Should media show on-air killings?

Updated 4:29 PM EDT, Fri August 28, 2015

Story highlights

Media have struggled with whether to show on-air Virginia killings, or how much to show

CNN Opinion asked commentators to weigh in on the issue

CNN —  

After two journalists in Virginia were shot dead on air Wednesday, news organizations and other media faced a decision: With dramatic video of a crime available –some of it shot by the killer himself – were they obliged to put it on air and publish it? Some did, in a limited way, others refused altogether and still others splashed images of the shooting on the front page. CNN Opinion invited commentators to weigh in: Should news organizations and other media outlets show images of an on-air killing?

Mel Robbins: We must bear witness

Yes the media should report and show the on-air killings, with a warning so viewers can change the channel if they wish.

The reason for airing it is simple: It is the truth. It is horrible, but it happened. The media should not shield you from it; its job is to report it. It’s your job to choose whether to bear witness or change the channel.

Mel Robbins
CNN
Mel Robbins

And there’s another reason, still. We owe it to the victims not to turn our eyes away from the horror.

I don’t want to witness a murder or see a dead body, yet some of the difficult images to see are historically the most potent and important for us to see. Should we have shielded ourselves from the images of concentration camps, or the horror dealt by the Khmer Rouge? The answer is no. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminded us that “for the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

We must bear witness so that it scars us. Perhaps if we witness these atrocities and confront the actual truth of violence, we as a society would be moved to do something to stop it. You can hear journalists talk about the Charlie Hebdo attack or the recent shootings in the Louisiana movie theater, but until you see what the failure of gun control looks like, you will not be scarred.

Graphic public service announcements about texting and driving or drinking and driving serve a purpose: to see the imagery in your mind so your behavior will change.

The chief legal counsel at ABC has seen the video, and ABC has decided to shield you from it, he explained in a series of tweets.

He wrote:

“I’ll never forget horrific video I just watched of #WDBJ shooting from killer’s perspective. We have but @Mediaite will not run.”

“We will run video leading up to shooting but not the part that just scarred me for life.”

He makes a point, although maybe not the one he intended: Imagery makes the truth sink deep. If we don’t show it, it may be seared into the minds of the survivors and witnesses, but not scarred into the minds of the public. That’s why pleas of families after Newtown, Aurora, Columbine and Charleston have not been enough to make America do something about it.

Alison Parker’s father is now calling for gun control, but too many will have already changed the channel.

Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards.

Juliette Kayyem: Airing killings makes media a tool

What is the news value of a snuff film? Essentially, that is what many of us saw Wednesday. The debate about whether news organizations should air the video seems to me to be relatively straightforward, if we d