agree to view disturbing images. (The news organizations posted warning labels, as they should have.)

The Washington Post published a video taken from social media of Hamas militants leading four civilian hostages away on foot with their hands tied, then a video from a few moments later that showed all four lying dead on the ground.

The New York Times published a video taken from social media of a gunman ambushing and firing into a car that was pulling up to a kibbutz gate. The video shows multiple bullets striking the driver, who was partially visible through the car windows. Everyone in the car died.

CNN posted a video from the Palestinian Health Ministry that included bloody dead bodies on the ground following Israeli shelling near Gaza City.

Is the press doing this as propaganda for one of the sides? Nice conspiracy theory but no.

Such decisions are easier to make when the events occur in other nations. U.S. news media restrain themselves more when it’s American mass violence. But I also call your attention to two recent, impressive efforts to portray the brutality of violence – gun violence in these cases – without showing the gore that would repulse the audience. These come from two of the national outlets mentioned above. They clearly believe the public needs a more realistic picture of the problem.

In March, The Washington Post used 3D animations to show the devastating damage that an AR-15 does to the human body.

In April, The New York Times produced a gut-wrenching magazine story on the crime-scene investigators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The headline: “They saw the horrific aftermath of a mass shooting. Should we?”

I answer no. In the case of Hamas, written descriptions were all I needed to grasp the depravity. But a growing number of news media professionals would say it’s time to answer yes.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama. He worked for The Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group for 30 years. He published this commentary originally as a post on his blog, The Arenblog.

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